Clenching your jaw is not fantastic for your teeth, but most of us hate the more immediate consequence: the tension headache. According to WedMD, about 30% to 80% of people suffer from occasional tension headaches, women twice as often as men. Tight face, neck, and scalp muscles is a prime contributor. Why are we all walking around with sour pusses and what can we do about it?
Surprise! The first answer is stress and the second answer is yoga. We can attack stress in a number of ways. One, we can remove, resolve, or avoid situations and people who cause stress. Two, we can adjust our response to situations or people who are causing us stress at any given moment. In both of these cases, the mindfulness we develop through practices such as yoga plays a key role. Knowing what causes us stress, noticing stress patterns in our lives, and becoming aware of emotional and physical stress responses helps us keep the presence of mind to do something about it. As I’ve said before, noticing and awareness is the first step. Once you’re aware, you can take action.
There are many yoga practices to use to combat stress responses; I talk about them here every week. Today I’ll offer a few options aimed specifically at relaxing face, neck, and jaw muscles. They’re pretty silly, so get ready to laugh (and if you do, you’re already relaxing and beating stress!!)
Let’s start off with some old fashioned raspberries. Relax your lips and exhale to make a braying noise like a horse. Your lips will flap like, well, a horse’s. This accomplishes several things. One, it requires you to relax your face and lips in order to get the flapping action. Two, it lengthens your exhale which slows your heart rate and stimulates the relaxation part of your nervous system. If you want to get really crazy, shake your head while you bray. Repeat until your face is really relaxed. End with a smile and a deep breath.
Not silly enough? How about a round of lion’s breath? Sit comfortably with your hands on your knees. Take a deep breath in. Open your mouth, peel back your lips, stick your tongue out as far as it will go, roll your eyes up into your head, arch your back, and exhale with a forceful haaah. The expansive face loosens the jaw and forehead, and you have the same exhale effect as in the raspberry breath. Here's a great instructional video to get you in the mood:
Now it’s time to get really loopy. Stand up and join me in a few rounds of breath of joy. This breath sequence is three sips of air inhaled followed by a vocal, forceful exhale. This breath is designed to lighten your mood and bring you a shot of energy by temporarily increasing the amount of oxygen in your blood. The whole body movement encourages you to loosen your arms, chest, back, and legs. The “HA!” at the end unclenches your jaw and is a controlled way to shout out some stress. I have never done this breath in a group where we did not end up laughing at ourselves.
Next time you catch yourself clenching your jaw, do some of these exercises, or imagine your friends doing them and laugh.