When was the last time you had a really good look at your tongue? It’s normally something we take for granted. However, the appearance of the tongue is considered an important diagnostic tool in Eastern medicine. Alongside pulse, nail and facial diagnosis, experienced Ayurvedic practitioners use tongue analysis to detect health issues that may take years to show up on conventional medical tests.

All the same, once we establish the basic gist of tongue mapping, it’s an easy enough practice to do on our own.

The tongue shows when we are in toxic overload, as indicated by the coating on the tongue — which is referred to as ama (or waste) in Ayurveda. Ama is a by-product of the detoxification we experience at night while sleeping. If we leave this film on the tongue after awaking, we reabsorb the toxins back into the system, which in turn taxes our health. However, if we scrape this coating away first thing before eating or drinking, we’ve taken an effective step towards maintaining vitality.

A glimpse into a time-tested diagnostic tool

Before we dive into the actual practice of tongue scraping, let’s have a look at the benefits of tongue diagnosis. According to
Svastha Ayurveda, it can alert us to:

• Organ issues
• Thyroid disorder
• Anaemia
• Vata, Pitta or Kapha imbalances
• Tension and emotions held in the spine, shoulders or organs
• Malabsorption of nutrients
• Parasitic infection
• Inflammation in the body

Since each area of the tongue is associated with a particular organ, we can observe if a certain system is under duress. Take for example the front of the tongue, which is related to the heart and lungs. If we have an issue in one or both of these areas, it will show up in the form of swelling, a filmy coating, discolouration, bare patches, cracks or creases.

The same goes for the liver, spleen and stomach area that falls in the centre region of the tongue. The back is associated with the kidneys, small intestine and colon, where toxicity in these organs will manifest as a coating, usually yellowish or white in colouring. The tip of the tongue corresponds to the thyroid, and the vertical centre represents the spine.


Problem areas to notice

Tongue coating and colouring

If you see any kind of film on the tongue, this is an indicator that the body has toxic build-up and overall poor digestion. Typically, the coating is found toward the back of the tongue, which represents the colon region. If the entire tongue has a coating, there’s a system-wide toxicity issue that has entered the blood stream. For film that is grey, black or brown, a Vata imbalance is indicated. For orange, yellow, green or reddish colour, you can assume Pitta toxins. For Kapha, the coating will be thick and whitish.

Teeth marks on the side of the tongue

Indentations around the tongue point to malabsorption issues of essential nutrients.

A crack down the centre of the tongue

When you see a vertical line in the centre of the tongue, it reflects stress and emotions are being held in the spine. The lower spine correlates to the back of the tongue, while the upper spine is associated with the front.

Multiple cracks spanning the tongue surface

The appearance of many small cracks along the tongue represents a strong Vata imbalance of chronic anxiety, fear, insomnia and nervous system disorder. If the cracks are found only in one area, it reveals a Vata issue in the correlating organ.

Swollen tongue

Suggests inflammation and a possible food reaction. It can also represent hypothyroidism or oedema (fluid retention).

Indentation in the heart area of the tongue

A hollow in the heart area indicates unresolved sadness, grief or depression.

Small red papillae on the surface

If you see red raised dots on the tongue, it typically indicates there’s excessive heat associated with a Pitta constitution.

Pale tongue

A warning sign of low red blood cell count and possibly anaemia, along with malnutrition/poor assimilation.

3-minute morning detox

A simple method to detoxify each day is to scrape the tongue upon waking and before brushing your teeth. Taking a few minutes in the morning to clean the tongue will improve dental health and breath, reduce mouth bacterial load and remove harmful toxins from the body. It can also enhance your sense of taste.

To begin, you will need a tongue scraper made of metal (gold, silver, copper, tin, brass or stainless steel). In a pinch, you can use the side of a spoon.

Sheila Patel, M.D. of the Chopra Center recommends the following protocol:

“The tongue should be gently scraped from back to front for 7 to 14 strokes. The scraper may be rinsed off between strokes if there is a lot of accumulation. Some people report stimulation of the gag reflex during scraping, which may indicate that the scraping is too aggressive. If this occurs with gentle scraping, begin slightly more forward on the tongue to avoid the gagging reflex.”

From an Ayurvedic perspective, this ancient practice stimulates the organs, reduces illness, improves digestion and increases clarity of mind.

“In Ayurveda, a good tongue examination is a useful way of evaluating the health of the entire body. When you examine your tongue, it’s an opportunity for self-awareness, where you can reflect on the choices of the last several days, months, or years and see how those choices have affected your health.” said Dr. Patel. “If a thick coating is noted, you are accumulating toxicity. By noting this, it gives you the opportunity to become more self-aware and make new, healthier choices.”