The jaws can be a major place for physical stress to accumulate. Just as the neck, shoulders and back, the jaws are a hotspot for mental unease to build up.
Why at the jaws?
Because we were told to do so.
A little history of jaw tension
There’s a little kid, sitting at the dinner table. The kid had a great day at school and wants to tell all about it. But the parents are talking with each other. They haven’t seen each other all day too and are just as eager to tell about their day. The kid constantly interrupts the conversation of the parents. They ask the kid politely to wait a little bit. When they are finished with this part of the conversation, the kid will get all the time needed to tell her story. But she can’t wait and keeps interrupting. Mother gets annoyed and tells the kid “Would you please shut your mouth?”
Another kid fell down trying to run. She hurt her knee a little bit but is mainly startled and wants to be comforted. Tears well up and she calls out for her mommy to give her a kiss. The mother only saw the her daughter fell, but didn’t fell hard. It’s already the fourth time today. She walks up to the kid and says “Don’t cry, tighten your jaws and continue playing.”
When we grow up we were told many times to shut our mouth, to swallow in our emotions and to tighten our jaws. We tighten our jaws when we feel stress or anxiety. It becomes a habit to tighten our jaws, each time we feel emotions or an urge to share something.
There are more risk factors contributing to jaw tensions: teeth grinding, nail biting, pencil biting, chewing gum, eating hard candy, surgery that overstretches the jaw and sleeping on the side of the mouth. A forward head posture also contributes to tension in the jaws. Try to sit up straight and tuck your chin in.
Symptoms of jaw tension
What does it feel like to have jaw tension?
You can feel discomfort or pain in the jaw, throat and neck. Your jaw can be locked, or you have this ‘clicking’ feeling when muscles move over the jaw joint when opening the mouth.
It can also be painful or impossible to completely open the mouth. It can give you hard times eating ice cream. It can ruin your fun when you are a girl and your boyfriend likes you to give him some oral pleasure.
Other symptoms include a dry or burning sensation in the mouth, forehead or temple headache, buzzing or ringing in the ears and hearing loss.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
The temporomandibular joint is the joint where the mandible (the lower jaw) and the skull connect. Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ) is an umbrella term for acute or chronic pain in the jaws. The pain is caused because of the effects of physical stress on the structures around the joint, including the cartilage disk at the joint, muscles of face, neck and jaws, nearby ligaments and teeth. The largest of the cranial nerves, the trigeminal nerve, is going right through the joint. This nerve is responsible for sensations in the face and motor functions like biting, chewing and swallowing.
Solutions for jaw tension
Now we understand why we have it. But how to release jaw tension?
Remove bad habits
The first thing to do would be to stop habits that increase tension in the jaws. Pay attention to your posture, sit up straight. Stop biting your nails or pens, stop chewing gum all day and don’t tighten your jaws when you feel hurt. Scream it out!
Because stress is an inducer of jaw tension, losing stress and relax is very important. You can try to do a pranayama yoga exercise. Try for instance the ‘alternate nostril breathing’. Put your right thumb on your right nostril and push softly, so you can only breathe through your left nostril. Breathe in very slowly. Then remove your thumb (keep your hand where it is) from your nostril and softly close your left nostril with your ring finger. Breathe out slowly. Keep this nostril closed and breathe in. Now alternate again and close your right nostril with your thumb, breath in, breath out, and change again. Click here if you need more explanation.
While doing this yoga breathing exercise, focus on your breath. By alternating the nostril through which you breathe, you stimulate the connection between the left and right part of the brain.
Start with rubbing your hand palms to get your hands nice and warm. Place your fingertips on each side of your face and give a light touch. You don’t need to press. In the figure I only depicted point on one side of the face, in order for the figure to be clear. Nevertheless, you use both your hands and press both sides of your face symmetrically.
Start with one finger about half an inch to the sides of your nostrils (1). Close your eyes and slowly breath in. With every exhale, you relax the muscles under your fingers. Move your fingers to the tips of your check bones (2); next to the upper side of the ears (3); the corner of the jaw (little bit under earlobe) (4); jaw line next to mouth (5); chin (6); close to the corners of the mouth (7); next to the nostrils (8); under the nostrils (9); corners of the mouth (10); two fingers at middle of the cheeck (11); both fingers somewhat towards the ears (12); top of the jaw (13) and place the full length of the fingers along jaw line (14).
Put your thumb under your chin and give a little pressure. Now open your mouth while keeping the pressure from the thumb. Repeat this 10 times. This exercise gently stretches your jaw muscles.
Open your mouth as wide as you can with no particular focus, then slowly close it. Open your mouth again, but focus this time on opening the left side of your mouth as wide as you can. Repeat the exercise for the right side of your mouth.
Smiling helps alleviating jaw tension, opens your throat (and helps emotions flowing!) and relaxes your facial muscles. You have to smile a big smile. So make yourself laugh and enjoy this exercise as much as you can.
Yoga: lion’s pose
The lion’s pose is a yoga pose that relieves tension in the face and chest. It’s a funny pose. Instead of explaining it to you here I suggest you just type ‘lion pose’ in your favorite search engine and see what comes up. If you aren’t as brave as a lion and try this pose, it might at least give you a laugh. Which is also very beneficial for releasing jaw tension 🙂
In general it is very beneficial to be aware of the moments when your jaws are clenched – or relaxed. You can try to keep your lips slightly separated during the day, and let your jaw just float.
When I found out I have a lot of tension in my jaws, someone gave me these exercises: lick ice cream, play around with grapes in your mouth and have a lot of oral sex! 🙂
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