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What Makes the Tongue a Great Diagnostic Tool in Ayurveda?

In my studies of Ayurveda, I have learned that this form of medicine is very comprehensive in its diagnosis of disease. I enjoy learning about Ayurveda because it looks at the whole body and sees how all of its individual parts work together in harmony when you have health and balance, and in disharmony when you are ill and out of balance.

The tongue is a great map of the interior of a person's body, but it is limited to inner pathway of the digestive tract. Looking at the tongue is a great magnifying glass into the condition of Ama (the by-product of unbalanced jathara agni), and of the state of health of the organs in your upper body. There are three types of tongues; a vata tongue which is narrow and oval shaped. This tongue is usually dry and rough to represent these gunas or qualities of Vata dosha. The vata quadrant of the tongue is the back ⅓ and it often has a dark or grey buildup of film over the colon area, the home of vata. This type of film shows a toxic, cold and dry condition, with variable digestion. Since vata is the source of movement of the other two doshas, when we bring vata back into balance, we bring greater balance to the body as a whole.

The pitta tongue is shaped like an egg and is often pointed like a snake, and often it is inflamed due to the heat of pitta dosha, which shows a state of acute or systemic inflammation within the body. Its quadrant is the center third of the tongue. The home of Pitta dosha is in the small intestines and the lower stomach. This dosha is responsible for all types of transformation. Importantly, this includes the transformation of food into various nutrients and wastes. In the tongue, the pitta area includes organs of the spleen, the liver, pancreas, the lower part of the stomach and the small intestine. The stomach is the site of the digestive enzymes and acids, a secondary site of digestive agni. This organ is governed by pitta and kapha doshas, kapha providing the lubrication needed to protect the stomach lining from damage from stomach acids.

When it comes to the kapha tongue, we see the widest and most thick qualities, looking like a large egg. The front edge of this tongue can sometimes have a straight edge, which is different than the other two tongue types which have a rounded or sharp shape at the tip.

The Kapha area of the tongue takes up the front ⅓ quadrant. The lungs are represented here on the left and right edges, respectively. The heart is also represented here, as this organ needs constant lubrication from the Kapha dosha.

Kapha shows on the tongue as having an oily surface quality, often with a thick white coating, and it is often swollen. The qualities or gunas of Kapha include cold, oily, unctuous and heavy, which create these qualities in the kapha dominant person. This person is usually overweight due to various blockages and a tendency towards water retention.

By using the tongue as a diagnostic tool, we can quickly see the state of health of our bodies with a visual observation from our eyes.

Learning diagnostic tools like this within our Diagnosis Methods and Skills of Ayurveda course has been hugely valuable. I give my thanks to Khabir, our teacher, and his teacher Dr. Vikram of Planet Ayurveda, for the gift of this Ayurvedic wisdom. What we have learned here will provide a basis of understanding which will help each of us indefinitely, in diagnosing ourselves and those we care about, as well as future patients. Thank you.

Mark Andrew Jeron - Ventura, CA

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