by Katie Tison
What is the strongest muscle in the human body, pound for pound?
B: Gluteous Medius
Answer? C: Masseter. Surprised? And you may be wondering: what the heck is a masseter?
The masseter muscles are the small muscles responsible for chewing and raising the jaw. You have one on each side. They are also the first muscles subconsciously activated when you are in deep concentration, angry, or in any emotional distress.
As such, it makes sense it is one of the most common locations in the body for trigger points (knots). Tightness in the masseter muscles can cause many different pains including headaches, migraines, neck pain, earaches, ringing in the ears, toothaches, tooth grinding and, worst of all, temporo-mandibular joint syndrome.
These muscles start in your cheekbones (about an inch in front of your ears you can feel a small notch about the size of your thumbprint) and attach to your jawbone.
Take a minute to check out what yours feel like. Start by noticing if your molars are touching each other. If they are, your masseter muscles are engaged and you are clenching your jaw. Somewhere at the top or bottom probably feels a little tight or maybe knotty. Luckily there are several simple, and really effective, things you can do to relax these muscles and yoga class is the perfect time to do so.
At the very beginning of class make sure your tongue is resting comfortably in the bottom of your mouth, with the tip behind your bottom front teeth. Remember that your molars shouldn’t be touching when you are at rest and your tongue shouldn’t be touching the roof of your mouth. Take some deep breaths, which may be more accessible when you are sitting still.
As class begins, check in with your jaw. Do you clench your jaw when the pose that scares or frustrates you comes up in class? Or when you’re concentrating so very hard on balancing in tree while standing on a blanket — especially if you close your eyes? And what about in final rest, savasana? Any time you are feeling a little stressed check in quickly and you will almost always find tension in your jaw. The hardest part is remembering to check! Then remember to use these simple techniques to release the jaw. They really do work, both on the mat and off!
If you have chronic pain or your jaw is locked you should see your doctor. Some of my other favorite solutions for mild jaw tension include self massage, sleeping on your back, acupuncture, and essential oils like Hope Gillerman Organics Jaw Clenching Remedy.