TMJ Alternative Treatments; response to NY Times article by Jane Brody

Here is some of my response to Jane Brody’s article on TMJ in the Tuesday 2/3/09 NY Times.
We can start the discussion about the Alexander Technique any place and since I have been working on a response to the article I thought I would post it here as well. I think it is very important that the Alexander Technique be seen as an educational process rather than as a therapy. Alexander students are invited to participate in the process of discovery so they can take away concepts and experiences to integrate in to all of their activities.  

Dear Ms. Brody,

Recently I read your article on TMJ in the February 3, 2009 edition of the New York Times. Your explanation of the condition seemed very accurate to me. It is fascinating that TMJ symptoms show up more in women than in men. Did any of the studies give a reason for this phenomenon?

I would like to take this opportunity to offer a suggestion. The next time you write about TMJ (or any other condition involving chronic pain or tension) it might be interesting and helpful to your readers if you could include among the options for helping the situation the concept of re-education. In the case of TMJ, the possibility of re-educating the patient's use of their jaw, as well as an explanation of the functional movement aspect of the TMJ situation would be useful. When education is stressed a person can take some responsibility for the situation and take action to prevent it from happening again in the future.

As a teacher of the Alexander Technique I have grown to understand that the way in which people move their jaws makes a huge difference in their TMJ issues and in how their body functions as a whole. I see, as well, that many people can learn to make different choices about how they are moving their head, neck, tongue, and jaw and these different choices then lead to relief of some, if not all, of their TMJ symptoms. The Alexander Technique can directly teach the ability to “rest” the jaw and to find the appropriate amount of muscular tone needed in order to move the jaw and use it for chewing.

One might think that the jaw is only able to move in one way; it is my experience, however, that people manage to perform a great variety of movement patterns with the jaw, especially in combination with the tongue, neck, head, and face, leading to a great variety of states along the spectrum between balance and imbalance. Just as one can have more or less coordinated ideas and habits about how to walk or run, one can also have more or less coordinated ideas and habits about the use of the jaw when speaking, laughing, or eating. One example of the simple ways in which a movement pattern and mental understanding can affect the body's structure can be seen in how a person chews. It is not necessary or desirable to the body's optimal functioning to tilt the whole skull back when opening the jaw to take a bite (like
a 'pac man' who moves its upper and lower jaw at the same time). That action often pinches the back of the neck, puts stress on the jaw and causes a tightening up of that entire region of the body. In the Alexander Technique the student learns to understand how the jaw functions and learns to move it in a way more corresponding to its structure.

I find that if a student is in a cycle of chronic tension it can be very useful to look at how the student approaches the movement of his or her head, neck, tongue, and jaw. Although massage may be useful in relieving muscle tension and provide pain relief, in my experience, it can be even more helpful follow up that relief with a discussion and “coaching” on how to develop a better way of moving the head, neck, tongue, and jaw.

Releasing can be seen as the first step – a state of release from which a freer movement can take place. The released state enables an essential moment of awareness and gives the possiblity of making a new choice. If, having found relief from immediate tension, one then moves in the same habitual way, this familiar choice leads one right back into the pattern that caused the situation in the first place. If, on the other hand, one becomes aware in that moment of relief and chooses a different movement pattern there is a much greater chance of longer-lasting relief and of utimately not ending up in the same TMJ situation again at all.

The Alexander Techinque gives the student both the relief from the stressful pattern and offers an education on how to improve his or her use in any given moment, leading to long-lasting change and in some cases, dramatic relief from long-held movement patterns and painful conditions. The focus on education is what makes the Alexander Technique different from other types of body work.

This work is most often done in a one-on-one setting by a certified teacher who has gone through a thorough training of more than 1600 hours. The teachers works both verbally and hands-on with light touch to give relief to the student. This interaction also brings the student's awareness to the array of movement options available to them that can result not only in pain relief, but also, in many cases, in a much more balanced and graceful use of their own bodies in day to day situations.

I have been a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique for more than 25 years, teaching privately and giving workshops and master classes here in New York City, as well as abroad in Europe and Japan. Because I believe this technique would be a great interest to you and your readers, I would be more than happy to offer you a complimentary lesson at my New York studio to help you experience the Alexander Technique first hand.

Thanks for your interest.

All the best,

Ann Rodiger