When I was having trouble with pirouettes, which require whipping the head around to complete multiple turns, my ballet teacher told me to rest my tongue on the roof of the mouth. I thought it was oddly specific of her to mention on it, but sure enough, my jaw stabilized, allowing the neck to loosen up, and I was able to move with more ease. Ever since then, I have taken my tongue posture very seriously.
Then I heard the same thing in boxing. Put the tongue on the roof of the mouth to stabilize the lower jaw and prevent easy knockouts, because a sure way to go unconscious is to get tagged on a loose chin.
Talk about major game changers. Who knew that the tongue has its own alignment specifications? Turns out once again that it’s all connected. Like the psoas muscle, tongue position has wide ranging effects. It could impact our breathing, contribute to neck and shoulder tension, and even give us a headache!
The intrinsic muscles of the tongue are unique in that they originate and insert within the tongue itself and do not attach to any bone. However the extrinsic muscles attach all around: the lower jaw, the palate, the temporal bone of the skull and the hyoid. The hyoid bone also doesn’t attach to any other bone and is only anchored by the surrounding muscles and ligaments. Well those muscles reach all the way down to the clavicle, making our tongue connected to our shoulders!
So, whether you want to turn your head, stabilize your chin or take a deep breath, bring awareness to your tongue. Notice how its position affects the tension in the surrounding muscles, particularly under the throat. Notice the quality of your breathing and the ability to breathe through your nose. Notice any tension in the face as well, and how changing your tongue position changes your facial expression. Although it took awhile to figure out, the roof of my mouth is where my tongue now lives.
- Place the tongue on your lower jaw, just touching the back of the bottom teeth.
- Notice the position of your lower jaw and the facial expression it creates
- Take a deep breath through your nose. How did that feel? How far into the belly did the air reach?
- Take a deep breath through your mouth. How did that feel? Where did the air go?
- How does the neck feel? How does it feel to move the neck side to side?
- Now place the tongue on the roof of your mouth, just behind the top teeth.
- Notice the sensation in your face, the area between the eyes, and the lower jaw
- Take a deep breath through your nose. How did that feel? How far into the belly did the air reach this time?
- Take a deep breath through your mouth. How did that go? Were you able to take a one at all?
- How does the neck feel now? How does it feel to move the neck side to side?
- Compare the sensation under the throat between the two tongue positions. Which one allows you to take a deeper breath? Which one seems to create less tension?
Comment below on what you noticed when trying this exercise. Where does your tongue typically hang out?