When you were a kid I bet you stuck your tongue out all the time; taunting your friends or expressing your disgust at the thought of eating your least favorite vegetables. As we get older and adhere to social norms our tongue rarely leave its home within the confines of our mouths, yet it is still darting around all the time and not just to form words.
Anyone who’s watched me play drum set might notice that when rhythms become intricate and my arms start going crazy so does my tongue. It shoots out of my mouth like a dog after a run on a hot day, and I was unaware of it for the longest time!
What could this possibly have to do with yoga and meditation? A whole lot it turns out!
Do you have an inner monologue running through your head even when you’re not actually speaking out loud? Is that voice narrating the words you’re reading right now? You’re not saying these words out loud but I bet you your tongue is still moving almost as if you were! When you are thinking this subvocolization causes your tongue to tense and make micromovements, as if you were preparing to speak your thoughts. These movements are very minimal, almost imperceptible, and very rarely draw our attention. In times of intense concentration these movements become more pronounced, hence my tongue drumming.
So if tongue movements accompany our thoughts, what happens if we focus on relaxing our tongue? It becomes harder to think! Which can be a beautiful thing if you are trying to silence the incessant internal chatter of the modern mind. The somatic-pyschotic relationship is a beautiful thing! When we relax our tongues we naturally begin to lower beta brain frequencies, allowing for the stillness of the mind that accompanies lower brain wave frequencies.
A Meditation Preparation
I have adopted a routine before meditation that helps me to relax my face and tongue and it has helped me to reach a level of stillness much quicker. Give it a try and see if you notice how consciously relaxing your tongue can relax your chattering mind.
- Find a comfortable position with a straight spine. If seated, actively press your fingertips into the ground beside your hips. Let this lifting force lengthen your spine from your pelvis to the crown of your head.
- Maintain this length in your spine and then allow your hands to rest in whatever mudra or position you are using for your meditation. Focus on moving just your hands and maintaining the lifting and lengthening of the front and back of your body.
- Gently press the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Feel your lower jaw drop down away from your upper jaw.
- Release your tongue to relax in this new space. (Some people prefer to let the tongue pool at the base of the mouth. Others prefer to place the tip of the tongue behind the front teeth (like when you make the letter ‘L’ sound). Or you can find the middle neutral ground. Experiment and find what feels most relaxing and comfortable for you.)
- Allow the skin on your forehead and cheeks to melt into gravity.
- If you feel your spine begin to slouch or any tension returning to your face, repeat the above steps slowly and consciously.
Activating Your Tongue With Lion’s Breath
More than any other pose, when I instruct Lion’s Breath in class I see people glance around class with an expression that says ‘Are we all really going to stick your tongue out and roar?’. How childish it sounds (and feels), yet how much release it creates! I bet your inner child starts dancing a little jig even as the responsible, grown up adult in you feels self-conscious. Which is a great thing because it helps us confront our tendency to take ourselves so damn seriously!
We tend to hold a lot of tension in our necks and the area surrounding our jaws. Stretching the tongue in lion’s breath helps to increase circulation into the throat and tongue and stretches the surrounding muscles as well. Tension around the tongue and jaw can contribute to tightness in our cervical spine (the uppermost vertebrae located in the neck region). Give lion’s breath a try and you might find a bit more freedom in your neck!
How to practice lion’s breath:
- Come into a comfortable kneeling position. Place your hands over your knees.
- Inhale deeply through your nose.
- (Steps 3-5 happen simultaneously.) Exhale through your mouth making a loud ‘HHAAA’ sound. Channel your inner lion cub!
- Extend your tongue as far out of your mouth as possible. Imagine trying to touch the bottom of your chin with the tip of your tongue.
- At the same time roll your eyes upwards like you’re taking your gaze to the third eye space between your eyebrows.
- Repeat the process a few times and enjoy the release!
Lion’s breath can be performed in a variety of positions like the pictures above and below demonstrate (the one below is a very deep shoulder opener too!). It is often added to cat and cow, with the lion’s breath performed as the back extends into cow position.
Your tongue is one of the strongest and hardest working muscles in your body. We focus a lot on our muscles in asana, yet our tongues often get overlooked. Show your tongue some love and let it escape your mouth every once in a while. When life has you feeling silly, stick your tongue out. Maybe add in a roar for good measure! The same when life has you taking yourself too seriously! The more you get to intimately know your tongue the more you can tap into its amazing potential to calm your mind, release tension, and unleash your playful inner child!