Tongues! How often do we actually notice our tongue? Do you wake up in the morning and think, “Hmmm, how does my tongue feel today?”
I suspect not, and for that you would be considered “normal”!
We tend to notice our tongue when we bite it by mistake, get an ulcer or eat something that gets stuck to it and for the most part, unless you suffer with a particular tongue related problem/illness, I would imagine your tongue just exists without you giving it much other thought.
Whenever I run a workshop, or giving a Singing Therapy session and I ask a client to stick their tongue out, wiggle it around, stretch it out as far as possible, people look at me like I am crazy. Some people refuse to do it at all. Other more courageous souls have a go and find themselves catapulted back to childhood, laughing, smiling and releasing tension.
At what age did we forget that our tongue existed? Children are only too happy to stick it out, blow raspberries and goodness knows what! When did the tongue become taboo?
I only came to really notice my tongue when I began my operatic vocal training. Suddenly it became all I could think about. Teachers and coaches were always commenting on it, telling me to relax it, bring it forward putting the tip behind the bottom teeth and it was the most difficult area to control. As soon as I started to sing, it was like it had a mind of its own! It would shoot back and remain held almost creating a block at the back of my throat, and affecting my sound production in both volume and tone.
Gradually I understood how much tension I was holding in this area. I had never realised it. The thing is, the tongue doesn’t stop at the back of your mouth, it has its roots half way down the throat, so if you are holding tension there, it will affect many things from vocal production to swallowing and because everything in the body is connected, you may find tongue tension contributes to tension in the ligaments at the side of your neck, in your jaw, behind your ears, in your temples and ultimately locking up your vocal apparatus causing headaches one end and a very tight epigastrium the other. That’s the thing about the body, you might think you have a problem in one area, but it’s actually being triggered by something else, a sort of chain reaction, and if you don’t even realise the tongue can hold tension in the first place, it is an easy thing to over look.
The reason I’m writing this blog about “The Tongue” is because I haven’t had a single client, or singing student that is yet to have a completely neutral tongue position, all the time. By neutral I mean the relaxed feeling it has when you are dropping off to sleep, its position forward and flat in the mouth. This position gives a feeling of space in the mouth. Most people when asked to observe their tongue throughout the day as they go about their lives will notice that it reacts to their emotions. For example, if they are stressed and tense they notice that their tongue is pulling back in the mouth. If they feel self conscious they start doing strange things with their tongues often inside their closed pursed lips. I have always found that I clench my teeth when driving and when I stop to check for a moment, my tongue is rigid.
There is a positive and negative to this. The negative is you will find that you have created a lot of knock on affect tension in your body. If you have been holding your tongue in a tense position for many years you will have a chain of muscles that have reacted to this. It may take some time to learn to unwind them, however the fact that you are even aware of it is the most important step. When I have worked with people with Cervical Dystonia or Stammering for example, the tension in the tongue is often incredible. However, once people start doing exercises to reverse this, they usually see results very quickly.
The key is to NOTICE what you are doing, even if at first you are not aware of it. The positive is that once you start observing your tongue, it becomes a really good indication of your emotional state. You might not realise that you are in fact holding tension when you perform certain tasks, including things we do to relax like exercise. This type of self observation helps you get to know yourself and your mind and how you are sub-consciously responding to things.
Ultimately when you are used to this, you will find that by teaching yourself to pre-empt a situation where you are likely to get tense, and stay in command of your body and tongue (!), you will relieve the stress before it happens, and it probably won’t! Just like a dog automatically puts its tail between its legs when its afraid, if you reverse this, and keep the dog’s tail up, as performed by Cesar Millan on his show, the body sends the brain a message not to be afraid. We are the same. Be aware that you may be tense when approaching a certain situation and prevent the physical symptoms from occurring in advance. Your body will remain calm and your emotional state will also!
This blog could go on forever as there are many related points and subjects I could cover, for starters, why are we all so uptight anyway and at what point, as I mentioned earlier, did we adopt the belief that being “in touch” with our tongue was a childlike pass time? As we grow and mature it seems that the definition of becoming an adult means to lose touch with oneself, and we wonder why we look and sound old, suffer stress and long term illness!
Anyway, I encourage you all to make friends with your tongue! Pay it a little attention, see what its up to and notice how your emotions affect it…..and most of all, HAVE FUN!!!!!!
Alexandra Rigazzi-Tarling, my journey into Singing and Sound for healing body, mind and spirit of all beings.