Chronic Muscular Tension: Could It Just Be All In Your Head?

The large majority of us spend most of our waking hours running laps inside of our brain. We think about what we have to do, what we should have done, how we will handle this or that, what we will say to him or her.

These thoughts are elaborate. There are pictures, sounds, emotions, scents—everything is there.

They are also habitual. There is an underlying theme which is constantly reinforced through our personal storytelling. “I am this way. He is this way, and she is that way. It is this way, or that way, and here are all of the reasons.” As long as we are actively engaged in these “sophisticated” thought structures, we are essentially living in an alternate reality. It is this seemingly subjective nature of reality that torments us with the eternal question of “What is Real?”

But we’re getting into deep waters.

photo courtesy of The Acupressure Centre

Let’s get very basic. Have you ever just noticed the muscular tension that forms in your head and face while you’re chugging along on your custom-made mental hamster wheel?

Have you ever tried to relax your eyes? Your jaw? Your tongue? Your throat? If you answered “no” to any of these, check out my post about the death grip.

How about your skull? Yes, your skull. There is movement between those skull bones (see CranioSacral Therapy), and they are covered in muscle tissue. How about your brain? No? OK—the brain one is just my own thing. But just try to imagine relaxing your brain. You might be surprised at how palpable the sensation is.

Here’s a quick look at the anatomy of your head, neck and face:

That’s a lot of muscles to relax. Try to practice randomly checking in with these muscles throughout the day. If you continue to do this, you will start to develop a very keen awareness of the accumulation of muscular tension around this area.

As you learn to keep your inner gaze soft, your jaw relaxed, your temples at rest, you will begin to notice that your thoughts actually dissipate along with your active release of this very physical, muscular tension.

You will literally and metaphorically begin to form an “open mind”. This is a wonderful phenomenon. It is evidence that we can in fact change the mind by working through the body. We can affect the abstract by manipulating the concrete. How awesome is that? Your body is here to tell you “pay attention, fool! Behold, the immaculately responsive nature of Reality!”

photo courtesy of Campus to Career

Here are a few techniques that will help you release muscular tension around the head, neck, and throat:

1. Close your eyes and imagine your entire head and brain as an extremely dense ball of matter. Now imagine this dense ball is diffusing out into billions and billions of tiny particles. You can make it diffuse as fast and far as you like or as slow and close as you like. Try doing this for 10 minutes or longer. *You can practice this at any time or with any of the techniques below*

photo by Marcel Christ

2. Bring both hands over your face with your fingertips against your eyeballs and your thumbs near your jaw. You should be able to touch the base of your skull (mastoid processes) with the tips of your thumbs. Apply some pressure to your eyes if you like—but be gentle. Feel that you are really holding your entire head in your hands. You can look downward to release the neck. Allow your head and face to melt into your hands. Practice diffusion visualization above. Try to relax into this position for 5 minutes or longer.

3. Get down on all fours and touch your forehead to the ground. Shift your weight forward as your roll the top of your head on the ground until you reach the back portion of your head. Do not roll too far forward. You can also gently roll your head onto the right and left sides against the floor to massage the rest of the skull. Allow your entire head and face to melt into the ground. Practice diffusion visualization above. Try doing this for 10 minutes or longer. *Do not press your head too hard into the ground as you might cause injury to your neck. Use your hands and knees to support your weight, not your head!

4. Stack both hands over the collarbone. Rest your chin on your hands. Allow all of the weight of your head, neck, face, jaw, etc. to rest on your hands. Try tucking your hands in a bit so they reach the front of your neck. This gentle pressure against the front of the neck really helps you relax the throat (which is critical for the release of deep-seated tension). Practice diffusion visualization above. Try to melt into this position for 5 minutes or longer.

While these techniques seem incredibly simple and straightforward, they do require deliberate focus and practice in order to have an effect. With daily practice, you will begin to get a really good idea of what it feels like to relax the head, neck and throat. This develops your sensitivity around these areas and you will naturally begin to keep them more soft and relaxed throughout the day. You will suddenly realize that you do in fact have a more “open mind”. You might find yourself remaining calm in situations that used to throw you into a fit. Or maybe more mental clarity as you move through your workday. You might come home feeling like you have a lot more energy than usual. You might even start noticing that your back and chest feel lighter and more open. The great news is that this is only the beginning. Our ability for expansion—both physically and metaphorically—is essentially infinite.

photo by Eddie van W.

What other great gifts are awaiting us beyond the prison of our habitual mind (and subsequent body)? Is it possible that much of the chronic muscular pain that you experience in other parts of your body is somehow related to the tension that accumulates around your head, neck and throat from all of that mental rummaging? In other words, could it really just be “all in your head”?

Leave a Reply