Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How I cut myself some slack and fixed my TMJ syndrome

When I say I cut myself some slack, I don't mean I pushed aside all care and responsibility and went on a holiday or anything like that. I mean, I cut myself some physical slack.

Let me digress for a moment. 

Life catches up to you in odd little ways. I'm in my mid-sixties now, and my relationship to physical exercise has always been on-again off again. The longest relationship with physical exercise I ever had was in my early twenties, when I practiced yoga every single day for two years solid. I never have regretted putting the time and effort in, and I never have regretted abandoning it and getting interested in other things. Both. At the same exact time. (Yes, I'm a walking contradiction.)

Anyway, I've become a lot more sedentary in the last 5 years or so. Moving back to a place where there is a lot more snow, and where sidewalks are never fully cleared, cured me of a tendency toward compulsive walking. That, plus being online a lot of the time.

Anyway, a month or two ago I was surprised when I felt/heard my TMJ pop, loudly, in my ear, on the left. There was a bit of pain, nothing much, lots of grinding and crunching.
I did all sorts of DNM and movement and even some taping, but no matter, it still popped, snapped, cracked and crunched like some new kind of kid-friendly cereal ad.

One night recently in a fit of insomnia I got up at 3:30 am and stood in bare feet in the kitchen and did some yoga. Just one thing. Complete forward and complete backward bending, three times each way.

I'm happy to report not only was the jaw thing mostly gone by the next day, but a bunch of other naggy wee bits and pieces also disappeared - little things I didn't even realize I had until I did the yoga move. How do I know they went away too? Because this morning I repeated the process, and did not feel them anymore. So, yay about that I guess.

What is the trick? I think taking my 72 kilometers of folded and branched and three dimensional neural tree for a good ride, first one way, then the other, likely got rid of a bunch of accumulated neural tension and mechanical deformation, gave it a chance to mop itself up really well.

You don't have to do much physical exercise to deal with physical discomforts and keep them at bay, but you do have to do a bare minimum. What is the bare minimum? That's for each human to decide for him/herself.

Here is how I do forward and backward bend.
1. Bare feet, firm floor (no carpet). Organize body weight as exactly as possible over the fronts and heels of two feet. Sounds easy, but it can be a real trick. So, even weight as if on four table legs. Keep the imaginary table (i.e., yourself) level. The entire time. Harder than it sounds.
2. Breathe. Slowly. Completely in and completely out. From the pubic bone. Maintain throughout. Again, harder than it sounds.
3. Find the anti-gravity suit and deploy it. This means, grow up toward the ceiling. As soon as you even think that, you will feel your abs kick in, your spine lengthen, your breast bone start to lift, and your neck lengthen. Enjoy the feeling and keep that feeling going for a few breaths. It's a verb, not a noun. When you can't grow up any taller, stay tall as you managed to become, breathe in and out a few times up there, then slowly let yourself shorten again.
4. Now it's time to start the forward bend. Let your head be like a tulip head. Let the neck bones move one by one. Let gravity have your head, but hugely control the descent. Let your arms and shoulder girdle be limp as over-cooked spaghetti. Their angles will change as you descend. Feel how delicious it feels to feel your shoulder blades slide all by themselves over your ribcage. Knees straight, and soft, at the same time. Go as slow as you possibly can while noticing as much as you possibly can about how it all FEELS. If you can, once you've set the agenda, and the very slow speed, let the critter brain do all the rest. Let the critter brain manage the relationship to gravity and angles and descent, and all you have to do is focus on the breathing and making sure the pressure is even through all four contact places of your feet. If you're doing this slow enough for it to do any good, it should take a good three or more minutes to get all the way over. No, I'm not kidding you.
5. Let gravity have all of you it wants. Hang there. Breathe in, and then out. Pause after an exhale. Wait until you crave oxygen before inhaling. You are regaining locus of control over autonomic bits of your nervous system. You are taking charge. You are giving it all the oxygen it could ever want, but you are setting the pace and making it ask first. You are reminding it that you live in that brain too. You are playing frisbee with your inner dog beast. You are giving it your full attention. 

6. When you have dangled for awhile, focused, breathing, feet square, and have stopped noticing any lengthening of your upper body, it's time to come back home. Begin your ascent. Go up just as slowly as you went down. This is a huge project, so notice as much about how it FEELS as you possibly can. Keep the feet square, even weight, maintain the frisbee game of breathing with your inner dog beast/critter brain (inhale -> send the frisbee out, exhale -> the dog brings it back, make the dog wait until you're ready to throw again..). Feel all the fibres figuring out how to lift up half your body weight. Feel the wonderful orchestration as they all cooperate to do this amazing feat. Go very very slowly. It will feel good, not uncomfortable. All sorts of images will pass through the mind as you rise up. A recurring one that goes through mine: a fisherman, carefully hauling up a huge net full of fish, using the side of the boat as a fulcrum, careful to winch slowly so he doesn't catch the net and rip it on anything. Another - a huge crane lifting up over tall rooftops, slowly. All sorts of gears making the mechanics of it be all spread out, long ropes/big pulleys inside making the work be pretty much effortless for any one structure. 
7. Once you're back up on top of yourself, another slow grow up toward the ceiling. You might feel taller this time. Then shorten back into gravity. Time to descend backward.
8. Neck softens, but this time let the tulip head travel back. Let the tulip stem fold back as much like a real tulip stem as you can manage. It's ok to pause at intervals to let more slack cut itself. You are not going to fall over backwards. Your critter brain will do everything it can to not ever let that happen. You are giving it a problem to solve, and its favourite thing in the world to do is combat gravity. It's a human anti-gravity suit, after all. (When I did this, for the first time in decades, probably, in the middle of the night, the first thing I felt was how tight the front of my neck felt, like it was covered all over on the inside with coach tape or something. Then I could feel how tight my abs were, right at the ribcage. I noted everything, but didn't worry about it in the slightest, because I knew my critter brain would be capable of dealing with it, if not right then, later on. It's not about anatomy, it's about physiology.) Go as far as you can. Stay there. Breathe fully in and fully out as ever. Your abs might stutter and shudder a bit. Don't worry about it. Retain control of the direction, the speed, the breathing, the weightbearing. Let the inner dog beast worry about sorting out all the rest, over the next 24 hours.
9. This one is more tiring than forward bending. You likely won't last as long because it feels like way more work. Stay there as long as you can anyway. Then start back up again.

10. Repeat the whole beeswax, times 3. If you're doing it right, i.e., going slow enough, the entire sequence will take about 15-20 minutes. On the second round you'll find yourself able to go further. The third round won't add much more information, but it seems like a third round helps lock in whatever you learned from the first and second round. So, three times is the magic number. Any more than three times is a waste of time in my opinion.

Once you've practiced a few days you'll become way more adept and bendy, and it won't take as long anymore.

What I noticed repeating the entire process a few days later was that the coach tape was gone from inside the front of the neck and the abs lengthened out the way they should, and the shuddering was gone. I succeeded in cutting myself some physical slack. The critter brain had reestablished its own motor control. Good, because motor control is its job, not mine.

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