If you Google “micromovement” you’ll see upwards of 78,000 results. I take this to mean that humans are paying attention to the microscopic movements of their bodies for one reason or another. I saw links to articles about how those tiny movements affect callus formation on the feet or influence low back pain. For those of us interested in somatic movement education, attending to our micromovements is a way to ramp up body awareness and, in the process, relax unconscious tension that may be inhibiting healthy posture and movement expression.
Today I learned something important about the micromovement of my tongue.
Your Mona Lisa Smile
My Tai Chi teacher is a tiny woman who speaks so softly that I must drop into a quiet state to hear what she is saying. The whole class is quiet. It feels good to be in such a room. I love the parenthetical comments Kathy makes in between her demonstrations of the Tai Chi movements. Today she spoke about how beneficial saliva is to the state of the digestive system and to the relaxation of the body in general. Her advice is to place the end of the tongue very lightly against the back of the upper teeth and let the rest of the tongue spread and soften. Alternatively she suggests smiling gently, “like the Mona Lisa.” With either approach I can feel my flow of saliva increase and a subtle, body-wide settling of my tissues.
Awareness of tongue tension is not new to me. I’ve written about the tongue’s effect on the tension at the top of the neck and how that affects overall postural lift. I even mentioned the Mona Lisa in one post. In another post I wrote about the relationship between tongue tension and headaches.
Saliva and Stress
This added awareness of my saliva gave me new information about my fluctuating tensions. As the class continued I noticed that although my tongue was well placed and my jaw, relaxed, there was a subtle stiffening of my tongue when I concentrated on learning new Tai Chi moves. It seemed as if nodules on my tongue’s surface had stiffened, the way the taste buds react to something astringent. I felt this keenly each time Kathy quietly reminded us to “produce saliva.” Each time I had to re-relax my tongue.
I find it amazing how the nearly imperceptible motions of the tongue affect the salivary glands. Eight muscles within the tongue are responsible for its subtle dance within your mouth—four intrinsic muscles change its tone and shape, and four extrinsic ones move it around within the oral cavity. Salivary production is associated with the parasympathetic or “rest and digest” response of the autonomic nervous system. Diminished saliva goes with the sympathetic “fight or flight” activation. Simply put, soft tongue: more saliva—more saliva: more relaxation.
A brief online search yielded a study that showed mental stress to be associated with higher cortisol levels in the saliva (cortisol, produced by the adrenals, is associated with stress). Another study showed that relaxation correlated to lower levels of bacteria in the saliva and concluded that relaxation could have an effect on dental caries.
For now, we’ll have to do our own studies of the relationship between producing saliva and sustaining a calm mental state. See what happens when you give your tongue some kind attention. Writing this, I’m curious about the fact that I’m not experiencing the eye dryness that usually results from staring at a screen for over an hour. Is there a chance that the relaxation induced by producing saliva (I couldn’t write about it and not do it) may have relaxed my eyes as well? Probably a coincidence, but one that motivates me to stay curious.
Let me know what you discover in your body.
© 2018 Mary Bond