Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Bracing the Jaw - TMJ Syndrome Symptoms

“Movement is the only way we have of affecting the world around us...to understand movement is to understand the whole brain...Memory, cognition, sensory processing, they’re there for a reason, and that reason is action.”
- Daniel Wolpert, Cognitive & Behavioral Neuroscience, Cambridge University

Since movement is how we navigate the world, when we brace against it, something is amiss. Bracing in the jaw can mean any number of things. Remember bracing against the warning that the pin-prick of a vaccine would only sting a little? The involuntary impulse takes on a life of its own, as if holding still might prevent the inevitable. Bracing is not only how we cope with pain, it’s how we attempt to control the uncontrollable. 

It’s human. We crave control when life takes off in unwanted directions. Bracing in the jaw, a precursor to chronic TMJ syndrome (temporomandibular joint pain), is also a factor in resentment. It is usually an unconscious response, but the evidence is there, the body speaks its mind through unwanted tension. The question is, do we listen? Do we listen when the body braces against fear or loss or rage? Or, do we silence ourselves to comply with social expectations of acceptable behavior? Do we tamp it down inside with pharmaceuticals or recreational drugs? The response to the response is where the feedback loop cannot function because we deny it. This, then, is the gift of the Feldenkrais Method: first and foremost, it reminds us to take heed of the intelligence our own body is offering. That’s nice, but clearly awareness alone is not enough, and neither is knowledge. The true brilliance of Feldenkrais is how it gives us the opportunity to acknowledge, to refine the ability to sense these vital signals and it gives us the creativity to choose another, better-feeling response. For who in their right mind would choose tension over comfort? Most of us, as it happens, every day.

It’s time to break the cycle. Actually, it’s time to stop ignoring the cycle and tune into the magnificent feedback loop that is yours by birth: your nervous system. Your nervous system is more sophisticated than any laptop computer in the number of functions it manages and executes simultaneously. All parts of the feedback loop which your nervous system manages include intelligence from vision, thought, memory, sensation, blood pressure, immune function, and breath. These are all things so close to home (i.e, your primary environment: your internal experience) that you barely give them recognition.

Bracing in the jaw, because of resentment, is a seemingly involuntary response to life. It's a somatic response, a bodily response to people and experiences unwanted. To make matters worse, resentment which is a form of judgement, is solidified even further by values that imply it is bad, or not spiritual, or that you, personally, as a person are bad for feeling it. “Good” people don’t walk around resenting others. Here’s where the rubber really hits the road, for when tension is heaped upon tension through a series of layers affecting emotion, thought and actions you find your way forward is blocked. It impedes good relations with anyone around you, and, more importantly, with yourself. When you judge yourself, ironically, it only makes it harder to move freely, because both judging ourselves or feeling judged has look that even the untrained eye can see: it looks like deer, frozen in time. This is because the somatic response to self-judgement is the equivalent of going in two directions at once. It’s like a two-headed serpent, each arguing about which direction to go in. Hence, the concept of integration in Feldenkrais. Integration is when every fiber of your being is going in the same direction and life is one big, “Hell, Yes!” Integration is the “incredible lightness of being,” or the sense that wild horses could not stop you.

Society programs you to listen to others, because that’s what makes a society work. It makes it safer. But assuming you are not dangerous to yourself or others, at some point, you have to start listening to yourself. Bracing in the jaw may have become an unconscious habit, however, given the right environment, the cost of it can easily become conscious. It’s just one of many possible expressions of emotional pain with somatic consequences. As you brace, you brace against the world. The maseter muscle of the jaw is one of the most powerful muscles in the body. When you lock it, you lock yourself in even as you lock the world out. It’s like being the Man in the Iron Mask.

Gabrielle Pullen, GCFP is a Feldenkrais Practitioner in Jacksonville, Oregon. For help with this or any other somatic pattern of bracing against the world, against injustice, or emotions, check out the schedule, keep up-to-date with retreats or find online resources to use at home at www.gabriellepullen.info

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