Excerpt from an article by LMT Tracy Laval
posted July 16th, 2018 on the Idea Crucible
Read the full article here.
Below are 5 simple and practical ways to calm your nervous system to reduce the tension in your jaw by deactivating your defensive responses. I use this same approach regularly in my clinic where I specialize in TMJ jaw pain. I give these correctives to my clients in my clinic and I do them myself daily. They are effective and easy to use and a great place to start.
1. Slowly alternate breathing in and out of your nostrils:
Why? Stretching out your exhale slows down your heart rate. This calms your nervous system. Slowing your breathing has the fastest affect on calming your nervous system. Alternating your breath out of each nostril has the added benefit of linking your left brain with your right brain for better communication and balance in your nervous system.
Instructions: Set a gentle alarm for 11 mins (I use my phone). Close your eyes. Close your mouth. Breathe in and out through your nose. With one hand raised to your nose, press your thumb into the side of your right nostril, just below the bone halfway down your nose. Inhale through your left nostril, breathing slowly and deeply. At the end of the inhale press your ring finger from the same hand into the side of the left nostril and remove your thumb. Exhale slowly from the right nostril. Stay in this position and inhale through the right nostril. At the end of the inhale press your thumb into the side of your right nostril and exhale from the left nostril. Repeat until your alarm rings indicating you to stop. Do this daily. Do it when you first wake up or whenever you want a clear head for thinking or more energy (like after lunch or late afternoon). You might find it energizing.
2. Laying Down Chair:
Why? Because this relaxes your psoas muscle which is deeply connected to your nervous system. If it is chronically tight it will have an agitating effect on your nervous system and trigger your flight or fight stress response.
Instructions: Lay on the floor on your back in front of a chair with the seat facing you,(or footstool or couch). Bend your hips and knees to 90 degrees each so that your calves are resting on the seat of the chair. Allow the chair to support your lower legs completely, checking to see that you aren’t using your leg muscles or hip muscles to hold your legs up. Allow your leg and hip muscles to relax and for your belly to become soft (you are aiming for your belly to feel like it’s made of honey or jelly). This relaxes your nervous system. Rest here for 20 mins. Do daily anytime (before bed or a meal is best). It will help your sleep and digestion.
3. Back your chin up
Why? Because your head position affects the amount of jaw tension you have. Your jaw muscles contract to help your neck muscles hold your head up against the downward pull of gravity. When your chin is forward, away from the centre of your body, this strains and compresses the area at the top of your neck where vital nerves and blood supply feed your brain reducing blood flow and nerve function.
It’s also a tremendous amount of work for your body to balance your head out in front of your body, suspended against the downward pull of gravity. Your head weighs around 12 pounds. For every inch your head moves forward away from your midline it adds an extra 10 pounds. For every inch! How many inches is your head forward when you are looking at your phone, at your computer or driving? It’s normal to get drawn into what we are doing but it’s not ideal for your body so we constantly need to correct this habit.
You’ll need a regular reminder to pick your head up and move it back. Your muscles have become weak. You’ll need to build strength in the muscles at the top of the neck and you’ll need to revitalize the area at the top of your neck, creating a better environment for blood flow. You can do all this by simply moving your head back in line with the rest of your body. Movement creates lubrication for your joints. It helps them move more easily and smoothly.
Instructions: Set an alarm for the top of the hour for each of your waking hours. I use an app called Simple Habit. I’m sure there are others. When the alarm goes off bring your chin back towards your body. Then return your chin forward over your body as far as it will comfortably go (this is a small movement overall). Then back your chin up towards your body as far as it will go. Repeat 10 times . Chin forward and chin back count as 1 time.
Move within a comfortable range of motion. The movement is small and mindful. This is a sensitive area. Go slower than you think.
If you have had the habit (and weakness) of dropping your chin forward, the top of your neck can feel rusty, thick, boggy, stiff, or dry. Be gentle. You’ll feel yourself move more easily as this area gets revitalized. When I first started doing this movement I felt like the top of my neck was rusty and that I was moving flakes of rust off with each movement. In a few days, with regular movement and mindful correction, my head moves much more smoothly on my neck and I’m able to move my neck farther in both directions (again this is a small motion). Slowly my neck is starting to feel longer like I’m working out the rust between the top few vertebrae (bones of the neck). Move gently, patiently and work within a pain free range of motion. Don’t rush this process.
4. Write down anything in your life that annoys you, or is bothering you then do something about it
Why? Your nervous system likes when you take action to solve your problem, especially if you are prone to chronic fight/flight stress response. That response is all about movement and taking action. The action you take (no matter how small or big) is completing a biological process that signals to your nervous system to reset. The action could be small, like move your desk out from under that annoying air conditioner, or saying no when you don’t want to do something or it could be big like having that difficult conversation, or making a big decision like moving or changing jobs.
If this is hard for you, practice taking little actions every day. It’s like training a muscle. The more you do it the easier it becomes, and it actually becomes energizing. I used to think I was a procrastinator until one day I realized I felt overwhelmed. If I did something about my situation, like make a phone call (which is hard for me) then I felt much better. I could finally relax. It was my body’s way of sending me a signal that I needed to take action to change my environment for a better feeling inside of my body. This is the point of this corrective.
Instructions: In a journal make 4 columns (work, home, health, finances). Under work could think about your relationship with your boss, your colleagues, the physical environment, the vibe, the work you do, where your workstation is. At home you could include your house, your husband/partner, your kids, your pets, your neighbours, and your neighbourhood. Under health you can list your physical health, mental health, emotional health. Finances you can list your income and expenses. You get the idea. List stuff that’s relevant to you.
Under each title write down anything that bothers you or doesn’t feel right for you. Include all the small stuff that annoys you and frustrates you and also include the big stuff. The point is to identify what doesn’t feel right for you. It doesn’t matter that it’s ok for someone else. Just because it feels right for someone else doesn’t mean it feels right for you. Don’t try to talk yourself out of or into something that doesn’t feel right for you. The point is if it doesn’t feel right for you, your body will interpret the stress as a threat and initiate a stress response which mean clenching and grinding your teeth, over activating the muscles of your jaw which causes you pain.
Circle anything that bothers you from the above list that is within your control. There is always something you can do the make your life feel better for you. Take action daily to improve the environment of your life.
5. Cuddle with a loved one
Why? Laying in stillness is our body’s most vulnerable time. Your body needs reassurance and reminders that it’s safe to lay in stillness. It needs to feel a sense of security and safety to sleep deeply. When we lay together in stillness with a loved one (partner, pet or child), especially with our naked skin touching their naked skin it stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin which is involved in social bonding and love. For children and babies, laying in stillness with a parent makes them feel protected. Increasing a feeling of being safe decreases your body's need for defensive behaviors.
Instructions: Lay together with a pet, partner, child or loved one. If you live alone and you don’t have a pet, surround one side of your body with pillows. You can be awake or fall asleep. If you are awake resist the urge to look at your phone or any other electronic device. Being still, present and responsive to each other is essential for your body to let go of the tension it holds to protect itself. Rest for 20-45 mins together. Try it first thing in the am, in the middle of the day or at night while going to bed. I like to do this early in the morning. I usually fall asleep as I lay with my husband and wake up feeling deeply rested.