Soften Your Oral Cavity
Try this: carpet your tongue on the roof of your mouth– that’s where it naturally goes after you swallow. Swallow, and feel how that works. Your tongue is not pressing, just resting on the roof, like a carpet.
Soften your cheekbones – your zygoma – from the inside, letting them widen. Your wide zygomatic arch makes room for your eyes to rest down into their sockets. It also gives you an inner smile.
Within your oral cavity, you now have both descent (your mandible resting down) and ascent (the subtle lift of your tongue.) Notice what that does for the sensations at the meeting place of head and neck. For sensations in your eyes. Notice what it does for your breathing. This may even affect the way your spine moves as you walk.
It’s normal for humans to breathe through their noses. Doing so activates the diaphragm, which helps draw air deep into the lower lung where oxygen exchange is most efficient. Breathing through the mouth is fine for emergencies, but is a destructive habit if maintained after the emergency is over. (Read more about this in Chapter Two of The New Rules of Posture.) Trauma is such a fact of life, though, that many of us need help restoring full use of our diaphragmatic breathing.
The Right “G” Word
I’ve been teaching myself about my tongue, and about nose breathing, for a number of years. Recently I read something about using vocalization as a cue for tongue positioning. I can’t remember where I read this, but I’ll share my version of it with you. Imagine saying (without actually speaking) the sound of a hard “G” as in “gum.” Sense how the root of your tongue softly meets the back of your throat. Sustain that feeling as you breathe in and out—tongue touching SOFTLY. Doing this seems to facilitate all the lovely openings of the oral cavity suggested above, just by thinking a vocal sound.
I’ve been experimenting with different “G” sounds to find the best ones for me, working my way through the vowels: gaw, geh, gih, go, goo. Each vowel sound seems to affects the larynx differently. Each speeds the air into the trachea and activates the diaphragm in slightly different ways. For me, it feels like my diaphragm contracts most completely when I inhale with the imagined sound “go.” I like “gah” for relaxing the diaphragm with exhalation. You’ll need to experiment to find the best practice for yourself.
I’ve been taking boxing lessons! I find it very satisfying to learn the art of punch and jab—it’s like no movement discipline I’ve ever experienced. In a recent class I noticed that when connecting with the heavy bag with a left hook, I felt an uncomfortable sensation in my cranium—a brief, slight headache. The good news about this was that my left hook must be getting stronger. But pressure in my head didn’t seem good at all. Of course, in the stress of learning this new activity, I was breathing through my mouth—it was a mini “emergency.” So muscles of the temporomandibular joint were overworking to keep my head in one piece, and that produced in pressure in my cranium.
When I remembered “tongue on the roof of the mouth,” presto: no more headache. “Go” and “gah” become my new mantra. Perhaps normal positioning of the tongue provides optimal support for the muscles that attach between it and the upper and lower jaws—genioglossus, hyoglossus, styloglossus, and palatoglossus—if you want to look them up. They control the tongue’s actions and keep it balanced within the oral cavity. I think tongue position helps maintain tensegral expansion within the head, giving it more resilience. For sure it activated the diaphragm and mitigated the stress of the class (any class is a bit stressful, right?) with parasympathetic input.
Boxing might not be your thing, but I’m sure you have other mini-emergencies during your week. Try recruiting your tongue support.
Discover more about face/neck/spine/breath interactions in Chapter 11 of YOUR BODY MANDALA.
© 2019 Mary Bond