If you suffer from temporomandibular joint dysfunction, commonly known as TMJ, then you know as well as I do how painful and frustrating it can be.
For me, it's important I practice these simple yoga poses every single day in order to feel my best, to relieve the pain in the muscles of my neck, jaw and head.
1. Eagle Arms
Taking your arms out to the side, swing your left elbow underneath the right.
Attempt to take either the backs of the hands together, or bring the palms to touch if flexibility allows.
Making sure to keep your shoulder blades sliding firmly down your back, begin to lift the elbows up to shoulder height while actively pressing the elbows away from the face.
Next, moving with your breath, begin to curl and round the spine, bringing the elbows in toward the chest, further opening the shoulder muscles and the muscles at the base of the neck.
Hold for 5 to 10 long inhales and exhales and repeat on the other side, with the right elbow underneath.
2. Head Tilts
Seated in a comfortable position and keeping a tall spine, begin by gently reaching your left arm out to the side, while bringing your right ear toward the right shoulder.
Make sure your sit bones are rooted and try to keep the torso upright, without leaning to one side.
Keep space between the shoulders and ears.
Use your right hand to bring your head back to center and repeat on the other side.
Stay for a few breaths, all the while reaching through the opposite arm.
3. Hand Clasp
Clasp your hands together behind your back, interlacing the fingers. If this feels uncomfortable, don't force it. Instead, grasp a towel or a strap.
Try to bring the palms to touch and, keeping the shoulders down, breathe deeply while expanding through the chest and extending the arms long behind you.
4. Chin Tuck
Staying lifted through the sternum, begin to tuck the chin back (not down) toward the chest, as if someone is pulling you from the nape of the neck. Inhale and lift through the heart center.
On your exhales, expand more through the back of the neck.
5. Head/Face Massage
OK, this isn't necessarily a yoga stretch, but gently massaging the head and face—yes, there are muscles covering our skulls—with the fingertips, is one of the most instant forms of relief that I've found for the muscles of the jaw.
6. "Superman" (Locust Pose Variation)
Lastly, consider that when our core muscles — specifically, here, our back muscles — are strong, that they help keep our shoulders down.
In other words, a strong back body helps prevent us from hiking up and hunching through the shoulders, without even thinking about it during the day. Because of this, I practice back-strengthening exercises daily.
Begin this Locust Pose variation commonly called "Superman" by lying on your stomach. Take your feet mat-width distance apart and bring your forehead to the floor.
Draw your arms forward and wide so that your entire body is in an "X" shape.
Then, exhale all the air out of your lungs and lift everything up as high as you can on an inhale. Remembering to breathe, squeeze your legs and arms together, then extend your body back out into a lifted "X" shape.
Lower and repeat 8 to 10 times.