Jaws for Life


By Erica Rodefer  |  

When you’re stressed, chances are you can feel it somewhere in your body. “The nervous system creates

neuromuscular habits in response to stress,” says yoga therapist and chiropractor Tom Alden. “Some people hold or

metabolize tension in the jaw. Others hold it in the neck and shoulders, or low back.” In yoga class, “Relax the

jaw” is a common instruction for bringing awareness to unconscious tension in the body. But for the millions of

people with temporomandibular joint disorders, or chronic tension in the jaw, mouth, and tongue, that simple

instruction can seem as daunting as being asked to put a leg behind the head.

Temporomandibular joint problems, a collection of conditions characterized by pain or stiffness in the jaw and

surrounding tissues, can be caused by stress or misalignment of the teeth, and can cause headaches and painful

tension in the neck and shoulders. Alden says that deepening the awareness of the tension and getting to the root

of the stresses that cause it can help, but he advises that what works for one person might not be as helpful for

the next. Therefore, he recommends using the following poses to explore the source of the tension and

experimenting with releasing it. If a pose provides relief, you should keep doing it, but be mindful that you

aren’t creating additional tension.

Lie on your back with a bolster or thinly folded blanket under the length of your spine, adding support under

your head if you need it. Practice Supine Ujjayi Pranayama

(Victorious Breath), with awareness of the sensations in the chest, neck, base of the skull, and jaw.

Sit on your shins for Simhasana(Lion Pose) . Open the jaw and

extend the tongue toward your chin as you exhale intentionally. Then, synchronize the movement of the tongue and

eyes as you move them down, up, and to the sides.

As you come into Ustrasana (Camel Pose), observe the interplay

between chest, neck, base of skull, and jaw, noticing if you’re holding tension in any of those areas. Open the

mouth and extend the tongue. Repeat Simhasana or move on to Down Dog.

In Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), rest your

forehead on a block or bolster. Observe the interplay between chest, neck, base of skull, and jaw. Repeat Supine Ujjayi Pranayama.