Treating TMJ issues: the effects of stress

For decades, the news has cautioned us about the ill effects of stress on our health, longevity, and happiness. But what is stress and how do you know when you are experiencing it? What does it have to do with jaw pain and dysfunction? Most of all, what can you do about it?

Stress is your body’s response to threats, real or imagined. You become alert, focused, and energized, ready for action. It is a physiological response designed to protect you in dangerous situations, to get you away from the danger or to confront it. Something in us is always scanning for danger and ready to respond.

It also gives you the energy to meet life’s challenges, for example, taking a test, interviewing for a job, making an important presentation, having a difficult conversation, scoring a point, winning a game, driving safely. Doing anything difficult where you care about the outcome requires some extra energy and focus.

So stress isn’t inherently bad — but too much stress can damage your health and quality of life. In the fight-or-flight response (sympathetic dominance of the autonomic nervous system), your body releases stress hormones. Your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure rises, your muscles tense, your breathing quickens, and your senses become sharper, all so you can respond to the situation.

We’re designed to respond this way in extraordinary situations, and the rest of the time (which ideally would be most of the time), to live peacefully, nourishing ourselves, cooperating with the group, resting, relaxing, having fun, and enjoying our lives (parasympathetic dominance, or rest-and-digest mode).

Physiologically, the heart rate slows, breathing slows, blood pressure goes down, muscles relax, and attention becomes broader. In this state, your system has more resources for digesting and assimilating your food and repairing damage.

The switch from rest-and-digest to fight-or-flight occurs quickly and automatically, bypassing your conscious mind. You become aware afterwards that your state has changed.

This is a good exercise: How do you know you are experiencing stress? What tips you off? Do you notice a sudden sharp inhalation and muscle tension? (That’s what I notice.) Do you feel your heart pounding? Do you notice that your mind suddenly becomes focused and alert?

Another good exercise: How do you know you’re okay? Is there a kinesthetic signature that lets you know you are relaxed? I feel a peaceful, happy feeling in my chest. What do you notice?

What does stress have to do with jaw pain and dysfunction? Almost every bit of information available about the causes of TMD connects it to stress. Muscle tension is a universal response to stress. The jaw muscles tighten.

Most everyone experiences stress, but not everyone experiences jaw symptoms. No one seems to know why this is. Here are some of my observations and hypotheses.

  • I’ve observed that most people carry way more muscle tension from stress in their upper bodies, in the upper back, shoulders, neck, jaw, and/or face. For some, all of those places get tense. For others, only one or two get tense.
  • The jaw is the only part involved in chewing and talking. Chewing doesn’t have any associations with threats or danger that I can think of. If the food tastes good and is safe and your teeth and jaws are healthy, chewing is a pleasure.
  • Talking can be dangerous. Some clients have directly related the onset of their jaw symptoms with feeling unsafe about freely expressing themselves about a difficult situation they had with another human being. This could have happened long, long ago, with the unpleasant memory being repressed.
  • Some people have had so much stress and/or trauma in their lives, it’s become chronic. They don’t know how to deeply relax.

Maybe some people are predisposed to have jaw issues. It could be from the strains of their birth and an attempt to reshape the head. It could be a learned strain pattern that runs in their family. It could be from a lack of nutrients that help form healthy jaws (read more about the work of Weston A. Price, DDS, on this topic). I’m sure there are many other possibilities.

I do know that for everyone, help is available. You can release (or get help releasing) the tension in your jaw muscles. You can examine your past, with psychotherapeutic help or by journaling or talking to a trusted friend. You can learn to deeply relax, and it’s a pleasure. And that’s a good topic for tomorrow.

Treating TMJ issues: acupressure points for self-care

Recently I wrote about how acupuncture can help relieve jaw pain and the stress that often accompanies it. Today’s post is about doing acupressure on yourself for TMJ issues.

Keep in mind that if you see an acupuncturist, they will do an evaluation that may show other issues that they can address, with a focus on getting your whole system in balance.

But acupressure can help. Here’s a page by the leading expert on using acupressure, Michael Reed Gach, Ph.D., on pressure points for sinus problems, jaw, TMJ, and bruxism and includes a 4:07 video (go to 1:18 for the jaw points).

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Image source: acupressure.com

He recommends holding them for a couple of minutes 2-3 times a day for a few weeks or months for best results if your jaw pain is chronic. Sinus, Jaw, TMJ and Bruxism Acupressure is 4:08.

I’ve previously shared a link to Heather Wibbel’s video (3:43) showing four points to apply pressure but if you missed it, here it is again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTKqvaY84G4

This site has good images of four points, two of which Heather covers (SI 19 and ST6), with two other points on the cranium (ST7 and GB12) that can help. https://www.bigtreehealing.com/tmj-relief-using-acupoints/

(Note: If you Google this topic, beware that not all the results are credible. I found one that pictured ST36 on the leg while describing a point on the face!)


I invite you to work with me!

MaryAnn Reynolds, MS, LMT, BCTMB
Austin, Texas
Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy • TMJ Relief
online scheduler: maryannreynolds.as.me
text or voicemail: 512-507-4184

The function of silence

The chief function of monastic silence is then to preserve that memoria Dei which is much more than just ‘memory’. It is a total consciousness and awareness of God which is impossible without silence, recollection, solitude and a certain withdrawal. ~ Thomas Merton

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On Saturday, April 7, 2018, I will be Investigating the Power of Silence with attendees at the annual Free Day of NLP, held at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.

To RSVP, click here, which will help with planning food, parking, and rooms.

Vipassana retreat

My office will be closed August 9-21, when I will be participating in a Vipassana retreat in Kaufman, Texas, at the Dhamma Siri meditation center. This will be my first time doing a 10-day meditation retreat.

I am available for your bodywork and massage needs through August 8, and I will be available again on Tuesday, August 22.

I’ve heard good things about doing a long meditation retreat like this. Apparently it quite often engenders a profound experience. Vipassana means insight, a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens. That can only make me a better bodyworker and healer.

If you are interested in learning more, here’s a Tricycle magazine article about vipassana meditation in general, and here’s info about vipassana meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka, which is what I’ll be participating in.

 

Musings on feeling energy

I’m talking about the feeling of energy that radiates throughout the body and in the space around it when meditating, doing qigong, or giving a biodynamic session in my work. I don’t know what this energy is exactly, but it is palpable, and it feels good.

I’ve read the theory that it is electromagnetic energy, and that the fluids in our bodies somehow manifest it, or perhaps electromagnetism or something else somehow manifests the fluids, or maybe it works both ways, because it does seem like this is a non-dual experience. If being somewhat fluid is a prerequisite for this energy, then I guess all of Earth’s life must have this energy, because water is part of every living thing, right? Perhaps this energy is the life force.

 

 

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Source: quantum-light.net

When I measure my heart rate variability (through HeartMath, using a sensor that clips to my ear lobe, and an app, Inner Balance), the stronger I sense this energy field as radiance emanating from my body, the higher my heart rate variability (HRV) is. HRV is an indicator of well-being. It measures the resilience of the autonomic nervous system, from what I understand.

In that sense, feeling this energy is the opposite of feeling stress. I feel relaxed yet aware in a state of higher HRV, and I’m training myself to maintain it at higher and higher levels. I can sometimes feel it in others too. Once I did 10 minutes of biodynamics on a client after a 90-minute integrative massage, and his energy field felt so dense and potent, I wondered if I dropped a quarter several feet above him if it would bounce off his field! (Having about 50 years of experience as a martial artist probably contributed to that.)

I notice that when I engage in words, either talking to someone or engaging in internal dialogue, my HRV goes down. When I focus my attention on sensing my body or on this surrounding energy field, it rises. Sensations occur in the present moment (unless we’re remembering or imagining vividly). Talking and internal dialogue are less present. Thinking and words are involved. My mind loves thinking, and my awareness loves silence and sensing. Sometimes they compete for dominance, which at this point in my evolution, is a bit entertaining, at least when it’s not annoying. Awareness is winning, more and more!

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Source: Waking Times.

I started taking qigong classes this year, and in the third class, after learning the moves, I noticed this energy. Qigong is about gathering and cultivating energy. In qigong energy anatomy, we have three dan tiens (energy centers), lower middle, and upper, as shown at right.

These are also the second, fourth, and sixth chakras in yoga anatomy, which adds a few other energy centers so there are a total of seven physical chakras in most schools. I’m more used to tuning into my chakras, having lived in the yoga world for over 30 years, but my dan tien cultivation is coming along nicely.

In the Gurdjieffian model of energy anatomy, humans have the thinking center in the head, the feeling/emotional center in the heart, and the instinctive/moving center in the pelvis.

This head/heart/gut recognition of energy centers could easily be fairly universal in those subcultures and practices in which energy is considered important (i.e., not in modern Western culture). There’s something archetypal about it, based on our structure, our bones, our containers.

 

Energy is also a key component when giving biodynamic sessions. It has qualities such as rhythms, pressure, temperature, and density. One of the metaphors in biodynamics is the sensation of sitting on the bottom the sea, feeling slowly moving currents and tides swirling around and through one.

I once had a dream in which I was in a living room on the sea floor. The water around me was body temperature, and breathing was not a problem. It felt very comfortable. The living room, which didn’t have any walls but just faded into darkness, was furnished with an easy chair, an end table, a lamp, a rug atop the sandy ocean floor, perhaps some book shelves, a refrigerator — and a tiger casually walked past me in that beautiful way tigers walk, just going about its business! I marveled during and after this dream. I could not take my eyes off the tiger and felt graced by its presence.

This was before I had taken any biodynamics classes. I had felt the sensations of sitting at the bottom of the sea surrounded and penetrated by currents before in meditation, and thought of them as a by-product of prolonged stillness. To me, it felt wondrous and healing. I felt held in place, surrendered, without will, content.

When I finally grokked that the sensations of this meditation experience were what’s called the tides in biodynamics, it was an aha moment! Later I remembered the dream and connected it with biodynamics. The tiger was a symbol I could understand for potency (a biodynamic term for strong energy), and with hindsight, it was as if my dream life was predicted my outer life, as has occasionally happened. Sometimes my conscious mind needs help connecting the dots and understanding my path.

I understand feeling doubtful about this energy stuff. I did, for a long time, even though I’d had a major crown chakra opening in my 30s. The culture around me didn’t exactly support it, and I had other things on my mind.

You can feel this energy by placing your palms a few inches apart, facing each other. Move them closer and farther away, and see if you don’t feel a magnetic attraction between them! It’s real, it’s palpable, it’s just not visible — to most people. You can develop it into healing energy. I find it fascinating and want to explore more.