Did you realize that your resting tongue position can affect your whole body? In research published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2018, Bordoni et al found that not only is the tongue important for tasting, mastication, swallowing and talking, but it affects overall muscular function throughout the body. Positioning the tongue at rest just behind the teeth at the “palatine spot” on the roof of your mouth versus the mouth floor promotes by increased vagus nerve activity and influences general neuromuscular control. This includes activation of the diaphragm, which is not only important for breathing, but for core strength through inter-abdominal pressure regulation. Chilean physical therapist and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) expert Mariano Rocabado uses tongue clicking in his TMJ exercise regimens to locate the palatine spot.
Today, as you turn your attention to mindful breathing, focus on your breath with curiosity rather than with concern or worry. Being mindful is about noticing without judgment. If you are distracted, note the distraction and bring your attention back to the act of breathing. Let one hand rest on your belly as a cue to allow for space for your diaphragm to drop rather than restricting breath to the upper chest. Place the end of your tongue just behind your teeth on the roof of your mouth as you breathe in through your nose. What does that feel like? Where is the air going? Notice your stomach expanding outward into your hand to make space for the air.. What does it feel like as you let the air gently exit your body as it will, through pursed lips? Focus on your breathing for several cycles as you are able. A focused warm-up and contemplating are great initial steps in the water to incorporate breathing with mindfulness.
ATRI’s Ai Chi Day 2021 is now available at: https://ruth-sova-103927.square.site/product/ai-chi-day-2021/452?cs=true&cst=custom
And Ai Chi Day 2020 is now on sale: https://ruth-sova-103927.square.site/product/ai-chi-day-2020-recording/343?cs=true&cst=custom
We’ll look at focused warm-ups in our next Moment for Mindfulness in Ai Chi…
To follow this blog, scroll down and click “follow” in the lower right corner of your screen.
A recent pilot study was done in Hong Kong that looks at how Ai Chi affects subjects with knee osteoarthritis, which was published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. Following just five weeks of bi-weekly Ai Chi classes, subjects reported significant decreases in chronic knee pain and knee stiffness and improved daily task performance. Why would doing Ai Chi have this effect?
Just being in warm water relaxes muscles and soft tissue. Knee joint temperature receptors block the signals from pain receptors. And the hydrostatic pressure of the water improves circulation to reduce joint swelling and pain. At shoulder depth, the water’s buoyancy unloads the lower limb joints by 90%, significantly lessening the pressure on the damaged knee joint.
But when my friends who spend nearly every weekday in a warm water pool joined me in Ai Chi, they reported relief of chronic knee pain for the remainder of the day that they had not experienced before. Something more was happening…
The diaphragmatic breathing that is a part of doing Ai Chi stimulates the parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system, enhancing relaxation. This is the type of breathing I used during childbirth to lessen pain, as a part of a battery of Lamaze techniques. Enhancing relaxation sets the foundation for another important component of Ai Chi: movement. The researchers in the Chinese study point out that Ai Chi involves a wide range of increasingly more complex movements on a diminishing base of support and uses both closed and open chain patterns and weight shifting, which place varying demands on muscles. These are progressive movements with constantly changing variables. Movement is important to normal joint function, and the water creates a comfortable environment to move in ways that are often painful outside of the water. As one of my group participants commented, “I finally felt like I was moving normally.” While doing Ai Chi cannot repair joint damage, it can allow for pain curbing movement in the water.
This pilot study supports the pain relieving effects of Ai Chi that I have seen anecdotally, but it only provides a preliminary look. It opens the door for future studies to substantiate these early results that include more participants and a non-Ai Chi performing comparison group.
You must take the first step. The first steps will take some effort, maybe pain. But after that, everything that has to be done is real-life movement. Ben Stein