Tight Chin in Hand, Tense Thoughts in Head

If touch is connected more with a sense of feeling, how can we apply spoken or written language to describe a world that may have broader boundaries than language allows for? Massage therapy, both an art form and a science, is a perfect example of this disparity. What does it feel like to do bodywork? More specifically, what does it feel like to work on this part of the body, on this particular individual, in any given approach or style or technique, in this given moment?

When I’m thinking, I often rest my hand along my lower jaw. It’s so natural to do – consider Rodin’s stature, “The Thinker.” How often do we rest our chin in hand, putting pressure there, feeling the weight of our head against it? Fairly strong in appearance and to the touch, the jaw bone has a lot of beauty and looks so different per person. With the actual jaw joint displaying hypertonicity in the surrounding musculature to dysfunction in the joint itself,  it can be challenging to approach the curve of the mandible bone without placing undue pressure on that temporomandibular joint. It’s nice to introduce yourself to the area, allowing the recipient to adjust, since jaws often are tight. Land the fingers softly on the underside tip of the chin, curled and just barely resting there, thumbs lightly contacting the front part of the chin. Slowly beginning to compress the tissue against the substance of that mandible bone, feeling its density in contrast to the skin sliding and moving around it. A lovely contrast, the malleability of the skin juxtaposed to the mandible’s solidity.

Is there bracing felt from the client as the technique is applied to the jaw bone? The pressure can be modified continuously, staying in synch with how the recipient is responding, like a wave back and forth of response and reaction. One round of this kind of touch may be more than enough, especially if done with measured intention and awareness; facial massage is often best if brief and palliative since it’s a sensitive area. Pulling and compressing the skin onto and even a little out from the chin tip and into the jaw, there can be a sense of pulling tension out of the whole jaw itself, before even reaching the jaw joint, or after it has already been addressed. It’s a fine balance point working here, honoring how tension may be held or moving in the client’s face. 

Jaw bones can reside in the face with tension from burdens felt, with a kind of thrust forward in defiance against the world, with a slackness from feelings of defeat, and with a tremble holding back grief, and much more. With these few examples in mind, attention given to an area where so much is communicated both in words and wordlessly, can be palpably effective and even reassuring. And if all else is unsure, it still feels quite good both to receive and give this touch.


Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2016



I have been licensed and working full time in the massage therapy field since 2001, teaching and writing MT courses since 2006. My experience has led me through working with several different chiropractors, hotel and boutique spas, corporate massage, a climbing gym wellness center, private practice, two different massage schools, one acupuncture/massage college, and my current capacity of working with physical therapy clinics and their patients. And the learning continues…

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