Treating TMJ issues: de-stress quickly with these relaxing breathing techniques

Learning how to de-stress yourself is huge. Everyone experiences stress. It’s just part of life.

Stress becomes an issue when there’s too much of it, and your system has trouble rebounding resiliently to a calm, alert state.

How is this relevant to TMJ issues? So much TMJ misery is related to stress. It’s one of the major contributors to TMJ issues. People clench and grind due to stress, and stress is always accompanied by muscle tension.

Staying stressed is bad for your well-being. It affects your digestion (including absorption of nutrients and detoxification) and creates unnecessary wear and tear on your vital organs.

I’m talking about bad stress as opposed to good stress, such as anxiety before public speaking, which makes you a better speaker, or the adrenaline you feel when a bad driver nearly hits you that helps you successfully avoid being hit.

In my opinion, bad stress includes most news about politics (just donate money and volunteer for candidates you like) and traumatic events (there’s always something awful happening in the world). Also, the desire to control others’ behavior can bring about bad stress.

You can still care and have a constructive strategy to manage stressors.

You can do these things from a calm, alert state. Imagine that.

The beauty of using a little breathwork to get yourself out of an unhelpful state of stress (any stressor that does not require immediate action) is that breathwork bypasses your mind.

Has “you need to calm down” ever helped anyone to actually calm down, whether it’s yourself or someone else telling you this?

It’s also quick. You can simply do a little breathwork when stressed, and your system starts shifting into parasympathetic mode.

The more you practice it, even when not stressed, the more it gets wired into your neurology.

The physiological sigh is breathwork technique that’s getting a lot of attention now. It’s been recognized for 80 years as a behavior people do automatically when claustrophobic and in other stressful situations.

Now you can put it to work for yourself when you need to de-stress yourself.

I learned about it from Dr. Andrew Huberman, a Stanford University professor who runs a neurobiology lab and has a podcast.

In brief, it’s two inhalations through the nose, and one longer exhalation through the mouth. (I think of it as the “sniff sniff ahhhhh” breath.)

Here’s a video demonstrating technique.

Dr. Huberman says sometimes people fall asleep if they do it 15 times in a row, but just three of these physiological sighs are enough to start slowing your heartbeat down in 20-30 seconds.

I nearly always yawn when I do three physiological sighs.

Another fairly quick breathwork technique for quickly reducing stress is the 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.

Dr. Weil recommends doing four of these breath cycles at least twice a day for two months to get the benefits. This wires it into your neurology.

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

It can also help with cravings and falling asleep.

In essense, you are retraining your nervous system to be more relaxed.

You may become less stressed from using either or both of these techniques and still benefit from receiving a TMJ Relief session to retrain your jaw muscles into relaxation. The breathwork will help your body retrain itself more quickly and prevent relapses.

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

What do various healing professions do to treat TMJ issues?

I’m going to try to answer that, to help you be better health-care consumers and know what to expect in terms of results.

By the way, I am a massage therapist who specializes in TMJ work, including intra-oral (inside the mouth) work, in which I’ve had advanced training from three teachers and experience since 2013. I admit, I am biased!

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 do have the skills to release tension in the external jaw and neck muscles.

Maybe that’s all you need, if your jaw pain is mild and intermittent. You will feel better after such sessions.

But if you are really suffering from chronic or more severe jaw pain and dysfunction, you definitely need more than that to get relief. You could 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.

Also, since COVID is still around, ask what their COVID safety protocols are.

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

Here’s a look at results you might expect from working with practitioners in different professions:

  • 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 (massage therapist)
  • doing myofascial release on your external jaw muscles (massage therapist)
  • releasing neck tension (massage therapist, physical therapist, chiropractor)
  • getting your pelvis aligned and balanced (massage therapist, physical therapist, chiropractor)
  • getting your head aligned on top of your spine (chiropractor)
  • preventing your teeth from cracking due to grinding (dentist or OTC night guard)
  • reducing tension in your internal jaw muscles (massage therapist with special training, physical therapist with special training, Rolfer)
  • restoring alignment in the cranial bones (craniosacral therapist)
  • repairing or replacing a dysfunctional articular disk (oral surgeon)
  • getting whole-body therapy to help with alignment issues and release strain patterns (craniosacral therapist, Rolfer, Zero Balancer, yoga teacher, yoga therapist)

There is one major caveat here: these are generalities based on my own knowledge and experience. Each profession has its specialties. Not all physical therapists work on the jaw or pelvis — in fact, not many do.

Do not hesitate to ask questions and do your own research.

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.

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 or coconut oil to reduce the intensity, because some oils are so strong, they can irritate your skin.

Then massage into your jaw muscles. It doesn’t hurt that they smell nice! 

When people come into my office feeling stressed, I often wave an open bottle of Young Living’s Peace and Calming essential oil under their nose to help them relax faster. 

I take a whiff myself, too. I just love this oil. 

If I know someone is going through an unusually stressful period, I rub a drop or two of Young Living’s Valor essential oil into their feet, focusing on the K1 area in the middle of the sole under the balls of the feet. 

This point’s poetic name is Bubbling Spring, and pressing it has a calming influence. 

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!”