by Karyn Chabot, D.Ay., L.M.T.
“While thou livest, keep a good tongue in thy head.”
On a break during class at the Ayurvedic Institute, Dr. Vasant Lad agreed to see a few students about their health issues. I told him I had not been feeling well, and I asked if there was any way he could help me. He asked me to stick out my tongue, so I did. “Hmm,” he responded. “There’s pain in your shoulder blades, grief and sorrow in your heart, a thyroid condition and a harmless parasitic infection.”
I began to get chill bumps, and I could barely speak. I always get chill bumps when some great truth is spoken. I just nodded and waited to hear what else he might say, hoping he would prescribe some magic remedy. Without me saying a word about the details of my health, Dr. Lad figured out I had lost function of my thyroid (a few years earlier from Graves disease, which he was unaware of), sorrow from a recent divorce, chronic pain in my shoulder blades from stress and that I had a mild parasitic infection, perhaps from the New Mexico tap water. He told me to watch the changes in my tongue as I began my healing process. To save his voice (since he had been lecturing all day and seeing so many students during break), he wrote down an Ayurvedic herbal remedy especially designed for each of my imbalances, taking into consideration my genetic Ayurvedic constitution. After religiously taking these herbs (which were not tasteful) every day with warm water, I curiously watched my tongue clear up and reshape itself.
The tongue is a holographic map of every aspect of you. Once you learn to identify the markers, it’s very easy to read. Charles Chow, a Chinese doctor, agrees, “A tongue reading is much simpler than pulse diagnosis. The patient can also see where the problem is and monitor changes themselves.” Tongue diagnosis is more objective than pulse diagnosis, though pulse diagnosis takes decades to master, while basic tongue diagnosis can be taught in a weekend workshop.
The ancient art of tongue analysis has its root in the science of Ayurveda, although many other ancient Eastern healing systems use this method as well, including Chinese medicine. When we use the tongue as a tool for analysis and diagnosis, we are looking at the shape, shadings, markings, wetness, texture and even the way someone sticks out her tongue. Having this knowledge can help describe the current state of a person’s (or animal’s) health, as well as his or her genetic tendencies. It is a diagnostic technique, and it can reveal an existing disease process and disclose many things about a person on many levels. Much like reflexology, all the organs and the entire body can be located on specific regions of the tongue. As a mirror of the body’s digestive system, the tongue can reflect what minerals and vitamins may be deficient and can reveal the health of other various organs in the body.
Tongue analysis can be a valuable tool for a massage therapist, or anyone in the healing industry. I had a chart designed by an artist, who studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, based on some notes I took during Dr. Lad’s one-year Ayurvedic program. This chart has been quite a conversation piece and the main attraction in my treatment room. It also makes people laugh because the artist drew silly faces with these different tongues, but it has also given the science of Ayurveda some credibility to my clients.
Benefits of tongue diagnosis include:
• The greatest advantage is its value in self-diagnosis and monitoring one’s state of health on a daily basis.
• The beauty of tongue diagnosis is in its simplicity and immediacy.
• Determines one’s unique inherited constitution.
• Assesses a person’s current health condition.
• Used as an early detector for disorders in the body.
• Informs the practitioner about the underlying cause of disease.
• Is an accurate way of determining what is happening in the digestive system: liver, stomach, spleen, small and large intestines.
• Reveals the stage and progression of a particular illness.
• Shows the quality of the individual’s energy production.
• Reflects the quality of the circulation of prana, blood, bodily fluids and essence.
• Reveals the quality and balance of the five elements as revealed within the organs and overall body chemistry.
• Determines the acid-alkaline pH balance.
• Mirrors the condition of the bodily fluids, function of the organs, strengths and depth of the pathogenic factors in the body.
• Assists in determining the cause of illness.
• Reveals the emotional aspects relative to the constitution.
• Pathological processes for disorders that war full of contradictions are quickly clarified.
(Ayurvedic Tongue Diagnosis, by Walter “Shantree” Kacera, D.N., Ph.D.)
Ancient indigenous cultures all practiced daily tongue scraping to remove toxins and increase their immunity. Using a tongue scraper has been shown to be more effective than a toothbrush, dental floss or mouthwash, and it doesn’t make one gag or dry the mouth in the way alcoholic mouth rinses can; however, this doesn’t mean you should throw away your floss and toothbrush. The medical community once thought halitosis was attributed more to tooth decay or stomach problems, but it now concurs bad breath is primarily caused by harmful tongue bacteria that isn’t removed by brushing, flossing or gargling alone. Bad breath is produced by toxic volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs) which the Journal of the American Dental Association (September 2000) advises one remove with a tongue scraper.
If the tongue is covered by a thick coating, it may indicate the presence of toxins in the stomach, small intestine or large intestine. If the posterior part of the tongue is coated, it will indicate that toxins are present in the large intestine. If the middle of the tongue is coated white, the toxins are present in the stomach and in the small intestine. A pale tongue may indicate an anemic condition or lack of blood in the body. A yellowish coating on the tongue may suggest excess bile is present in the gallbladder or a possible liver disorder. A blue tongue is normally an indication of a heart condition. A whitish tongue indicates Kapha imbalance and mucus accumulation. A red or yellow-green tongue indicates a Pitta imbalance. A Vata imbalance is manifested by a black to brown coloration on the tongue.
“Periodic detoxification, a pure diet and daily use of a tongue scraper, helps to rid digestive toxins accumulated on the tongue,” suggests Dr. Lad. It also massages the entire body in a sense such that it enlivens the circulation and lymphatic systems. Nobody wants a furry tongue and bad breath. Removing the superficial layer of coating and bacteria resting on the tongue lowers the risk of tooth decay, throat infections, bad breath, heart disease and gum disease, according to modern research. It won’t, however, alter the appearance of deep pathological tongue indications.
A healthy tongue should look like a kitten’s tongue: symmetric and evenly pink. It is neither too thick nor too thin, and oval in shape. When sticking out, its naturally straight rather than curving to one side. It should remain still, not trembling, flaccid, flat-tipped or stiff. It should have a thin, transparent coating, coloring the tongue pink. All the taste buds are flat, orderly and free from strawberry-looking bumps, deep cuts, lines, cracks and patches. It should not have foam, hair, fur, be too dry or too wet or have a foul odor or taste.
As massage therapists, it’s helpful to know how to detect spinal imbalances, such as scoliosis, lordosis or kyphosis, just by examining the tongue. When the line in the middle of the tongue is curved or bent to one side, it is an indication of scoliosis. A crack in the front of the tongue near the tip on the right side would be an indication the client has pain in his or her right shoulder blade. The same goes for the other side. When the line is very deep and nearly split apart, it can be an indication of deep spinal pain or deep sorrow that is being stored in the spine.
Vata, pitta and kapha pain classification
Vata, pitta and kapha are called doshas. These words are from the Sanskrit language. The word dosha usually refers to an excess of biological principles that relate to the five great elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. We all have a certain preponderance of vata, pitta and kapha within us and within the universe. When this delicate balance of vata, pitta and kapha is knocked out, we experience pain and symptoms of the disease process. Below are some helpful hints for how to determine what dosha is knocked out and what do about it.
It is very helpful not only to observe your clients’ tongues, but also to listen for how they describe their pain. If you can’t figure out what’s going on with their tongue, then break it down into sections. If your client has demarcations, lines, bumps, indents and other strange symptoms, for example, in the pitta section, you can determine they are experiencing high amounts of the fire element and internal inflammations. By knowing what dosha is the culprit, you can choose the right therapeutic protocols for them.
Kapha pain: If the client apathetically describes his or her pain as dull, stubborn and stays in one place, this will be a clue that kapha (earth and water) is in excess within their bodies. Once you are sure it’s kapha, you can recommend a kapha-reducing diet, lifestyle and yoga postures. Give these recommendations with authority and conviction in your voice. Kapha is intrinsically lazy and will need you to really push your suggestions to take action. Do not use much oil, if any. They will respond best to a dry, stimulating massage, such as Tui na, shiatsu, Garshana (dry brushing) or deep Thai Massage. Rigorous and vigorous therapy is indicated for them to release pain.
Pitta pain: Your clients who have an excess of pitta (water and fire) will be obviously annoyed and impatient as they describe their pain as sharp, burning and hot. Once you are sure it’s pitta, you can recommend a pitta-reducing diet, lifestyle and yoga postures. Give these recommendations in the form of suggestions, not mandatory stipulations or rules. Better yet, you can get your point across using questions, if you are clever. Pitta does not like to be told what to do. Use a moderate amount of oil, not too much. Apply a moderate amount of pressure, and always check in with them to ask if the pressure is OK, because they will usually have an opinion. They will usually want to tell you exactly how to massage them. It is best not to argue with pitta clients; they may need their ego stroked more than they need their muscles stroked.
Vata pain: Your clients who have an excess of vata (ether and air), will be in a moderate amount of pain that is radiating, elusive, unpredictable or gripping. They usually experience pain more dramatically than pitta or kapha and can appear very needy and hopeful that you, the massage therapist, can help them. Once you are sure it’s vata, you can recommend a vata-reducing diet, lifestyle and yoga postures. Give these recommendations with a soft, compassionate voice. Vata is like a delicate flower. Give these clients compression therapy, and make your massage movements slow and confident. Use lots of oil, as well as wringing and squeezing techniques.
Karyn Chabot graduated from Goddard College with her bachelor’s degree in alternative health in 1995. In 1997, she graduated and studied with Dr. Vasant Lad, B.A.M.S, at his school, The Ayurvedic Institute, in New Mexico. That same year, she also graduated from Universal Massage Therapeutics of New Mexico. During the past 23 years of working in the health industry, she became a licensed and nationally certified massage therapist and continuing-education provider for other massage therapists. In 1998, she became certified as a Ayur*Yoga Therapist, and later graduated from the Ayurveda-Yoga Institute of New York City. She then became certified as a master crystologist with the Taomchi Association of America, Reiki practitioner, certified Quantum Touch therapist and certified fitness trainer and nutritionist. She also holds certification as a Pancha Karma Therapist and Medical Thai Therapist. For more information, as well as to purchase the Ayurvedic Tongue Analysis chart, visit www.sacredstonehealing.com.