The quickest answer is that we are taking a snapshot of the internal climate of your body, as well as getting a sense of a person's general constitution.
Just as the various regions of the earth have different climate systems, people are unique in the types of internal weather that they have going on inside them.
Many factors can influence this such as age, diet, where a person lives or one's general constitution. For example, just as some people are naturally tall, some people might have internal weather that is more cool, or more warm.
Understanding someone's internal weather system, sometimes helps us in choosing acupuncture points, and can be especially useful when selecting herbal formulas or considering what kind of foods might work well for someone.
The list below gives an idea of the types of things that we are looking at.
- Tongue shape --> Is it large or small? Is the tongue swollen? If so, is the whole tongue swollen or just one area, like the sides? Is it scalloped, meaning, are there indentations along the sides where your tongue presses up against your teeth?
- Tongue color --> Is it pink? pale? red? dusky? (a slightly purplish color), Is the color even or is there, for example, redness just on the tip or sides?
- Tongue coat --> Is there a tongue coating? If so, how thick is it? Is it white, yellow or maybe even brown/black?
- Other markers --> Are there cracks? Are there spots? And where are these spots or cracks located?
- The tip of the tongue is said to give us an indication of what is happening with the upper part of the body (for example the lung and heart area).
- The middle part of the tongue with the upper digestive area (SP/ST).
- The back part of the tongue with the lower digestive area and/or the reproductive organs.
- Lastly, the sides of the tongue represent the Liver and GB in Chinese Medicine.
-A white coat that is primarily covering the center of the tongue might indicate that there is some "dampness" effecting the digestive system, manifesting as sluggish bowels or bloating.
-It is very common to see a pale tongue that is slightly swollen. This can be an indication that the digestive system is maybe not working as efficiently as it could or perhaps that energy is running low.
-Another very common presentation is a tongue that has a slight (what we refer to as) dusky color to it. This often indicates that "qi" is not moving as freely as it could.
Ok, now that I have shared with you the things that we are looking for when we look at your tongue, I have a caveat. It does not tell us everything. It offers us a clue. This is because people are complex, and sometimes our bodies can have various internal climates happening at the same time!
One last thing to keep in mind is that we do not look at your tongue to find things "wrong" with you. We observe your tongue to see how we might support your body in finding balance. Our bodies are in a constant state of flux, always adjusting, and our job is to help support your body in that process.