What I learned from my funky tongue

At school for Ayurveda, my funky looking tongue was the source of a lot of questions.

I had diagnosed myself with something known as Geographic Tongue, and now realize that when you look through an Ayurvedic lens, there is no such thing.

The first time I remember noticing my tongue, really, was about a few years before I went to study Ayurveda. I had never really looked at tongues, or known what they were supposed to look like, but I noticed mine was very strange.  Size and shape seemed normal, but the surface was very patchy, and those circles and shapes changed from day to day.  I looked that up online, and found this term called ‘Geographic Tongue.’  I wish I had a picture of my tongue, but here’s a photo from Google that looks very similar  (I am making it really small, because I get that it’s a little icky…):

Does your tongue look like this?

Does your tongue look like this?


(Need a break to go look in the mirror?)


“Cool,” I thought at the time, as I felt very global, very geographic at that time in my life, lucky to have been traveling to Italy and India and back again.

I wasn’t too worried about it, though it seemed a little gross at times.  I did not have a doctor to ask, but I did ask the dentist when I went for a cleaning, figuring they know all things mouth.  She didn’t seem even to notice, which I thought was nearly impossible, but took that as a sign things must be all good.

Fast forward a few years to studying Ayurveda.  We started to learn tongue diagnosis early on in our training, and a whole new world opened up to me.  This coating, these marks are not something to be ignored.  They are signs of what’s going on inside.

I had this aha moment, like I had already known that had to be true, but was getting signs from elsewhere not to think about it.

Our tongue is a map of out organs, and the coating reflects the strength of our metabolism or agni, and the influence of the doshas on that.  Here’s a copy of an Ayurvedic Tongue Chart from Dr. Vasant Lad:


I wanted to know what was going on, so I was not shy to stick my tongue out at every teacher and fellow student who wanted to see.

In Ayurveda school, we get excited about things like that.

I received a lot of furrowed brows.  Many said “parasties” or krumi, which made some sense to me, as I had done a lot of traveling before I had noticed this a few years prior.  One of my teachers, Dr. Anusha, mentioned she thought it was “deep seated ama.”

Not cool.

Ama means toxin in Sanskrit.  I was not readily experiencing much for symptoms, aside from regular constipation (only starting to learn that my bowel habits were not entirely healthy as well!)  but being in my mid-twenties, and otherwise very healthy for all of my life, I was strong enough so that this ama was not affecting me much at the moment.

From all that I was learning, I had the foresight to know that this stuff sticks around – that ama is the cause of most if not all disease in Ayurvedic Medicine, and that I could no longer ignore the signs. I needed to nip this imbalance in the bud, before it caused me problems later in life.

This ama could have been caused by Vata aggravation from too much travel for my constitution, compromising my agni.  This ama could have been caused from 4 years of eating college cafeteria food and lots of cheese and wine.  This ama could have been caused from a parasite picked up in India.  I had a few ideas, but now that those causes were removed, it was time to address the toxins, and strengthen my agni to do so.

It takes a long time to change your habits around eating. But it just starts with awareness.  We learned about food combining rules, optimal timing to eat meals, and teas and spices to help strengthen agni (metabolism) and directly burn up ama.  We learned daily self-care techniques, like massage, and tongue scraping, of course, to again, help the body heal itself.

Because in reality, that’s the only kind of healing there is.

Again, I had the luxury to take time to experiment.  I noticed things changing all the time on my tongue. I watched and observed. I scraped and I ate cleaner.

I started cleansing twice per year.  I enjoyed kitchari regularly, to learn about what it felt like to have perfect digestion.  Kitchari became my best medicine, and I’d say it still is.


Today, 3 years later, my tongue is mostly clean and happy.  When I see changes on it, I know not to ignore them.  I can tell if my adrenals are shot, or if I did not digest the previous days (or previous few hours!) meal and think about why.

I promise to take a photo later – I had turmeric milk for breakfast so my whole mouth is yellow 🙂

What you can do now

Start by having a look at your tongue in the mirror each morning before you brush your teeth. You might have nothing to compare it to, so maybe ask a friend, or your partner to look at theirs.  All tongues are different, of course, depending on our constitution, but you can also notice color, or thickness of coating, and whether that changes day to day.

The coating on the tongue, if thick, is ama. Most of us will have a little coating in the back, meaning that the ama is in the colon, and hasn’t traveled far, only forming after the previous days meal.  You can remove this, as well as give a little massage to your organs with daily gentle tongue scraping.  You can use a tongue scraper, or just a metal spoon designated for that purpose. Scrape back from front lightly about 7 times, and rinse your utensil. Then brush your teeth as usual.

Do you have a funky tongue?

1) If you know you need a cleanse, I have to point you to do it the Ayurvedic way in my 7 Day online cleanse course.

2) If you are ready to learn and apply the skills I mentioned above for healing through diet and more ayurvedic practices, apply here for The Healing Diet 10 week experiential course that starts in September 2014.

If you’re concerned, let’s chat.  There are funky tongues everywhere trying to tell us something!

Love, Adena


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