Treating TMJ issues: the relaxing breath

Today I want to complete something I promised, sharing a quick way to relieve stress. This is important since so much TMJ misery is related to stress. Either the pain causes you to feel stressed, or your stress from other reasons creates muscle tension, which creates pain. It can be hard to break that cycle.

Some people have a hard time relaxing. The pressure to perform, to get things done, is on. Maybe they have a lot of energy but haven’t learned or had a chance yet to create time for themselves yet. (Yep, in my 30s.)

Or they’ve gone through a stressful period and it feels like their body forgot how to unwind. (Been there multiple times.)

Perhaps they’ve suffered a trauma that keeps them hypervigilant. (I know that one too well.)

Some psychotherapists specialize in helping trauma victims rebalance their autonomic nervous systems, so they can pendulate between fight-or-flight only when a true threat is present and rest-and-digest when they’re safe (and enjoy its benefits of better digestion, better healing, and inner peace). If this is the case with you, check out Somatic Experiencing therapy.

Others just need a little help to get started relaxing. Massage can help tremendously.

A meditation practice is a commitment to relax while sitting upright every day, with attention on your breath and sensations, observing the activity of your monkey mind with some detachment and humor (or horror!).

In fact, I have been curious for years about how relaxed I can become without falling asleep! It’s what drives me to meditate daily, do 10-day vipassana meditations, float in floatation tanks, and get esoteric acupuncture.

If you’d like to start rebalancing from stress into relaxation on your own, there’s an exercise I recommend called 4-7-8 breathing (the Relaxing Breath). Dr. Andrew Weil, who has been practicing and writing about holistic health and integrative medicine for 30 years, came up with it, although its roots are in yoga.

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The video is 3:18 long. Dr. Weil recommends doing 4 breath cycles at least twice a day for two months to get the benefits.

After a month, you can increase to 8 breath cycles, the maximum.

He recommends slowing the cycle down, with the limiting factor being how long you can comfortably hold your breath.

After practicing this for 4-6 weeks, you can begin to use it when something stressful happens. It’s a great resource for me when another driver does something alarming, but there’s no accident and I am left with the residue of stress in my body. A few of these breaths rebalance me. It can help with cravings and falling asleep.

After 2-3 months, it changes your physiology. It lowers heart rate and blood pressure, improves digestion, and is much more powerful than anti-anxiety drugs.

In essense, you are retraining your nervous system to be more relaxed. In my 7 years of doing bodywork, one day I realized this is what we bodyworkers are doing: retraining your body to be more relaxed and functional.

You may become less stressed from using this technique (yay!) and still benefit from receiving a TMJ Relief session to retrain your jaw muscles into relaxation.

If you’re ready to have that conversation with me, please connect. I’d love to hear from you.

Treating TMJ issues: what various professions do to help

I’m going to write about what various healing professions do to treat TMJ issues to help you be good consumers and know what to expect in terms of results. I am a massage therapist who specializes in TMJ work, including intra-oral (inside the mouth) work, in which I’ve had special training.

I want to say up front that most massage therapists do not work inside the mouth, which is where the jaw muscles most likely to be causing TMJ pain are located. Most massage therapists have the skills to release tension in the external jaw and neck muscles. Maybe that’s all you need, if your jaw pain isn’t severe and it comes and goes. You will feel better after such sessions.

But if you are really suffering from chronic or severe jaw pain and dysfunction, you probably want a lot more than that. You will greatly benefit from intra-oral work, which takes special training and experience to do effectively.

Do not hesitate to ask whether a therapist you are considering working with is trained in releasing tension in the internal jaw muscles and uses gloves or finger cots.

Whole-body work can also help, when the TMJ pain is related to your posture (for instance, head forward posture).

These are the major results that help with TMJ symptoms, along with the professional training that can provide them:

  • reducing stress (massage therapist, acupuncturist, yoga teacher, meditation teacher)
  • reducing tension in your external jaw muscles (massage therapist)
  • releasing trigger points in your external jaw muscles (any kind of therapist with trigger point release training)
  • releasing your neck tension (massage therapist, physical therapist, chiropractor)
  • getting your pelvis aligned and balanced (massage therapist, physical therapist, chiropractor)
  • preventing your teeth from cracking due to bruxism (dentist)
  • reducing tension in your internal jaw muscles (massage therapist with special training, physical therapist with special training, Rolfer)
  • getting craniosacral therapy to restore alignment in the external cranial bones (craniosacral therapist)
  • getting craniosacral therapy to restore alignment in the internal cranial bones (craniosacral therapist)
  • repairing a torn or perforated articular disk (oral surgeon — get reviews first)
  • getting whole-body therapy to help with alignment and release strain patterns (craniosacral therapist, Rolfer, Zero Balancer, yoga teacher, yoga therapist)

This is a brief and imperfect overview to help you get the results you want, and there are many fine points not mentioned here.

 

Treating TMJ issues: reducing daytime clenching

A new follower of my Facebook business page is working on reducing her daytime clenching.

Along with any kind of helpful stress-reducing practice (4-7-8 breathing, yoga, meditation, epsom salt baths, etc.), you can retrain your jaw and mouth muscles to be more relaxed.

Actually, you can retrain your entire nervous system to be more relaxed — and this may take several years of dedicated effort, including finding less stressful work along with committing to yoga, breath work, and/or meditation practices and other lifestyle changes. I plan to write more about resetting your nervous system in the future.

So for today, one step at a time: how to relax your jaw and mouth muscles when you experience daytime clenching.

The first step is to notice when you are clenching or grinding and deliberately move your teeth apart.

Next, do this to relax your tight jaw muscles: Circle the tip of your tongue on the biting surfaces of your teeth (upper and lower) 5 times in each direction. Gradually add some repetitions each time, up to 15, to help release the muscle tension of clenching by exercising the jaw muscles and tongue.

Then gradually reduce the number of repetitions to whatever it takes to loosen up.

Follow this by working to develop a new habit, because that’s what clenching is, a habit: Visualize a coffee stir stick turned sideways between your upper and lower teeth in front. That’s as far as you need to move your teeth apart.

Imagine your lower jaw hanging loosely from its hinges. Close your lips. You can give your jaw muscles a massage.

Let your tongue flatten and soften so the outer edges protrude slightly into the spaces between your upper and lower molars. Let the tip of your tongue rest gently behind your upper teeth.

This is the new relaxed resting position when you are not using your mouth. If you unconsciously begin to clench again, you will bite your tongue, and that will remind you to move your teeth back apart. (This was passed on to me by a yoga student of Maria Mendola in Tucson, and I want to give her credit.)

At first you will need to practice this a LOT and it will seem tiresome. Keep doing it anyway. Some days will be easier than others.

You may become aware that your clenching is related to suppressing speech. There are so many reasons we might do this: bad boss, difficult situation, consequences you don’t want, etc. Find a way to let those words out, even if just on paper. Discover your own truths.

Seek help if this level of change seems overwhelming.

When you have practiced unclenching and relaxing your mouth enough, one day you will notice that you did it without thinking about it. The old clenching habit may return under stress, but you’ve got the resources now to put it firmly back in the past.

If you can master this one simple change in habits, you can do almost anything. I’m wishing you success.

Treating TMJ issues: using essential oils for pain relief

A couple of weeks ago, I inquired of a Facebook group for women what they do for jaw pain. Many of those responses will be making it into this TMJ series of posts.

A couple of women mentioned specific essential oils they use for jaw pain.

One said she puts lavender oil on her aching jaws. Another mentioned layering marjoram, lemongrass, and wintergreen essential oils.

All of these oils are analgesics and help relieve muscle pain.

Dr. Axe (one of my favorite internet doctors) recommends peppermint oil for pain, frankincense oil for inflammation, and lavender oil to relax tense muscles.

You need to dilute the essential oils with a carrier oil like olive oil to reduce the intensity, because some oils are so strong, your skin can react. Then massage into your jaw muscles.

Do you use essential oils for jaw pain? Please share in the comments what helps you.

Welcome to my brand new website!

This page on my new website is dedicated to my future blog posts about the work I do. I’ve been blogging since late 2009 on the general topic of wellness over at The Well: bodymindheartspirit. I’ve written about food, diet, nutrition, trauma recovery, how to overcome autoimmune disease, healing my damaged tooth enamel, dental pockets, and  wobbly sacroiliac joints, and more. Continue reading “Welcome to my brand new website!”