PictureRolling my neck with my toted YTU Classics.

You know the space under your couch that never gets cleaned even though you know it’s dirty? Out of sight, out of mind, right? It’s always just close enough that you are aware it’s there, but never a big enough deal to do something about it. I like to think we have these in our bodies as well – an area with lots of dust bunnies that we choose to ignore because we know that if we were to go in there, it’d be a mess.

My body blind spot that I chose to steer clear of for many years was my jaw. It wasn’t an issue until I was in pain and could ignore it any longer (familiar story for anyone?). I had braces as a kid, which meant many of my teeth were pulled and rearranged. I was a tongue thruster, so part of my orthodontia included retraining my tongue to thrust on the roof of my mouth instead of behind my front teeth. Fast forward 10+ years and I found myself waking up with neck pain, lingering soreness in my shoulder that won’t go away, and a click in my jaw. My jaw didn’t hurt daily, so I continued to roll my shoulder and neck, which would provide temporary relief. 

It wasn’t until an appointment with my esthetician, Cybil Solyn, that I realized that I could no longer ignore the dust bunnies under the couch. Side note, if you are near Burbank, you MUST check her out – she is the best (www.csolyn.com)! Cybil is as fascinated with the skin and body as I am, so we always have nerd sessions when working together. On this particular day, she was massaging my neck and face (as she regularly does during her facials), and I was wincing in pain from the lightest touch anywhere on my head. Pressure anywhere on my neck or jaw caused me to jump off the table. Pain had reared its ugly head and I could ignore my neck dysfunction no longer.

While I regularly roll all over my body, I rarely roll my jaw for a few reasons, the main one being that it always hurt too much. After a good lecture from my mom, who by the way is a fascia nerd now too (so proud!), I began to roll my jaw with the YTU ALPHA and Classics each night. I committed myself to 10 minutes of facial rolling a day, which also doubled as a great relaxation routine before bed. Initially, I had to start with the larger ALPHA because the tissues were so wound up that anything smaller was too painful. After two nights, my jaw no longer felt like a block of concrete and I had less pain.

All of this happened before I left for the Yoga Tune Up® Leadership Summit, where I was blessed to spend 5 days with some of the brightest minds in the YTU sphere. I diligently did my jaw rolling homework at the summit and gleaned many tips from my colleagues about how to best alleviate jaw tension. My friend Elizabeth suggested a tongue exercise that she learned from a vocal teacher. It is so simple, and yields great results. To do it, trace around all sides of your teeth with your tongue and then stick it out and hold in various directions. You may try to touch your nose, your left ear, your right ear, and eyebrows – just try to take your tongue in every possible direction. The first time I tried this, the stretch sensation went all the way down the back of my throat. In addition to my jaw, I had found another blind spot!

This all ties back into the tension patterns I learned as a child with braces. My tongue thrusting habit had never been unlearned, just redirected. So in addition to my jaw rolling and tongue stretching, I consciously focused on allowing my tongue to relax from the roof of my mouth. Just as realign my feet to parallel whenever I catch myself standing like a duck, I relaxed my tongue whenever I noticed thrusting.

Fast forward one month and I’m back on Cybil’s table. The pain and tension that wrapped all around my neck and jaw? GONE. And the lingering shoulder pain? Also gone! Just because you’ve had body blind spot aversion for 10+ years does not mean it’s too late to make a change. The most fascinating thing about this process for me was the responsiveness of my tissues to change when they were massaged and relaxed. My tongue was not enjoying being uptight all day, but it needed the signal from my brain to let go. This solidified my understanding that the body is interconnected – my tongue thrusting was contributing to clenching, which created a tensional cascade down the neck and into my shoulders.

Body nerds are also part pirate – we have to use the body as a treasure map to find the cause of the issue and not be distracted by the location of the pain. More often than not, the location of the pain is not the problem, so tinker and play with your own habits to see if you can make changes in your body for the better.