Almost everyone talks to themselves and there is nothing unusual about this. People who practice meditation have the goal of quieting the “monkey mind” that often chatters non-stop from the moment we wake up until we lie in bed night, tossing and turning, trying to fall into a deep, refreshing slumber.
Even if a person doesn’t speak out loud, the body and notably the tongue are actively moving in what scientists call sub-vocalization. These tiny movements in the tongue mirror the thoughts from our conscious minds to provide a “running commentary” on just about everything we do or think.
Whether aware or not, the subconscious mind is always alert and, many times, quite judgmental – about ourselves as well as others. Need I say just how tiring and stressful weighing and evaluating each and every detail of our lives can become?
People often channel stress into the tongue and hold it against the roof of the mouth. If you feel stressed and like you are overthinking things, simply relax your tongue to silence that inner critic. Could relaxation be so easy? Give it a try and see for yourself.
Most of us take our tongues for granted – until we go to the dentist and get an anesthetic that takes a few hours to wear off, that is. Then, the sometimes-comical results of a numb tongue (difficulty speaking, swallowing, drinking, and eating) are only too obvious.
Intentionally relaxing the tongue takes some practice and conscious effort because the tongue is part of the body’s involuntary or autonomic nervous system. Other autonomic functions include breathing. Can you imagine having to focus on taking in and exhaling oxygen in order to survive?
Nature has taken care of that problem by “hard-wiring” the essential bodily activities that we need in order to exist without conscious effort:
- Blood pressure
- Heart and breathing rates
- Body temperature
- The balance of water and electrolytes (such as sodium and calcium)
- The production of body fluids (saliva, sweat, and tears)
- Sexual response
Of course, we also need our tongues to speak (vocalize). When we do so, the tongue performs double duty as part of the body’s voluntary nervous system.
Because the tongue is part of both the voluntary and involuntary nervous systems, it links the two and provides a way to voluntarily (which is to say, consciously) relax the deeper, more elusive, subconscious mind.
Anna Wise included the following simple de-stressing exercise in her book Awakening the Mind: A Guide to Harnessing the Power of Your Brainwaves:
- Close your eyes
- Briefly press your tongue against the roof of your mouth to make it tense, then stop doing that and allow your tongue to relax.
- It’s OK to let your mouth hang open slightly.
- Just simply let your tongue go, especially the back of your tongue.
- As you exhale, feel it let go even more.
- Exaggerate the relaxation.
- If you need to swallow, that’s okay.
- If your tongue gets tense again, don’t get annoyed. Just give it permission to relax again.
- Exaggerate the relaxation again.
- By now you can almost feel your tongue floating in the cavity of your mouth.
- You may feel it shorten some – or thicken.
- Exaggerate the relaxation even more.
- Focus on only relaxing your tongue – nothing else.
There are other ways to keep your tongue still. You could actually hold it between your thumb and finger, but this is inelegant, to say the least, and might raise concerns around the office water cooler about your mental state.
Instead, rest the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth just behind the front teeth. You can challenge yourself by imagining that you have a drop of some liquid you like on the tip of your tongue. Focus on keeping that imaginary drop still as you press your tongue behind your upper front teeth. Your tongue should stop moving and your mind should calm itself, too.
The above technique can be a real help when listening to others by improving your concentration on what they are saying instead of what you are thinking. It is also great for halting negative self-talk in its tracks so give it a try.
Madeleine Harvey has also posted an excellent video called “Tame That Terrible Tongue” which features an exercise for singers which targets the root of the tongue rather than the tip. Even if you only sing in the shower, see if this simple, yet effective voluntary vocalizing technique can help you train your muscles to “get out of the way” so your true voice can shine through.
Regular practice in relaxing your tongue can make a huge difference by lowering your tension levels, helping you focus on others rather than your inner monologue, and cultivating a positive, upbeat attitude.