Ayurvedic Tongue Analysis: An Excellent Diagnostic Tool




Written by John Immel, Asheville, NC

Are you prone to a problem with ‘Many cracks on tongue’? Find your imbalances and create a diet for your Blood and Circulation by taking the free blood and circulation quiz.


Most people don’t even notice the cracks on their tongue. But in Ayurveda, cracks on your tongue tell an important story. Your tongue is a window into your innards. When you look at your tongue, it is as if you are peering down a periscope into the depths of a submarine – your organs beneath the surface.

The tissues of the tongue and mouth are especially similar to the tissues of your GI tract, with many of the same bacteria as well. That’s why the appearance of the tongue often mirrors that of your digestive tract, or is at least suggestive of GI pathologies down below. If your tongue looks healthy, your digestive system is probably healthy. However, if your tongue looks unhealthy, your GI tract may be compromised.

Changes in your GI often cause changes on your tongue. For example, if you have a sore in your mouth, you may have a sore somewhere along your GI. If your tongue is inflamed, your GI may also be inflamed. The appearance of the tongue and the GI is not always the same, but often tongue provides clues to what is happening deeper within. When your tongue responds positively to treatment, chances are your GI will too.

The tongue is a useful tool for assessing the health of all organs and tissues in the body. This should not be a surprise. Organs perform important functions and when these functions are compromised, the effects are noticeable everywhere including on the tongue. The tongue is especially useful for assessment because it is an internal organ visible from the outside, and therefore offers different cues than the skin or eyes.

How Do Practitioners Read the Tongue?

Practitioners look at the entire surface of the tongue, including underneath the tongue, and the back of tongue. Practitioners look at tongue coating, coating color, surface features, tongue body shape, and tongue body color. Of particular note are cracks on the surface of the tongue.

A healthy tongue has no cracks. A tongue without cracks is frequently soft and supple. Such a tongue looks full and moistened indicating the body is hydrated. A crackless tongue reveals that the person is well nourished and that rasa dhatu (plasma) and rakta dhatu (red blood cells) are healthy. Children’s tongues provide a good gauge for what a healthy tongue should look like and rarely have cracks. It is common to see cracks on the tongues of elderly individuals who are more prone to dryness, digestive issues and Vata aggravation.

Cracks on the tongue generally indicate the tongue is deficient in fluids, and relatively empty compared to the full, moistened tongue described above. Cracks on the tongue generally indicate a Vata disorder relating to excess dry quality in the body. A tongue with cracks is inadequately moistened and therefore, often the whole body is also dehydrated. Depending on the depths and severity of the cracks, they can also indicate a more severe Vata imbalance relating to degeneration in tissue (loss of ojas).

Cracks Often Reveal the Severity of Your Condition

Throughout the body, pathology starts as a loss of vitality (a loss of prana and tejas). If the imbalance is not addressed, it gradually leads to a loss of substance (ojas) in the form of tissue degeneration. Therefore, a tissue loses prana and tejas before ojas is depleted.Cracks also follow this general pattern. A single, small, superficial crack is not very significant in terms of pathology. It indicates a mild Vata imbalance or loss of fluids. The resultant loss of vitality is often easily remedied with adequate hydration, balanced nutrition, reduction in stress levels, or gentle cleansing to reduce toxicity.

As imbalances progress, cracks get more numerous, longer and deeper. A very deep imbalance will lead to cracks distributed over entire tongue. Deeper and more numerous cracks always suggests an injury to fluids and/or tissue itself. Re-hydration, and rejuvenation are essential in addressing such an imbalance, but may not be sufficient. To heal a disorder in this stage, pancha karma, and detailed examination of the root cause may be necessary.

To assess the progression of a disorder through the various disease stages, cracks are rated as mild, medium or severe according to the depth, length, location, distribution and number of cracks. Cracks may appear on the tongue suddenly with onset of an illness, stress, or diet and lifestyle changes. If a crack on the tongue develops during an illness, it can mean that the condition is chronic and severe.

Location & Pattern of Cracks

The location of a crack potentially corresponds to an organ, though you need to look for other signs to confirm there is an issue with that organ. One may wonder, how does the location on the tongue relate to an organ far away in the body? The reason is due to differences in circulation that occur over the surface of the tongue. As organ imbalances affect the blood and circulation, they affect different areas of the tongue differently. The back of the tongue is most sensitive to dehydration and fluid volume. The sides of the tongue are most sensitive to blood stagnation. The center of the tongue enjoys the most circulation, while the tip of the tongue is most affected by heat. These differences in circulation lead to topical changes in the surface of the tongue. Vasoconstriction, for example, affects the edges of the tongue more than the center, leading to a color change, or a change in location of cracks.Lines anywhere on tongue indicate accumulation of Vata in that area of the body. If a crack runs along the entire midline there may be stress held along spine or a heart issue. Lines around the heart area can indicate tight shoulders which can cause low blood flow to the heart.

Cracks on the edges of the tongue reveal that the digestive fire (agni) is impaired. A crack in the center of tongue means that the stomach is injured – likely because of a Vata imbalance. If the crack runs from center of the tongue to the tip there is likely a heart disorder or congenital heart problems.

Common Imbalances Involving Cracks

The most common pattern is appearance of superficial cracks appear along with a reddish tongue. This indicates dryness creating heat which translates to a Vata pushing Pitta disorder. There’s a tendency for dryness and heat to go together in the body, just as in the desert. The remedy is to moisten the tongue by hydrating and nourishing your body (a technique called building ojas). Try a rice pudding for example, or almond shake. Sometimes, pathogens or other external factors come into play with this pattern, requiring nuances in your approach.Cracks with a pale tongue indicate a Vata imbalance due to blood deficiency (rakta). A pale tongue indicates that the digestive fire (agni) is low. Color can be restored with digestives like ginger and black pepper as well as easy to digest foods like kitchariand soups.

Deeper cracks with a pale tongue indicate chronic injury to fluids and or tissues. There may be dehydration and/or kidney flushing due to toxins in the blood. The person will likely feel depleted and could benefit from foods that enrich the blood without overwhelming the digestive system. Bone broth, borscht, pomegranate juice and raisins all serve to rebuild the blood.

Deep cracks with a very red tongue are more severe indicating severe depletion of fluids / rasa dhatu and a flareup of Pitta. The excess heat has caused an imbalance in the blood (rasa and rakta dhatus) and may be burning up fluids (tejas burning ojas). Cooling foods like bitter greens, coconut water and aloe vera gel will bring relief.

The most severe situation is cracks on a red shiny tongue. This means there has been severe injury to tissues, ojas, fluids and the blood plasma (rasa). The stomach is likely damaged and the body extremely depleted. The person will need the help of an advanced practitioner to recover from this level of imbalance, favoring building foods that are easy to digest such as bone broth, chicken soup, almonds, warm milk (if digested well) and ghee.

A tongue that appears shredded is likely the result of epileptic fits which cause a person to inadvertently chew their tongue.

Through accurate assessment of the underlying imbalances, you will notice that cracks heal and may even disappear altogether. The GI, and the tongue, are ever changing environments where rapid recovery, and decline as possible. Take a look at the following example from the Joyful Belly clinic:

Before After 3 Weeks


Tongue assessment has several advantages over other techniques, including pulse diagnosis, because tongues are assessed with the eyes, arguably the most well developed of the 5 senses in humans. Seeing is believing! Additionally, it is possible to analyze the tongue over the phone, skype or via photo. This enables practitioners to effectively work with clients from afar.Tongue assessment is also easier to learn and less subjective than pulse. Pulse changes rapidly throughout a session according to the anxiety of the client, whereas the tongue is relatively stable.

The tongue is a digestive organ. Since we specialize in digestion at Joyful Belly, we specialize in tongue assessment and analysis. Students in our Mastering Ayurvedic Digestion & Nutrition program learn how to determine organ imbalances, constitutional strengths and deficiencies, as well as the quality and nature of fluids via tongue assessment.

The fascinating art of tongue assessment is a window into the interior of the client. The tongue shows the depth and nature of imbalances clueing practitioners into the gunas and doshas that need support. Observing the tongue allows you to measure the progress of a disorder as well as track the client’s recovery.

To start your journey into tongue analysis, begin by looking at your tongue in the mirror every morning.

Disclaimer: Conditions such as ‘Many cracks on tongue’ that cause tissue changes could be serious and should be checked by a medical doctor.