By Seth Dellinger, GCFP CM
Do you remember the last time you had something to say, but then changed your mind and held your tongue?
A lot of people won’t have to think too far back.
These days our world is awash with competing moral codes being loudly pronounced all about. It’s enough to make more than one person hold their tongue before voicing what might internally feel like a perfectly reasonable thing to say.
Sometimes that puts you in a bit of a bind when you want to speak. Because when you inhibit your expression, it quickly shows up in your body.
Here’s a quick experiment that will help you feel the connection of your tongue and spine – and what happens to your spine when you hold your tongue.
- Test the comfort of your spine:
Without straining to make a large movement, gently look up toward the ceiling, then down towards the floor. After a pause, turn your head gently to each side. Then look all around in a lazy circle.
Notice how it feels.
- Bring your attention to your tongue:
Touch the tip of your tongue to the back of your lower teeth, then move the back of your tongue to pull it backwards so you no longer feel contact. Then release. Do that many times – slowly and softly.
Is it easier to do as you breathe in or breathe out?
- Open your mouth:
Leave it open and let your tongue come forward over your lower lip. But don’t “stick out your tongue” like a kid. Let your tongue be wide and soft. Let it out, then slowly draw it back in. Do this 4 or 5 times, without hurrying.
Feel: where – inside your tongue – could you let go of some strain?
- Include your eyes:
Continue making the movement of letting your tongue spill over your lower lip. Now, each time you do so, let your eyes drift upwards. As your tongue and eyeballs move away from each other, allow your mouth to open wider and your head to tilt back.
Don’t forget the rest of your spine.
- Clarify the connection of your tongue & spine:
Keep doing that, but now also draw your tongue backwards each time you bring it back in your mouth. When you do, look down at the floor. Let your head and spine follow. Alternate looking up with your tongue coming out and looking down with your tongue moving backwards.
When does your spine get longer in the front?
When does your spine get longer in the back?
- Steer your spine with your tongue
With your mouth slightly open, rest your soft, wide tongue on your lower lip. Slide it slowly to one side of your mouth. Use your head, eyes and spine to look where your tongue is pointing. Then do the same to the other side. Go back and forth like that for a while.
Then move the tongue in and out again while the eyes look down and up again. Discover all the ways to coordinate your eyes and tongue. Move your tongue in a circle and let your head, eyes and spine follow where it points, in every direction.
Does it feel different than last time?
If you move more easily now, it means your nervous system just learned something about the relationship of the muscles in your tongue, the muscles in your eyes, and the muscles all along the length of your spine.
So now pause and consider two crucial things:
Do you know how you usually coordinate your eyes, tongue and spine?
What would happen to your spine if you had a habit of holding your tongue instead of speaking your mind?
There’s an easy way to find out.
- Test out the pattern:
Return to the movements of your tongue, eyes and spine, but this time imagine that you are about to say something. Draw in a breath as if to speak your mind, but at the last second, pull your tongue back and stop the sound from coming out.
Are you still breathing?
Can you still move your spine?
Some people live their whole lives like this.
What would it do to your spine if you held your tongue all the time?
(Try it for a few seconds – you’ll feel it).
This is not to suggest that you should share every last opinion you have with everyone you see. You might be able to imagine how that too could be problematic.
But it’s useful to understand the consequences of our actions.
When we do we can more wisely choose what we do – and what we don’t do.
(And when, and where, and with whom…)
Seth Dellinger is a Feldenkrais® practitioner whose unique approach draws on his background in improvisational music and dance, a lifelong fascination with language, and his ongoing study of the dynamics of interpersonal communication. He is the creator of several innovative online movement programs including Breathing for Resilience, Reimagining Asana, Vitruvian Human, Finding Your Voice and Expand Your World. He produces frequent new content about movement practice and life purpose for his YouTube channel, Move With Seth. Learn more at https://sethdellinger.com