Importance of Mouthwork
Last weekend I spent my time as a teaching assistant for the Upledger Institute, the organization where I have studied Craniosacral Therapy (CST). I love helping as a teaching assistant as I get to take the class again but hear it from a different teacher and perspective. The class was Somatoemotional Release 1 (SER 1), or the third level class in their curriculum. SER 1 starts with a review of mouthwork and then teaches new techniques to further the skills in working inside the mouth.
In class I was reminded of a question I often hear from students and fellow practitioners, “Why do we (as a craniosacral therapist) do mouthwork?” And from my clients, “Why do you want to work INSIDE my mouth?” I have been reflecting these questions and wanted to share my thoughts.
Let’s start with the basics: what is mouthwork? For me, mouthwork pertains to working with the structures and functions that involve the mouth and throat. In order to work on those structures, it is important to also work inside the mouth. From inside the mouth, a craniosacral therapist is able to release structures such as the vomer, temporomandibular joint (TMJ), and maxilla. We can also work with the surrounding muscles and fascia within the mouth such as the supra-hyoids. These are muscles that make up the floor of the mouth and control a tiny bone very important for swallowing called the hyoid.
Also in the area of the mouth are the many small structures of the head and neck. In this small space we have nerves, blood vessels/arteries, and lymph. The muscles of the mouth, throat, and shoulders use cranial nerves (nerves that come from the brain versus the spine) 5, 7,9, 10, 11, and 12 to function. Some of these nerves pass through a small space at the base of the skull. If the skull is not aligned or moving well these nerves may be a risk for impingements and therefore not function as well. I know the photo is a little creepy but it shows the structures that surround the mouth and how complicated it can be!
From an energetic level, the 5th chakra sits at the level of the throat. The 5th chakra is known as the “communication chakra”, which I wrote about here. As we loosen and open up the areas of the mouth, head, neck, and throat, the 5th chakra is able to open and release which allows for improved expression and communication. A quiet client will often start chatting away post our session if this area has been opened up.
I started doing more mouthwork when I started working with babies with breastfeeding problems. Often these babies had tight tongues, jaws, and throats. It was then I realized the importance of releasing these structures inside the mouth for better function of swallowing and sucking. I also learned first hand the relationship between the mouth, head, head, neck, shoulders, and the pelvis.
As I worked on adults with TMJ pain, headaches, and migraines I worked inside their mouth. Often, as I worked on the structures from the inside, they would report they could feel releasing in their back, hips, shoulders, and so on. Sometimes a babies’ lower spine would release and become more mobile post mouthwork.
Working on the structures of the mouth reminds me the how interconnected the body really is, how our body is able to self-heal with the appropriate resources, and the connection between mind-body-spirit is difficult if not impossible to separate. So yes, as therapists, it is just as important to work inside the mouth to release the structures and the surrounding structures of the mouth and jaw as the rest of the body. And yes, as a therapist I want to work inside my client’s mouth if that is the area that needs to be released for healing. The healing that can take place might not be secluded to the mouth and jaw but invoke healing to other parts of the body.
Personally, I love mouthwork and had large shifts in my own mouth and face as I started to receive this work. The tension I felt in my mouth post braces and general stress disappeared and I was much more open and clear with my communication. Have any of you experienced mouthwork? Or learning mouthwork? What are your thoughts and experiences? I’d love to hear!