Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Acupuncture is an ancient medicine that has a diagnostic system quite different from that of today’s Western medicine. In fact, did you know that we look at the outside of the body to see what is going on in the inside? Your face, voice, smell, and body are like an open book to the details of your internal health!
Another big difference between Western Medicine and the TCM system is that when we speak of organs, we are really talking about the energy associated with their systems. For example, the liver energy also rules the: nails, tendons, eyes, moods and emotions, the ability to create goals and have vision, sides of the body and head, and is greatly affected by: the wind, anger, frustration, stress, stifled creativity, and so on.
When assessing a patient, we use the “4 Pillars of Diagnosis”. These are: observation, listening/smelling, asking, and palpating. For example, the sound of a person’s voice and even their choice of words can tell us a lot about what is going on inside of them. Someone with a disharmony in their liver system may sound angry, shouting, quietly seething and choose their words around the notions of justice, courage, and goals. All of these aspects have fascinating depth on their own and are truly captivating to study.
The Pillar of Diagnosis that I will discuss today is under the title of Observation: The tongue.
Now is your chance to stick your tongue out at someone and not get in trouble! TCM diagnosis looks at the tongue in order to see what is going on inside of your body. Just as DNA is a micro-system that corresponds to everything about us, the tongue is a macro-system that represents the entire body.
If you look at the chart on the left, you may notice that if you a stood person head-side down, and then super-imposed his or her body on the tongue, that’s how it is related to the body areas!
So, what exactly are we looking for? Well, first of all, the shape of the tongue tells us a lot about the person’s energy or amount of fluids they may be retaining in any part of his or her body. If the tongue is very swollen and wet looking, then they may have edema in their legs. If there are scallops (or wavy-looking tooth marks) on the side of the tongue, this means that the body’s energy is low and cannot hold the tongue together firmly, so it sags out and hits up against the teeth. If you want to look at your own energy, go to the mirror and see if you have these scallops! Deep scallops usually represent very low energy.
Secondly, the colours on the tongue can tell us about the temperature of different parts of the body. For example, when the tip of the tongue is red, we say that the heart system has too much heat in it. This can manifest as: insomnia, rapid speech, stuttering, restlessness, and/or mental anxiety. The reason is that the heart system in TCM rules the mind and speech, and since heat rises, the heat in the heart rises to the mind and agitates it. A qualified acupuncturist would use this as part of their diagnosis, and may opt to “drain heat from the heart system” in order to calm the mind.
Third, the coat on the tongue tells us about the state of the body fluids. A very common example is having a thick coat in the back of the tongue (which represents from the belly button down). This signifies an excess of abnormal fluids in these areas. It makes an acupuncturist question if there are any problems with: bowels, vaginal discharge or yeast infections, urinary bladder infections, tumours or cysts, and the list goes on. In TCM, these are called “damp” conditions, which mean the fluids have become pathological and are causing problems. Benign or malignant tumours grow in “damp” environments. I see this very often in my clinic with women who have problems with yeast infections or even polycystic ovaries.
Do you see how preventative this medicine is? If one is able to see things at an early stage, damp below the belly button for example, this can be cleared out BEFORE things like tumours or cysts grow. Although they sometimes need to be removed by surgery if they are problematic, the ENVIRONMENT that initiated their growth still exists. It would be very important to heal this area of pathological dampness so that those problems can be prevented in the first place!
Have a look at your tongue in the mirror. The size, colours and even coats on the tongue can change rapidly and often look different in the morning than it does at night. If you want the most accurate picture of your internal environment, look at your tongue first thing in the morning before you drink or eat, or even brush your teeth.
What colours are you seeing? What is the size of your tongue? Is there a coat on the tongue? If yes to any of these questions, then look at the look at the tongue chart above, and see what organ system it may be affecting. Please do not be alarmed if you find something, as pretty much everyone except for most infants have some sort of imbalance somewhere! But, it will tell you where some adjustments should be made in order to live in optimal health.