Understanding Our Health By Looking At Our Tongue
Our mouths are a breeding ground for bacteria from poor oral hygiene and undigested food that sits on the tongue after a meal. This is considered ama, or toxins. Most of us pay zero attention to our tongues, because why would you want to look at a slimy muscle right? The truth is, that muscle holds wisdom to our health, especially our digestive health. When we brush our teeth we don't pay any attention to our tongues or when we do, we simply brush over it with the bristles of our toothbrush and we think that we did our part in keeping our oral hygiene on track. Unfortunately, that is not enough.
In Ayurveda, the moment we put food into our mouth sensors go off in our body to start up our digestion. You can say this is also similar when we think about food and we start salivating. Our digestive system is waking up and getting ready to do its job. Quite amazing right? The hardest worker I know is my body!
Secondly, the mouth is also where toxins begin in our body. Makes sense right? Toxins mostly come from our food, and where do we start the consumption process? Our mouths.
Have You Looked At Your Tongue Today?
Activity: Grab a mirror, or go to your bathroom and look at your tongue. What do you notice? Is there a coating on your tongue? Is it green? Yellow? White? In what location are you finding the coating? Mostly in the middle? Right? Left? Back? All over? Take note.
Most of us have experienced, or still experience morning breath. So, when you go to bed at night all of the days toxins have built up on the surface of the tongue. This includes bacteria, food debris, dead cells and fungus. When this sits for a long period of time it can cause a bad stench and cause what we know as bad morning breath. It's also visible. The coating on your tongue is nothing but ama in its purest, unpleasing form. Eck!
It's also not as simple as it just causing bad breath, that ama coating on the tongue is disrupting our digestive health. Because the toxins sit on our tongue without proper tongue cleaning techniques, it ends up in our gastrointestinal tract by reabsorption. The toxicity of the ama causes a weakened digestive response, a lowered immune defense and a decreased ability to absorb nutrients from our foods. What can happen from here? Well we gain weight, we become sick, we produce acne built from bacteria, gas and other imbalances. Think of a bucket of water. Eventually when the bucket becomes too full, the water pours out. In this case, our body is the bucket and the water is the toxins. Our body is built to take on toxins and expel when necessary and in a healthy way- however, when we build up too many toxins for our body to handle it turns out in gas, eczema, acne and more. Unfortunately the toxins have nowhere to go, but out- and when they go out, we feel absolutely at our worse and our insecurities lie on the surface.
What Is Your Tongue Telling You?
The tongue is like a roadmap. It tells you where you are, and where you need to go- in terms of our health of course. There's a lot that can go into looking at someone's tongue, for instance the way the person sticks out their tongue, the dryness, the wetness and the markings. Much like the art of reflexology, all organs and the entire body can be located on specific regions of the tongue (and feet). 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.
Most commonly in people, the tongue has a buildup of thick ama in the back of the tongue. Makes sense right? Even if you have decent oral health the back of the tongue is where the majority of our food sits the longest, and it's the hardest to get to because of most people's inability to reach far enough to clean without the gag reflex taking over. This, unfortunately, is bad news for our colon. If the entire tongue is coated though, this indicates systemic toxins, meaning the toxins are in the bloodstream and is invading the entire body. So in other words, you better clean that tongue and quick! Your body needs your help and is begging for some assistance to keep you healthy.
Without going any further because all beings will have a different looking tongue depending on their constitution, it's important to note here that there is no such thing as a "perfect tongue". We can surely get close, but perfect to you, might not be perfect to another. For someone who is of a Vata constitution, the tongue will tend to be thinner, smaller, and a bit rough and dry. For someone who is of a Pitta constitution, the tongue will be a bit redder in color, medium in size, and slightly dry. Lastly, for someone who is of a Kapha constitution, the tongue will be larger, full, possibly light pink, and a bit wet. I've mentioned what doshas are in the past, but just as a quick reminder and overview- they are elements that make up a person from their conceived state and can tell current imbalances within an individual. In Ayurveda, there are 5 elements. Ether, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. Those elements make up the 3 doshas Kapha, Pitta, and Vata. Vata being Ether and Air, Pitta being Fire and Water, and then Kapha being Water and Earth. Sorta kind of like a zodiac sign... but not really.
If you dig massages, you'll love a tongue scraper. It's basically like a massage for the tongue- but yet only that this massage is taking off toxins left behind on the tongue. Tongue scrapers are cheap, efficient, good for the planet because it's not made out of plastic, and if you thought that was great, it's also extremely sanitary and easy to clean! You can purchase a tongue scraper for less than $10 and can be found at most wellness studios and health shops. If you don't have anything similar in your hometown, you can buy one online from Amazon. Seriously, I am not kidding. Get one.
In my home, we use the Banyan Botanicals Tongue Scraper because it's stainless steel and affordable. Not to mention the company is great and we love supporting them. Their shop is also on Amazon and you can purchase it here.
How to scrape your tongue:
- There are two ends of the scraper, put one end in each hand.
- Find a mirror and stick out your tongue. See the gunk?
- Place the scraper on the back of the tongue (the furthest that you can comfortably go).
- Gently press the scraper down on the tongue and pull forward. You should be able to see the mucus in front of the scraper coming off.
- For every scrape forward to the tip of the tongue, dip the scraper in your running faucet water and return to the back of the tongue and repeat 5-10x's.
- Once complete, rinse off your scraper completely and store in a clean place. I like to boil my scraper in hot water on the stove at least once a month to keep it disinfected.
Practice every single morning before or after you brush your teeth, and ideally follow with oil pulling.
Keeping The Fire Going
In Ayurveda, it's important to keep our digestive fire kindled. When we scrape our tongue early in the morning, we are stimulating our digestion and preparing for the day. Remember that digestion starts at the tongue, and it's thought as a kindle for a fire. What does a fire need to keep going? More kindle!
Our health should not stop at tongue scraping and our body still needs some assistance from working tireless shifts to keep you going throughout the day. Every morning we should start with a light warming breakfast and a hot drink like tea or lemon water. I prefer lemon water every morning personally, but the thought behind a warming beverage in the morning besides a cool one, is because cold burns out a fire, right? Simply science! Have you ever noticed when washing the dishes that the foods come off better when we use hot water compared to cold? Same with our body. It will easily absorb the water making it more hydrating and allowing our body not have to work as hard because our body is already a raging 90+ degrees. Drinking a warm beverage flushes out our lymphatic system, softens and dilates our tissues and heals our digestive system. Cold water causes the stomach to shiver and become tight. Just as if we were to walk out in a blizzard, we close up. However in warmer weather we loosen up and feel relaxed. The same response holds true for our digestive system.
The way we start our morning is telling for the day we are going to have. So, wake up 15 minutes earlier than you normally would, take extra time to care for your oral hygiene and sit for 5 or so minutes with a warm beverage and set your intentions for the day. Not only are you going to have a killer day, but your body is going to be working more efficiently and it's going to thank you for a helping hand.