I See Tongues

Tongue DiagramIt's already second nature. When I see people, I see tongues. I notice when the actor in the movie on the big screen has a thick white coat. I try to sneak a peek at my friends' tongues when we're having a casual conversation. If there's a thick yellow coat, I subconsciously take a step back and continue our conversation from a safer distance. I've actually had dreams about analyzing someone's tongue shape, size, color, and coat.

Why am I haunted by tongues? As a student of acupuncture and oriental medicine, I've taken classes on how to evaluate various tongue appearances and use that valuable, albeit gross, information when formulating a diagnosis about the patient's overall condition. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the tongue and pulse are integral pieces in the puzzle of health and wellness.

The 2,000 year-old classic "Huang Di Nei Jing", translated as "The Yellow Emperor's Inner Cannon," offers around 60 quotes about the tongue. We are instructed to examine the exterior, including the orifices, in order to gain a clear picture of the interior. Specifically, the tongue can reveal problematic areas or functional systems within the body, such as stagnated Liver Qi or an accumulation of dampness. Not everyone in oriental medicine relies on the "stick out your tongue" method when diagnosing patients, though. Different practitioners place a varying amount of importance on the tongue's appearance. One professor even told us to treat the tongue appearance as a "tie breaker" if you are wavering between two diagnoses.

As a result, we students study the tongue diligently, searching for heat prickles, digging for signs of sublingual dilation. If we see a thick tongue with a white coat and scalloped edges, we feel fairly confident suggesting that the patient suffers from Spleen Qi deficiency. If you see a purple tongue with ventral dilation that gives you nightmares of giant black caterpillars crawling towards you, then you check into the patient's Liver Qi stagnation issues. Unfortunately, what you see in the average person's mouth is a combination of every diagnosable characteristic you've ever learned. In other words, it's not as easy as it sounds!

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I'll leave you with this tongue conversation that I had today with my 3-year-old son. Yes, even toddlers are getting in on the trend of diagnosing tongues these days! Enjoy...

Me: Let me see your tongue, buddy. (I look at the normal beautiful tongue that only children seem to have.) Thanks, it looks pretty good!

Him: Thanks, Mom. Show me your tongue now. (I stick out the mess that we adults always seem to have.) Whoa! Yours looks bad. It looks like a pirate ship... with windows... and people... and a volcano... and some beds! 

Go ahead...check out some tongue info here: http://www.sacredlotus.com/diagnosis/tongue/