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Asanas for TMJ

I have been diagnosed with Temporomandibular Joint Disorder. Which poses can help me with this condition? Which poses should I avoid?

By Tias Little

viparita karani

—Alisa, Los Angeles, CA

Tias Little's reply:

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) often freezes from extensive dental work, a blow to the cranium, or a high-stress lifestyle. Know that you are not alone, that it is very common for people to have debilitating locking in the jaw.

The best pose to begin releasing the TMJ is seated meditation. Here, there is an opportunity to practice releasing the tension locked into your jaw. Start in a comfortable seated position for meditation and focus on relaxing your tongue (often the tongue will relentlessly cling to the roof of the mouth). Deeply relax your tongue, your eyes, and observe that your lower and upper teeth move slightly away from each other. Soften the skin at the corners of your mouth. These directions are the beginning stages of the practice of pratyahara—the internalization of sensory awareness.

Decompressing your jaw this way takes practice. Bring this practice into your everyday life and be attentive to relaxing jaw strain while driving, listening to a co-worker, and getting things done. Do this practice of emptying strain out of your jaw all the time, day after day.

Asanas such as the Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) bring blood flow into your cranium, bathing the TMJ in blood and lymph. Practicing the vinyasa (Upward Facing Dog into Downward Facing Dog) serves to flush blood in and out of the jaw and face. Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) or Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall-Pose) will also send ample blood into this area, again bathing the joint in much-needed fluid. You may wish to avoid Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand) altogether as it can tend to put even greater pressure on the TMJ.

Finally, the key is to breathe. Loosen the lock on your jaw and relax in the face of all activity!


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Reader Comments

Laura

Thank you for this note - I also have been diagnosed with TMJ and would like to restart my yoga practice. I've noticed, however, that upper body stress tends to lead to headaches - how can I modify poses such as down dog to avoid the headaches that come from upper body stress as I restart my practice? (Note, I've been out of practice for over 2 years)

Lady

I have suffered with bruxism - clenching teeth - and have found yoga to be very helpful. Not only was my jaw muscle tight but every muscle down the whole length of my body. So every pose, especially those stretching hamstrings, legs, back, was very helpful. Fish pose was especially helpful in loosening up the tight muscles in my neck, and happy baby pose helped as well.

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