What your tongue is saying when you aren't even talking
You head to your acupuncture appointment, you are excited, optimistic, a little nervous and wondering what to expect. Your acupuncturist has you sit down and asks you a bunch of questions, explains a few things and then have you get comfortable on the table. They check your pulse and then they ask you to stick your tongue out at them! You want me to do what?! That is right.....stick out your tongue, please! Why would they want you to do that?
Well, it turns out that our tongues speak volumes even when we aren’t talking. The tongue is a wonderful diagnostic tool in Chinese medicine because it is a window into what is going on inside our bodies. I don’t know if you realize but the tongue is the only muscle that we can see externally! Kinda cool when you think of this that way. And as with all things in Chinese medicine we are looking for imbalances in the body. Our tongues can lead us to where and what those imbalances are.
So what are we looking at when asked to see your tongue? We are looking at a lot of different things. For example, what is the shape of the tongue? Is it long and pointed, is it wide, short, long, does it press on the teeth leaving scalloped edges? We also take into account the color of your tongue. Does it have a nice rosy color, is bright red, dark red, pale or dusky. Another big thing that we look at is the coating on your tongue. Ideally, we should have a thin white coating that is even on the tongue but this is often not the case. It can be thick, it can be white, or yellow, brown, there may not be a coating at all or it could be in patches. Finally one of the other big things to look for is if there are cracks along parts of the tongue. With the exception of the shape and color of the tongue, these other features can vary from place to place.
So how do translate all this information? The tongue is mapped out into specific areas and these areas have a correspondence with the different energetics of the body. For example, the front tip of the tongue corresponds to the heart meridian or energy channel, and the very center of the tongue corresponds to the energetics of the spleen and stomach meridians (think digestion). So by looking at the locations of the various features of the tongue, it can lead us to the locations of imbalances. We can then further refine what the imbalance might be by the presence or absence of each feature. The coating or lack there of can give a glimpse as to how the fluids of the body are functioning. Is there an “overabundance,” which may produce a thick tongue coat or not enough in the case of no tongue coating. We will also look at where on the map the coating is located leading us in the direction of which meridian is out of balance. By looking at the color of the tongue we can gather information about the internal body temperature and the state of the blood, or at least how we refer to the blood in Chinese medicine. We would then take all that information and combine it with your pulse and the information that you tell us and we can develop out treatment from there.
As you can see there is a lot of information that can be gathered from the tongue and the above is just the tip of the iceberg as to what can be determined by a simple peek at the tongue. So I encourage you to stick out your tongue and take a peek. You can see some pretty interesting things!