Would you like a nervous system reset?

Stress. Nearly everyone experiences too much of it.

Take driving in Austin. Rush hour. I-35.

Or reading/listening to the news. Loud voices convinced they are right, trying to persuade you to believe them. Politics, vaccines, polarization. Anger. Blame.

How about work/life balance? Money. Family and relationship issues. Social media. Injustice. The list of potential stressors goes on.

Stress is everywhere, affecting our body-mind systems. It can be acute, a physical reaction to a threat, where ideally our systems return to a calm, alert state when the threat is gone.

It can also be chronic, a long-term condition affecting the health of the entire system.

Chronic stress affects sleep, blood pressure, muscle tension and pain. It can cause headaches, panic attacks, anxiety, depression. It can contribute to addictions and obesity and chronic diseases.

You would have to live in a thick bubble not to notice and experience the effects of stress on our systems, our lives, living in these times.

Something you may not realize is that your body-mind system performs most of its health-maintaining and prolonging functions when you are relaxed.

Relaxation slows your heart rate and breathing (less wear and tear on those organs) and improves the functioning of your entire digestive system (more availability of nutrients to cells).

When you are stressed, your system’s resources are focused on managing threats.

Relaxation in this modern life takes some effort. It involves many choices made over time.

If you are feeling the effects of chronic stress and would like to reset your nervous system in the moment, you can slow your breathing and make your exhalations longer, practice the physiological sigh (3 times), or do the 4-7-8 breath (4 times).

Try them all and discover what works best for you, at least twice a day. Then use it when a bad driver nearly hits you, or you get an unexpected or unaffordable bill, or…whatever stresses you.

You can commit to a daily meditation practice. Ten minutes is a good length to start with. Even one minute of silence and stillness, with your attention turned inward, makes a difference, if you use it several times a day.

You can also jumpstart your nervous system reset by getting a craniosacral therapy session.

How does it work? In both biomechanical (i.e., Upledger trained) and biodynamic craniosacral therapy, still points play an important role.

A still point is a pause in the fluctuation of your cerebrospinal fluid, a subtle rhythm that affects your entire system from deep inside your body.

When a still point occurs, it gives your autonomic nervous system a chance to pause and rebalance.

With repeated still points, which can be brief or last 20 minutes or longer, as well as choices you make to minimize stressors in your life, the equilibrium of your autonomic nervous system can move toward more relaxation and greater health.

Link to a pilot study on the effects of craniosacral therapy on the autonomic nervous system.

Simply put, recurring or continuous stress that the body is unable to deal with affects us physiologically, structurally and emotionally. Eventually we reach a point of constant alertness, which depletes the body, and downgrades its ability to balance itself. By stimulating the rest and recovery systems of the body, the subtle work of CST allows the body to resource its powers of rehabilitation and revival.

Craniosacral Therapy Association, UK

If you’d like to experience a biodynamic craniosacral therapy session, I invite you to schedule one with me.

Even better for interrupting the patterns created by chronic stress, you can buy a package of 3 sessions or 6 sessions.

MELTing and staying hydrated

I’ve begun to study and practice the MELT Method after injuring my low back last fall. The pain led to less activity, which seems to have turned on my pain body, which wasn’t an issue before the injury.

I was advised by my physical therapist to limit my yoga to a home practice. Even that sometimes felt like too much. Like only restorative yoga would be helpful.

I think I tore some connective tissue fibers in that large diamond-shaped piece of connective tissue called the thoracolumbar aponeurosis.

So a friend recommended that I try the MELT Method. It’s been around for probably a decade.

What makes MELT attractive at this time is that it works with the body’s connective tissue. Treating the neurofascial system of the body affects sensory nerve endings, which transmit pain signals.

Keeping the fascia fluid is key. Repetitive motion dehydrates the fascia. How much to you sit? Or do you stand on your feet for hours?

Anyway, I’ve been doing it for a week, and I notice a difference. For more, check out the MELT Method here.

In order to stay more evenly hydrated throughout the day, I’m ordering this water bottle with 2 hour increments marked on it that I’ll need to refill once. It’s glass with a non-BPA protective sleeve and two caps.

Glass water bottle

(I have an affiliate account with Amazon and will make a few cents if you purchase through the link.)

Treating TMJ issues: asymmetries in the rest of the body affect the jaw joints

Jaw pain is rarely entirely in the jaw!

If you were building a tower, and one of the floors wasn’t level, it would affect the floors above it — unless you somehow compensated.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is kind of like that, only it’s because it settled unevenly on the ground beneath it. As they built it over the years, it would sink, stabilize, sink more…

The structure of the body is like that too — even when standing on level solid ground.

Because the jaw is near the top of the skeleton, imbalances below can affect the alignment and functionality of the temporomandibular joints (TMJs).

The primary cause of most jaw pain is asymmetrical hypertonicity. Thanks, TMJ Mastery teacher John Corry! That means that some of the muscles that affect the jaw are tighter than others.

I include a basic structural evaluation in my free TMJ consultations. It’s pretty cursory. I’m just looking for asymmetries. Here’s how I do it.

The patient stands with their shoes off.

I feel the space under theIr arches and check whether their feet (or one foot) are pronating or supinating.

Checking the points on the tops of the hip bones to see if they’re level comes next.

I ask about scoliosis and pelvic floor issues.

I check their shoulders to see if they’re level.

I look at the patient from each side to see if they have a pelvic tilt toward the front or the back and view their spinal curves.

When they are lying on my massage table, I can check for a leg length discrepancy with their legs flat, and then with knees bent. I can also see whether their feet point up symmetrically, which usually indicates asymmetry in the hip joints.

I also feel the space beneath the ears between the bones to see if it’s symmetrical.

When the skull and spine are out of alignment, it can contribute to multiple dysfunctions, with TMJ issues being one of them. (Ask me — I experienced intermittent right jaw clicking and my face drifting slightly to the left in meditation until my chiropractor realigned my AO joint, which also resolved issues that were all on my left side.)

1 shows the line between the mastoid processes. 2 shows the C1 vertebrae. From the sides, feel the convex bony area beneath your ears and come down up to 1/2″ to feel the ends of the C1 vertebrae. Notice if the space is symmetrical.



For more on this, including exercises you can do starting at 5:25, watch this video.

The last part of my evaluation for symmetry is to place the pads of my fingers over the TMJs right in front of the ears and ask my client to open and close repeatedly.

Often one side moves first.

Often one side feels closer to the ear than the other.

Sometimes one side sticks out more than the other.

Try it on yourself. What do you notice?

None of this is super precise. I’m just getting a basic read on asymmetries in the structure of the patient that may affect the jaw.

Have you noticed that you have a dominant side? A side that feels stronger than the other? Most of your issues occurring on one side only?

Have you ever had a foot, ankle, leg, or hip injury? Can you still tell a difference between the injured side and the uninjured one? Can you balance easily on each foot?

How’s your posture? How about your sleep posture?

Also, do you primarily chew on one side of your mouth?

Becoming more symmetrical can be a good long-term project that can pay off with more ease of movement, less discomfort, better balance, injury prevention.

Symmetry is an ideal, like perfection. Most of us are doing the best we can. There’s always going to be some asymmetry in the body (our abdominal organs are asymmetric), but we can definitely address our most dysfunctional areas.

The functional movement screen is a set of 7 movements you do with a trainer, who scores you and can prescribe workouts that strengthen your weaknesses. FMS was developed to identify athletes who were prone to injury before they got injured. It can work for ordinary people too.

Here’s a link to view the screening movements. You can find a trainer near you online.

Practices of non-linear movement can help if done regularly over a long period. These movements work both sides of the body. They increase flexibility and balance and fluidity. And they are fun! Examples:

  • yoga, especially alignment-oriented types like Iyengar and Anusara
  • qi gong
  • tai chi
  • Gyrokinesis
  • martial arts
  • dance

The type of bodywork that directly addresses asymmetries is called structural bodywork. There are two main schools of training: Rolfing Structural Integration and Anatomy Trains Structural Integration. Neuromuscular therapy also assesses posture and gait pattern and can address imbalances.

Treating TMJ issues: restless legs and sleep bruxism

A new clue about bruxism.

A neurology practice noted that of its patients who had restless legs syndrome (RLS), 60% also had bruxism (grinding teeth during sleep). They found that 52% had RLS, bruxism, and migraines.

Do you relate?

The lead neurologist for this study speculated there is a gene that links these conditions.

It gets more interesting. Both restless legs syndrome and bruxism are involuntary movements occurring during sleep. Is bruxism “restless jaw syndrome?”

I’m always happy to see more research about TMJ-related issues, especially because there are so many factors that play a role in jaw dysfunction and pain.

More about bruxism.

Bruxism includes clenching and grinding the teeth. Some distinguish these as “waking bruxism” and “sleep bruxism”.

They may have different causes, in my opinion.

Sleep bruxism, in contrast to daytime clenching, is hard to treat because it occurs when unaware of your behavior and unable to change it.

Waking bruxism is a habit that can change with awareness and practice. I’ve helped many clenchers learn how to relax their mouth position.

Some things I’ve noted about bruxism in my manual therapy practice:

  • Many people don’t know they grind during sleep until a dentist tells them they have damaged teeth.
  • Bruxism often requires expensive dental work: mouthguards or splints to prevent further damage, and crowns to fortify cracked or broken teeth.
  • Sometimes the noise of grinding during sleep is loud enough to wake up family members, and that’s how people learn they have sleep bruxism.
  • People who grind at night often wake up with jaw, face, or neck pain, earaches, and/or headaches.
  • Over time, bruxism can damage the temporomandibular joints, possibly requiring surgery.

Dentists and jaw issues.

Many people expect dentists to be experts on jaw issues, yet their domain is treating the teeth and gums.

Learning about TMJ disorders is not required in dental school.

General practice dentists can prevent further tooth damage with appliances like mouthguards and splints. They can repair existing tooth damage.

Some dentists may try to adjust the positioning of the TMJs, and a few dentists also address airway issues (like sleep apnea, which also may accompany sleep bruxism) in their work.

Dentists do not address stress or tension in the jaw muscles, which contribute so much to jaw pain.

Some dentists and hygienists in the Austin area refer people with jaw pain or issues opening wide to me for TMJ relief bodywork, including intraoral work when COVID isn’t an issue.

Solutions to try.

If you grind your teeth during sleep, it is possible to stop by using hypnotherapy and EFT.

I often recommend a recorded hypnotherapy session for bruxism that’s available on YouTube to listen to before sleep.

I don’t know if it works for everyone, but it’s soothing — I always fall asleep before it ends. Less stress is always desirable.

As mentioned above, dopamine agonists are prescribed for low dopamine levels.

Dopamine is released when your brain is expecting a reward — when you anticipate a pleasurable activity such as eating a delicious meal, spending time with someone you love, or receiving a big check.

It’s sometimes called “the happy hormone” because it affects your enthusiasm, motivation, and focus.

If you suffer from bruxism, before going the pharmaceutical route with dopamine agonist drugs, you may want to consider nutrition — consuming foods or taking supplements that raise your dopamine levels.

In particular the amino acid tyrosine increases dopamine.

I found a few links that may be helpful:

Update from MaryAnn, 5.1.2020

I can see that my posts about TMJ issues are getting a lot of views. I’ve even gotten a few phone calls.

I am not able to offer any bodywork sessions at this time, by Texas law. I can only offer distance energy healing sessions on a sliding scale basis. Both the recipients of those sessions and I have experienced success with this way of working. It can be even more powerful than doing sessions in person.

I encourage you, if these weird times are bringing up your stuff, to set up an appointment.

Even when it becomes legal to work again, I am holding off until I feel comfortable that it’s safe for you, me, the person who comes in after you, and my officemates and their clients.

I would prefer more testing.

I would prefer more knowledge about antibodies.

I would prefer more knowledge about prevention. (Some not-yet-peer-reviewed research says that those with high Vitamin D levels in their blood had the mildest cases, so please, supplement and get some safe sun. If you’d like to order this and whatever other supplements you need online, you get 30% off using my Wellevate practitioner account: https://wellevate.me/mary-ann-reynolds.)

My safety concerns especially apply to my TMJ Relief sessions, which include working inside the mouth. It will take longer for me to safely bring those back.

If you have TMJ issues, please search for and join my Facebook group Word of Mouth: Resources for TMJ Issues/Dysfunction, if you haven’t already. It includes educational units about TMJ issues, including self-massage, exercises, yoga, and hypnosis that can be done at home.

Wishing you wellness.