I am not a morning person. In high school, I even created a family rule that no one was allowed to talk to me the first half-hour of each morning, while I ate my breakfast in the dark.
So years later, when a group of Ayurvedic students, using me as a practice client for their study of the ancient Indian health science, assigned me a self-care routine that included waking with the sun, daily tongue scraping, and yoga and meditation practice—all before breakfast—I was reluctant.
Surprisingly, it was the easiest thing, the tongue scraping, that really pushed me to my edge. I don’t want to add one more thing to my morning routine!, I resisted. But a year later, it’s the tongue scraping that sticks with me. I love seeing the gunk that comes off my tongue every morning and what it has to say about my health. And it’s incredibly simple to incorporate into your daily routine, whether you’re a morning person or not.
WHY DO IT: There’s a reason your doctor tells you to stick your tongue out and say ahhh—your tongue (and what’s on it) has a lot to say about your health, from nutritional deficiencies to dehydration to bacterial infections. Jihwa prakshalana, or tongue scraping, helps remove bacteria, toxins, and other gunk that accumulates on your tongue overnight. Studies have shown it can help reduce bad breath and gum disease, and it’s more efficient than simply brushing your tongue with a toothbrush, which tends to push bacteria around. According to Ayurvedic traditions, tongue scraping also aids in digestion by cleansing the taste buds (thus enhancing taste), promoting agni (your digestive fire), and removing ama (toxic residue) that gets in the way.
HOW TO DO IT: The beauty of tongue scraping is that it’s quick (it takes me less than a minute each morning) and you don’t need much to do it. You can buy a metal tongue scraper for less than $10, but you can also just use a spoon. Every morning before you brush, stick out your tongue and reach the scraper as far back on your tongue as you can (it might be a little uncomfortable at first if you have a sensitive gag reflex). Scrape from the back of your tongue to the front a few times, rinsing the residue off the scraper between each pass. If you’re a health nerd like me, you’ll love seeing what your tongue residue looks like each morning and how it responds to diet and lifestyle.
FUN FACT: If you want to delve more deeply into the ancient Ayurvedic aspect, you can tailor your tongue scraper to your dosha, or constitution. (Take this quiz to discover your dosha.) Traditionally, vatas use gold, pittas silver, and kaphas copper (several of which are available through Amazon, though I haven’t spotted gold yet). Stainless steel also works for all constitutions, as does a good old table spoon.