Every yoga and meditation teacher worth their salt will remind us to breathe.
The good ones will also give specific body cues. The really astute ones will gently remind us to release our jaws.
Like most of us, I spend a lot of my day convinced that I’m busy. All day, every day, it’s something—and it’s exhausting.
We’ve convinced ourselves that we need to constantly be:
I can’t be the only one who gets stressed seeing all of the short video clips of recipes, DIY projects, hairstyles, and children’s activities constantly cropping up in my social media news feed. Like angrily stressed.
Of course I should have the time to make a unicorn sparkle cake with five different colors and confetti that rains down over everything and is impossible to clean up, while teaching my baby to sing the ABCs in seven different languages after I put avocado on all the things.
Geesh. I’m exhausted just writing that all out.
I’m also guilty of losing sight of the present moment. While nursing my little one, I think about making breakfast. While in the shower, I wonder if I really want to go to law school. While getting dressed, I remember that I need to take out the recycling. While taking my little one for a walk, I try to avoid imagining the mountains of laundry spilling out of the dryer. While eating dinner, I calculate how much time I’ll need to attend my upcoming board meeting. While falling asleep, I worry about all the people I forgot to text back.
We’re all guilty of it. While it may look like multi-tasking, what we’re actually doing is deflecting and feeding the monkey mind—that little voice that distracts us from experiencing the present fully. We’re not doing any one of these things well or mindfully.
When I get caught up in these moments with my mind running away down the rabbit hole, I’ve found one simple thing can reset my entire outlook and bring me back into the present moment.
I unclench my jaw.
It’s really pretty simple. When we’re stuck on the virtual hamster wheel, our jaws inevitably become involved. For me, it feels like my jaw tries to hold on to all of the things in my mind by brute force.
But it’s not just our jaws. My shoulders also start to creep up to my ears in silent moral support, creating tension in my neck and upper back. Ever get tension headaches? I do, and I know the root cause can usually be traced back to my neck, shoulders, and voilà—my jaw.
Why is the jaw so important to mitigating stress and anchoring us in the present moment?
As a yoga and meditation teacher, I’ve found the most helpful cues are the most specific. Not open your third eye or feel the prana move up your spine. Those cues have their time and place—but for most of us, small tangible cues like release your jaw can be the most radical.
The jaw can serve as our gateway into the rest of our bodies. Releasing my jaw creates a cascade of tension release. Once I’ve pried my jaw open, I notice my shoulders let go. My face lightens, and my breath no longer feels like I’ve been pulling it in through a straw. This is followed by my belly, and surprisingly, it goes all the way down to my hips.
During labor, my midwife gently reminded me to release my jaw. A tight jaw equates to a tight cervix. And she was right. Every time I clenched my jaw, my contractions were more intense.
But it’s not only our physical bodies. When my jaw is soft, so are my thoughts. I’ve noticed that when I start getting anxious, I can intervene and stop thoughts of worry, fear, and negativity from taking over my body simply by checking in with my jaw.
When I’m irritated with the person in front of me in line for taking too long to make a decision, guess what? My jaw tightens. I’m not going to lie, I don’t always become magnanimous in every situation, but when I check in with my jaw, compassion inevitably follows.
It’s simple, free, and instant.
Just remember, we can release our jaws while in our coat or on a boat. We can release them while driving our car or at the bar. We can release our jaws while reading a book or when we cook. We can release them here, and there, and everywhere!
With one silent jaw release at a time, we can change the quality of our lives. And we just may become better people in the process. No unicorn sparkle cake required.
Author: Kenni Linden
Image: Flickr/Michael Pollak
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina