Since about my sophomore year in college, I have been afflicted with TMJ Syndrome. Maybe ‘afflicted’ is not the right word, but this *thing* has been with me for a while. Basically, I keep my jaw clenched during the night and sometimes throughout the day, resulting in pain and soreness. The pain started getting so bad that at times I was unable to eat or open my mouth very wide.
One of the first things recommended to me was the use of painkillers to mask the symptoms. For a period of time, I was taking 800 mg of ibuprofen 3 times a day! Just for comparison, the recommended dose is 200 mg every 4-6 hours! A bit later, I did some blood tests and they noted traces of the medicine in my system and warned of the potential impact to my liver, so I stopped taking pain medication.
Another solution that was recommended to me was the use of a mouth guard. Basically, this is a dental appliance that you wear at night. The appliance is designed in such a way to have little spacers that stay between your top and bottom sets of teeth, thereby keeping your mouth slightly open and not allowing the jaw muscle to fully clamp. This worked for a while until I got sick of repeatedly going into the dentist’s office to have them adjust the appliance.
However, one of the dentists actually began trying to recommend some natural options such as placing a warm towel on my jaw for a little bit before bed or meditation. Additionally, she recommended eliminating caffeine and sugar from my diet and try to do more stress reducing activities.
A lot of times, the TMJ makes itself more apparent during times of stress, other times, I either just don’t feel it or I am numb to it, however I know it’s always present due to the common ‘clicking’ of my jaw. Last night, after a session of zhan zhuang, I was laying in bed and began to notice how tense my jaw was. Then it dawned on my, why not practice some of the zhan zhuang visualizations on my jaw? Laying on my back, I started doing some abdominal breathing and then began visualizing the tension in my jaw melting downwards and out the back of my head.
The whole ‘melting visualization is a technique I use during zhan zhuang to release the tension in my shoulder, back and arms. While not a surprise, the more I visualized the melting, the more I felt my jaw relax. Additionally, the more I visualized melting downward, the more my whole body became relax and I started having this sort of ‘sinking into the bed’ sensation. The ‘sinking into bed sensation’ is a technique I employ during my 20 minute power naps if I need a pick me up. I would basically stay in this ‘sinking bed sensation” for the full 20 minutes without ever really falling asleep, almost like a form of self hypnosis, however I would ‘awaken’ fully refreshed.
I am not sure why it took me so long to make the connection between zhan zhuang and TMJ but I am glad I did. I will now work on ‘melting away the tension’ throughout the day 🙂