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A muscle we may have neglected.

One of several regrets I have about my work as a voice teacher in drama schools is that I think I failed - or my training had failed - to pay proper attention to certain muscles that I now believe are very relevant to many people. One of them is the temporalis - the great big muscle of mastication which sits on the skull and reaches under the cheek bone to join with the coronoid process of the jaw itself.

The image on the left shows the temporalis and you can find it on your own body by clenching your teeth and palpating this area - or alternatively - my favourite way - you can watch someone eating a sandwich and observe quite how much strong and complex movement is taking place under the skin in this territory. If you watch carefully you can see fascinating waves of sequenced contraction and release dancing over their skull as they enjoy their snack. Bald people are particularly satisfying to observe. The muscle is huge.

In another post I’ll show you how to connect with the fibres as they gather in the area of the temple and form a tendon but for now let’s attend to the belly that lies over the skull.

The little dots in the image above on the right suggest that if you explore the muscle you may find ‘trigger points’, areas of particular tension residing in taut bands of muscle. Trigger points theoretically refer pain to the areas in the right hand picture - so the idea goes that if you have pain in your teeth this may be due to a trigger point in your temporalis (or it may be because you have a cavity…).

Although referred pain is solidly scientific the particular patterns of the trigger point theory are not quite proved - but the story is persuasive and developed by a brilliant woman called Janet Travell. Other thinkers dispute the theory in its entirety but many practitioners observe areas of tenderness in the body that connect to complex symptoms elsewhere. Some people call these areas ‘frozen chicken’ and some call them ‘blumps’ - terms that perhaps carry less conceptual baggage than ‘trigger points’ but whatever you call them, or think they are, many people have found that looking for these places and then engaging with them can be profoundly useful. I’ve found that to be true recently and that’s why I wanted to share this post.

So if you have chronic jaw tension, tooth pain, headache, or simply want to explore working with a little more space and ease in the mouth try this little procedure.

Let the fingers of one hand join together in a gentle curve - it’s the hand shape you might use to scoop up water from a stream - and then rest one side of your head lightly onto the finger tips. You could use your other hand for support. Feel around Your skull superficially starting a few centimetres above the ear just in the hair line. Now roll your fingers back and forth, sinking into the skin and see if you find anything curious. Have fun. Explore the whole area, clenching your jaw from time to time to check that you are still over the temporalis. As you work see if you find any interesting spots - anything that demands attention, and if you do: connect…sink in a little. Explore the whole muscle. Here’s an image that might give you an idea of what to do.

Add this simple exploration to your work on the jaw and if you would like someone else to do this for you drop me an email and pop over to 58 Broadwick Street for a vocal massage.

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