Inside Your Headache: Tongue Tension
Maybe you’ve had one of those headaches that seem to start in the nape of your neck. Surprisingly, tension in the neck is often a result of tension in structures that lie in front of the neck: the jaw, throat and tongue.
For most of us, concentrated thought involves verbalization. When you’re puzzling over something, your tongue and back of your throat (think of the place where you swallow) unconsciously become active, even though you’re not speaking. Next time you review your bank statement, notice what’s going on in your throat or tongue. If you sense tension there, you can begin to transform the habit by creating an alternative sensation of stability for your head.
Try this experiment: widen the back edges of your tongue to spread sideways toward your upper back molars. Then let your tongue tenderly carpet the roof of your mouth, spreading out to softly touch the inside edges of all the upper teeth
The roof of the mouth is formed by two mirrored bones called maxillae. Porous and cavern-like, they also form the floor of the nose. For some people, the tongue’s soft support for the maxillae seems to widen the nasal cavities, making inhalation smoother, and supporting nose breathing. (Read why this matters in Chapter 4 of The New Rules of Posture.) Other people may notice a subtle sensation of length along the upper throat, as if the head were released upward, making more room for the pharynx.
If you’ve learned a different position for your tongue in a meditation class, remember that those practices are practices; what I’m sharing here is the normal position for the tongue. And, I’m suggesting that this can contribute to healthy postural organization of the neck, as well as prevent occasional tension headaches. You can learn more about your neck in my DVD, Heal Your Posture.
How you hold your tongue can be a deep-set habit that may have begun with how you suckled as an infant. As you become aware of tension in your tongue—you may be surprised at how pervasive it is—you’ll need to renew the tongue softening many times a day. Each time, take a nano-second to register the difference in your breathing and in the posture of your neck. The neuroplasticity of our brains lets us replace old habits with new ones–if we approach the challenge with patience and gentleness. Good luck with this!