Jihva Pariksha – Tongue examination – An Ayurveda perspective

Have you felt a coating over your tongue, which doesn’t seem to go, no matter how much you clean it? Have you experienced a bitter, metallic taste on tongue? Have you seen a tongue which is cracked?

If you have made these observations, then you are on to something about your health. In Ayurveda, the tongue is considered to play an important role not just in communication but also digestion; the tongue is a gateway or reflection of the viscera. For an Ayurveda physician both nadi pariksha (pulse examination) and jihva pariksha (tongue examination) serve as diagnostic tools. A healthy tongue is uniformly pink in color, neither too thick nor thin, moist, without any coating and stays straight when extending out. A healthy tongue also varies with Prakruti (body constitution) type. Vata prakruti individuals have a cold, rough and fissured type tongue. Pitta prakruti tongue can be identified by its red, dark and blue appearance, while Kapha prakruti tongue is whitish, with sticky and greasy texture. Thus, an evaluation of the tongue has to take prakruti type into consideration as well; seasoned physicians will sometimes be able to deduce your prakruti type merely with a tongue examination!

Ayurveda also describes a map of various body parts on the tongue and local variations point towards specific tissue systems that are affected as well as severity of the disease. Anterior one third of tongue represents lungs, heart, chest and neck. Froth formation in this region could be an indication of lung weakness, thus predicting predisposition to respiratory illness such as asthma, bronchitis and even common cold. If there is a depression in the anterior middle area where the heart is located, it may imply grief, depression or unhealthy mind. The middle one third represents the liver, spleen, pancreas and stomach. Small cracks or ulcerations in this area point towards gastritis and other related organ anomalies. The posterior one third represents the small and large intestine and kidney. Coatings on the rear part of tongue could be associated with issues such as ulcerative colitis, severe constipation etc.

Whitish as well as excess sticky type tongue could be a sign of kapha vitiation, red or yellow-green coated tongue with a foul smell indicates the pitta vitiation and brownish black color is indicative of vata vitiation. A dry tongue may be a sign of improper Rasa dhatu and a pale tongue could be a sign of altered Rakta dhatu as in anemia which is usually inferred as pandu in Ayurveda. Extreme blue color of tongue is a sign of central cyanosis and which is mentioned in Ayurveda as incurable symptom in the context of treatment of alcohol intoxication (madatyaya). Mental stress usually leads to indigestion and thus the same will be reflected as coated tongue and cracked tongue along with tastelessness.
Being a major organ for taste sensation, a treatment excluding tongue is impossible as it is the first point where the digestion starts. Saying “yes or no” towards a food is exclusively based on the priorities of tongue. For the same reason the examination of tongue is second only to pulse or nadi.

Author: Dr. Arun Bhanu, SRF, CABHN, TDU

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