Yoga for TMJ: does it work?

TMJ stands for Temporomandibular Joint, or jaw pain and stiffness associated with stress, clenching and grinding the teeth — often while asleep. Over ten million US adults suffer TMJ symptoms, with women experiencing it at twice the rate of men: nearly 7% vs. 3.5%. Dentists often prescribe night guards, soft foods, hot and cold packs — which can help, but they don’t usually cure the problem. Knowing that my own TMJ was related to stress, I sought to resolve the underlying causes through yoga for TMJ.

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Workshop on Yoga for TMJ

Even though my track record with yoga classes is spotty, I signed up for a three-hour workshop, full of optimism that this was going to help me when other things hadn’t. Although I got lost and arrived late, I was the second-to-last person to get there, so the punctual people reserved their judgmental stares for the lady who came last. Thank goodness. I quickly realized I wasn’t the only stressed-out person in the room.

Our instructor was a yogi and an experienced cranio-sacral practitioner. She was about my age and had two little buns near the front of her curly hair, perhaps to contain the longer part of her bangs? Her hair also had streaks of pink and of blue, plus a hairband to keep it off her face. She used a colorful plastic teaching model of the skull to explain what goes on when our jaw starts to tense up. The bright colors on the skull ostensibly differentiated the various bones, but I thought it added a cheery note to what otherwise was a sober topic.

The only downside was when our instructor dropped her visual aid, and it fell apart. She became distracted and un-zen-like as she tried to fit the pieces back together.

 

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Yoga for TMJ: the lion face

“Okay, before we do anything, give me a little lion face,” our instructor said. The Lion Face pose involves dropping your jaw and sticking out your tongue. It’s often accompanied by rolling back the eyes. Here’s a video that shows you how to do it. There are lots of funny lion poses out there, even a flickr group that showcases some of the best ones.

You can’t clench your jaw when you’re doing a lion face. Our teacher emphasized that we needn’t do a “major lion face,” just a “little lion face.” She would talk for a bit, then stop her lecture for us to do the lion face. She would also interject “now do a little lion face”  into the sequence of poses she led us through later.

After I told my family about the lion face, my son took to doing it at random times. We might be at the dinner table, and my husband would bring up a controversial topic. I’d look across at my youngest, and he’d cue me to relax with the stuck out tongue and rolled back eyes. So far, this has been the biggest benefit of my class on yoga for TMJ.

 

Benefits of yoga for TMJ

I learned there is a link between the skull and the pelvis, and that yoga poses to open the hips and give you more hip stability can augment the lion face and other things you do to relax the jaw itself. At the same time, I’m not sure I demonstrated the proper attitude during class. It was hard to remain in a zen state, when actually I got tired of sitting for three hours on the bare floor, not to mention my annoyance at repetitive, self-oriented and generally stupid questions asked by one of my classmates. Why is there always one person who asks dumb questions? Faking a pleasant look while she was wasting everyone else’s time was NOT helping my TMJ!

 

Yoga for TMJ: attitude is everything

There was also a section where our instructor taught self-massage, and when I questioned whether rubbing my temples so hard that my arms hurt was really what I wanted to do, she came over to me and suggested I use less pressure. She placed her fingers on the sides of my head and asked me if I felt that.  “Sure,” I replied. “It feels like you have your fingers on my temples.” It did. But others had expressed amazement when she did it to them, so my comments weren’t appreciated. It was as if someone had said, “The emperor has no clothes.” Clearly, the subject of yoga for TMJ needed to be treated with more reverence than I offered.

Owing in part to bad attitude, I’m not benefiting from yoga for TMJ as much as I could. But at least the class was fun and provided some good stories. Bottom line: I think yoga can reduce TMJ, whether through specific asanas or general improvement in the ability to deal with stress. I’m just not there yet personally.

In the meantime, though, join me in a little lion face.

 

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Image credits: Amazon/Wellden, Damn Good Yoga, Anne Rosales

 

 

 

What do you get from three hours of spinning, besides sore legs?

It took a few days, but my legs eventually recuperated from the three-hour spinning extravaganza. While I may have been silly to sign up for such torture in the first place, I gained some valuable lessons.

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Learnings from spinning’s heart rate workshop

  • I can complete a three-hour spin class.
    Similar to the feeling of accomplishment one gains from finishing a race, it feels good to know I did it. There’s a feeling of self-confidence you get just from learning that you can do something hard.
  • My max heart rate is 195.
    This information will help me make my workouts more efficient and precise, as I can now work to different percentages of my “max.” The calculation of max heart rate was, for me, much different than I would have gotten with a standard suggested estimate of 220 minus your age. Now I just need to learn how to work all those fancy buttons on the heart rate monitor arm band!
  • I know more about how to raise and lower my heart rate, as well as how to arrest a “heart rate freefall.”
    For example, I’ve learned that I can raise my heart rate quickly by standing up to pedal, but maintaining it at a certain level is easier when seated, or in biker-speak, when you’re “in the saddle.” I also realized I have to stop slacking off before I reach my “recovery beats per minute,” or else my heart rate will fall too far and I’ll have to work to raise it up again.
  • I need to work harder during “recovery.”
    This is a depressing one. During our three-hour class, we were not supposed to let our heart rates drop below 70% of maximum at any time. Although 70% is nominally an “endurance” or “working recovery” heart rate level, it’s actually hard to maintain when you’re wanting 45 seconds at, say, 60% of your max — so you can drink water, ease up on your legs, wipe away some of the sweat. However, the workshop taught me to push myself more uniformly during my regular classes.

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Spinning and tennis

When I hobbled off the bike that day, the calorie counter read 1493, and I was sweatier than I ever get while playing tennis. To make things worse, I played a singles tennis match the next day — which probably wasn’t the smartest idea, since my legs were so sore I could barely move across the court. But in general, the conditioning and heart rate info I’m gaining from spinning ought to benefit my tennis game — or at least my ability to survive three long sets.

Now I need to incorporate heartbeats per minute variations into my tennis workout — and I’m not referring to the way my heart races after after my opponent makes a poor line call on an important point!

That, however, is a subject for another post.

Do you measure your heart rate? If so, what do you do with the information?

 

Image credits: lemondfitness.comcbdilger via flickr

A non-cyclist’s guide to spinning, part 2

In my last post, I went over some spinning terminology and outlined a few of the reasons I keep going back to spin class, even though the workout is punishing and leaves me with tighter hamstrings than a three-set tennis match.

Today’s spinning “benefits” might be thought of as negatives, depending on your point of view. Going over them can help you decide whether spinning’s really for you.

Spinning fashion is boring

Compared to tennis fashion, most sports lag in terms of fashion interest, and spinning is no different. One test of fashion-worthiness: you wouldn’t want to run errands after class in your spin clothes, even if you didn’t get all sweaty — no one’s derrière looks good in those padded shorts. A cute tennis skirt with matching top and jacket, however? I’ve actually been asked if I got dressed in tennis clothes just to shop at the fancy grocery store in town (the answer was “no,” by the way — although I do like tennis outfits better than some of my other clothes).

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Plus, who wants to own more than a couple of pairs of those bike shorts anyway? It’s no wonder they come mostly in black, leaving possibilities for interesting color combinations limited. The best we can do is to wear a good top and maybe some lively socks. But it’s all going to get soaked in sweat, so what’s the point? Maybe spinning’s non-emphasis on fashion is actually a benefit, after all.

Spinning is social. Well, sort of.

There’s a regular crowd that attends our Tuesday/Thursday class. People have their usual bikes, even. The same gals are always in front of me — they never miss a day. One of our class member’s friends saves her a bike so she can arrive late. Another one sings to the music — and she has a good voice. People visit a bit as they’re changing their shoes and setting up their bikes. But once the lights go down and the music goes up, no talking is allowed. If you’re talking, you’re considered to be slacking off. Which leads me to my next point.

 

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Tennis in the tropics

As much as I love being at the beach in Mexico, spending time with my older kids, I miss my husband and high school son, who had to stay behind for work and exams. Also, truth be told, I miss my DIRECTV French Open Mix Channel, where they give me six HD different channels to choose from during the first week of the tournament — sometimes they even show doubles matches, which ESPN almost never airs.  The Tennis Channel doesn’t even show doubles very often.

I’m having to make do with re-runs on ESPN-México in poor quality telecast. But it helps me work on my Spanish, and at least we’re at the tournament’s beginning. Yes I know, no one’s feeling sorry for me: my balcony looks out on the sea. There’s a lovely breeze blowing, and it’s air-conditioned inside if I prefer that. Who needs tennis right now?

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I did want to check out the courts here, though. Because rain was forecast for every day of our trip at the time I packed, I didn’t bother to bring my tennis gear. And in fact I had to wade through a flooded passageway to reach the rain-soaked courts our first day. They call the court surface “grass,” but it’s not exactly Wimbledon. It’s the same grass-carpet material my mother-in-law and countless other owners of Southern California ranch homes used to put down in their enclosed patios. However, the resort stretches the grass fabric and glues it down tight, so it works well.

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My husband and I played here years ago, and we enjoyed the so-called grass courts. We had to make sure to play before the sun rose too high, as the tropical heat makes it tough to run around in the afternoon. Maybe I’ll save the tennis for a different location — here, it’s time for a margarita.

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What’s behind the poor play? Are you ready to find out?

I played tennis this week with a friend whom I haven’t seen since our last match together, back in the winter when emotional issues were affecting my game.  In fact, the last time we played together, I felt like such a failure I considered quitting tennis entirely — it had ceased being fun for me, and I was letting my partners down by inferior play.

 

 

But this time, things felt different.  I still made mistakes, we still lost our match, but I didn’t come away with the sense that my partner would never speak to me again, nor that I had performed so miserably as to discredit the sport.  While there were moments where I double-faulted or missed an easy shot and started to panic, I was able to settle down and focus on the next ball.  I even felt strangely calm when serving or returning serve on “pressure points” like “ad-in” – moments where winning or losing the point can decide the outcome of that game.

In spite of these improvements, though, I’m still not winning matches.  But this is a journey, in my case a long one, and at least I’m taking a few steps forward.  From my current vantage point, I now understand how strongly my attitude correlates with how I play tennis.  Knowing this, I see that what I needed a few months ago was not more tennis tips to pull me out of a slump, but a partner who could step over court boundaries and be a true friend.

 

 

I’m not blaming anyone — since I hate to let on that anything’s amiss, others might not even see that I’m having a bad day.  I’d prefer to give the appearance that all is fine, and I shy away from exposing vulnerabilities with anyone but family and close friends.  However, I’ve learned from this and other experiences that not only do I need to be more open about wanting others’ help — I also should be on the lookout for people who might need someone to pay attention to them.

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