We sometimes forget the central role the tongue plays in our lives. Most of the times it’s just there doing its thing in the busy cave which is our mouth, although its hidden from sight but still offers us abundant delights. Think about it, what would life be without taste, without speech, heck without the ability to properly chew and swallow food. The tongue is responsible for all those things and more. Whether it’s the taste buds registering the four common tastes, namely sweet, sour, bitter, and salty or if its the tongue articulating certain sounds and words for effective communication, the tongue is crucial for everyday life.
The essential functions of the tongue
The tongue is responsible for a handful of necessary processes which enable our bodies to function properly and optimally:
- Speech: Human speech is essentially complexly modified airflow. The tongue can direct and formulate the airflow leaving the lungs via the mouth in many different ways to give rise to a myriad of sounds. Depending on where in the mouth the tongue is located, certain sounds are produced, thus giving rise to words. The tongue is in other words responsible for us speaking properly and without a flexible and mobile tongue, we would be severely limited in what words and sounds we could produce.
- Taste: The taste buds spread along the surface of the tongue are responsible for the tastes we experience when eating and drinking. There is a debate concerning how many taste sensations we really possess, however, the most common understanding is that we have five different types of tastes, namely sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (savory).
- Chewing: Being the first step of digestion, chewing also known as mastication, would be a lot more challenging than it is for most of us. The role of the tongue, alongside the cheek, when it comes to chewing is to position the food between the teeth to crush and grind. Then the tongue mixes the chewed food with naturally occuring saliva to further help the digestive process.
- Swallowing: After the food has been sufficiently chewed, the tongue helps in rounding the grinded food into masses known as bolus, which subsequently are pushed down towards the esophagus and lastly the stomach.
Why you should learn to relax the tongue
Relaxing the tongue has many benefits, while some of these benefits are somewhat self-evident others are more subtle and unique. Aside from potentially boosting the essential functions of the tongue mentioned above, that is to say help you speak or sing better, enhance your taste buds, optimize your chewing and swallowing, relaxing the tongue can also help in calming your overthinking mind.
Now there is a secret or an ignorance when it comes to the role the tongue plays when it comes to our minds. A process and phenomena many people aren’t are aware of, namely the process of automatic and everyday subvocalization. Subvocalization, also known as silent speech, is the internal monologue that most of us have when going about in our daily life or when reading.
Heck, learning to relax the tongue can almost be considered a meditation technique, due to its effectiveness to quieting certain aspects of the psychological monkey-mind. While there are many ways to relax the eyes, the face or the stomach, we rarely hear about the tongue. Luckily this article was written!
Having said that, if you’re sold on the potential benefits of relaxing the tongue, let’s go through a couple ways to do it:
3 ways to relax the tongue
Be aware of it
You’d be surprised what relaxing effects mere awareness has on our body and mind. Conscious awareness and attention is the essence of all meditation practices, and the simplicity is sometimes somewhat deceiving.
By becoming more aware of the tongue during the day, you’ll naturally, automatically and subconsciously relax it without effort. Awareness alone can do a lot when it comes to relaxing the tongue. Mainly by noticing that your being tense for no good reason. Try it!
Allow it to rest
When you start being more aware of the tongue and the different positions it takes in the mouth, you’ll start noticing in which positions it is most comfortable and restful. Similar to preferring certain sleeping positions, the optimal position of the tongue can also be learnt.
We’ve found that by letting the tongue rest horizontally in between the half circle which your teeth constitute is the most natural and restful position for the tongue to take when not being active.
Exercise and/or stretch it
The tongue is a muscle and by exercising and stretching a muscle of any kind you strengthen it and naturally relax it after the exercise or stretching session. By trying different exercises and mild stretches, you can allow the tongue to function optimally.
One ancient yogic exercise, a milder form of the Khecarī mudrā, you could try is to curl the tip of the tongue so that it points upward, that is to say in between the soft and hard palate. This is a static exercise, which means that your task is to only maintain the position for a certain amount of time. Also don’t do this when lying down.
The role of the tongue is undeniable to proper human functioning, both biologically and socially. However the role of the tongue in the privacy of our own minds is also worthy of taking note. Learning to relax the tongue to optimize some essential biological functions as well as to calm our chatty minds is a wise thing to do.