Questions about stress and anger can help you discover the spiritual meaning of jaw pain.
The muscles in the jaw are some of the strongest in the body. The jaw is also one of the only places in the body that doesn’t completely go into sleep paralysis when we’re unconscious. For example, babies suckle in their sleep—an important function that helps them to eat and also to soothe themselves. Adults also clench and grind their teeth at night, even when the rest of the body is relaxed in sleep.
Jaw tension is very common among adults, and you can see it in teens and sometimes children. This could include TMJ (temporomandibular joint pain), teeth grinding or bruxism, clenching, and other kinds of jaw tension. An overly tight jaw can cause headaches and neck pain. Dentists, doctors, and physiotherapists may be helpful to diagnose and treat any potential issues related to jaw pain. But beyond the physical aspect, what is the spiritual meaning of jaw pain?
Stress & the Spiritual Meaning of Jaw Pain
This is kind of a no-brainer, but yes, stress usually plays a role in any physical ailment. But what does stress mean? Sometimes it means unprocessed emotions. When we experience an uncomfortable feeling, we will often hold our breath. In order to help us do that, we clench the jaw. When there is jaw pain, there’s almost always something that is not being said, some emotion that’s not being expressed. Here are some questions to reflect on:
- What kinds of stress have I been dealing with lately?
- Have I been processing or expressing my emotions?
- Do people close to me know how I really feel?
- Do I feel held, understood, and cared for in my emotional self?
- What do I need to say that I’m not saying?
How Our Jaws Process Anger
Unexpressed emotion with jaw pain is almost always about anger. Anger is the emotion that represents boundaries. When we are angry, it’s often because either a boundary has been crossed or a need is not being met. When we swallow our feelings instead of expressing them, anger brews inside of our bodies. In order to avoid getting ourselves in trouble, we squeeze our mouths shut.
Traditionally, anger is expressed a little differently along gender lines. People raised as men are somewhat more likely to externalize their anger by yelling or acting out against someone else. (Though not always at the person who caused their anger!)
People raised as women, on the other hand, have gotten the message that expressing anger is “unladylike” and so they’re more likely to internalize that anger. This means they take it out on their own bodies in some way. This can take a lot of different forms, but overeating or developing an unhealthy relationship to eating are probably the most common. The jaw can’t form around the words that need to be said, so chewing through comforting food—or feeling like you’re so full of your emotion you can’t swallow anything—works through the physical need of the body while protecting everyone else from the dangerous feelings.
[Read: “Understanding Your Cravings.”]
Of course, not everyone fits into these gendered categories (and how we define these categories is changing), but it is interesting to consider how you’ve been taught to experience and express your anger according to your sex and/or gender. Men are often taught that anger is pretty much the only acceptable emotion to express, so sadness, loneliness, and fear all get channeled into the same set of feeling expressions. Women, on the other hand, may have more skills for expressing other types of emotions, but anger is the one emotion they are never supposed to show or express. Here are some questions for reflection around anger as it may underlie the spiritual meaning of jaw pain:
- What is my relationship to my anger like?
- How do I express anger when I feel it?
- What was I taught to do when I felt angry as a child or young adult?
- What boundary has been crossed in my life or what need is not being met?
- What do I do with my difficult emotions?
Jaw Pain & the Pelvic Floor
The jaw/throat has an intimate relationship with the pelvic floor, the muscular area around the genitals. Usually if one is tight, so is the other. Pelvic floor issues can manifest as pain in the genital region, constipation, hemorrhoids, pain with vaginal sex, lower back or sacral pain, and difficulties with urination such as peeing a little while coughing or sneezing.
This is partly because the jaw is, energetically, the space through which we express our feelings, and the pelvic floor is often where we hide them.
When we don’t feel safe physically or emotionally, the pelvic floor and the jaw tend to tighten up, trying to protect the tenderness inside. Sometimes we need to communicate to the body that we are safe and that it’s okay to let go in these ways.
Belly Breathing to Loosen the Jaw & Pelvic Floor
When you have a little time in a safe space, lie down on the floor with your knees on a pillow or bolster or with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Roll a soft towel behind the curve of your neck so your neck and head feel supported. Bob your head a little until you find the place where your jaw can relax the most.
Place your hands on your belly and close your eyes if that’s comfortable to do. Imagine opening the central channel of your body from your throat to your genital region. Imagine that channel opening and softening, the breath free to move as it likes.
Allow your teeth to separate and the tongue to soften in your mouth. Relax your throat as much as you can. At the same time, relax your pelvic floor region. Imagine a small diaphragm (like a trampoline) around your genitals, similar to the diaphragm under your ribs. Imagine a third diaphragm at the back of your throat. Imagine each of these three shapes moving together softly, easily, almost as if they were sheets on a line, opening and closing with the wind. Don’t worry too much about which direction they are going or what, exactly they are doing. Just imagine the throat, breathing diaphragm, and pelvic floor softly rising and falling with the breath. The belly should also softly rise and fall under your hands with the breath. The more you relax, the more this will happen naturally. Focus on allowing. Give yourself 10-20 minutes to rest in this exercise.
Because emotion plays such a large role in the spiritual meaning of jaw pain, emotions may come up during this exercise. That’s okay! See if you can keep breathing and just let the emotions flow.
With an open mind and mouth, time to consider the spiritual meaning of tooth pain.