Consider the jawbone. You probably don’t spend much time thinking about it, but this nifty piece of kit does a whole lot of work for you. Not only that, it can wiggle about in all sort of clever ways so that you can chew your food. But the price of such mobility means it can also be a place for some sneaky tension-holding. Here’s a short homage to an under-appreciated bone, and a few tips to help you look after yours.
Your jawbone is basically a horse-shoe shape, with two upright wings on either end. Called the mandible, it’s initially made of two ‘half-horseshoe’ bones which fuse together early on at the front. Sometimes in men the fusion is incomplete, leaving a gap – think Kirk Douglas and his famous dimple.
Jawbones are tough. The jawbone is one of the most durable and hard to break muscles in the whole human body. So you really can ‘take it on the chin’.
Your skull is made up of two main parts: the cranium (the bit with your brain in it) and the mandible (jawbone). The (in)famous TMJ or temporomandibular joint is the place where these two bits of bone meet. To be precise, the mandible meets part of the cranium called the temporal bone. Temporal plus mandible equals ‘temporo-mandibular’ joint. You see, this anatomy business isn’t as complicated as it seems.
The temporomandibular joint has a little disc in there between the two bony parts, to help it deal with all the wear and tear. It’s an amazing joint because of the many different actions the jaw can make. Try it for yourself. You can move your jaw from side to side, as well as sticking it forward and pulling it back. You can also, of course, move it up and down. That’s quite a dance.
To really get to know your jawbone, put your fingers flat on the sides of your face, just in front of your ears. Then move your jaw through it’s dance routine. You’ll feel all sorts of bony movement going on in there. It’s clever stuff, and it’s all in aid of chewing your food.
Digestion begins in the mouth, so your mother was right: it is important to chew your food. Not only that, but slow, careful eating can contribute to weight loss, because your body will send it’s ‘I’m full, stop eating now please’ signal before you’ve shoveled in a whole tub of Ben and Jerry’s if you’re doing it mindfully. Love your jaw, love your waistline. It’s a win-win.
In my experience, most of us carry unnecessary tension in the jaw. The knock-on effect of this can be tightness in the throat, neck and even shoulders. So looking after your jaw is very helpful in shifting some of these tension patterns.
There are four main muscles involved in moving the jaw, and the most troublesome is the temporalis muscle. Put your hands flat on either side of your head, just in front of and up above your ears. Then move your jaw up and down. You’ll feel the movement of temporalis as it contracts and releases.
An indirect way to release the temporalis is to allow the muscles around your eyes and across your forehead to soften. You can add in to that the thought of allowing your jawbone to release away from the cranium at the joint, as though you are creating space behind your back teeth. Breathe and enjoy. Maybe even indulge in a big old yawn, to put some of those jaw muscles through their paces. That’s got to be the best way to take it on the chin…oh sorry, I’m a bit sleepy…
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