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Back & Jaw Exercises to Relieve Tension

July 15, 2020

Before I studied massage 30 years ago, I had a stressful desk job that caused terrible posture and pain. My partner was in a graduate acting program at the time and was taking a class from Elise Lynch that incorporated Feldenkrais pinky ball work. Peter found the class extremely painful and did not want to continue the ball work, but showed me how to do it and I loved it and I continue to use the pinky ball as part of my daily, self-care/meditation routine with massage modifications made from Myofascial knowledge of Trigger Points and John Barnes unwinding. It’s not for everyone, so it’s good to check with your doctor to make sure osteoporosis or some other condition you have would be a contraindication.


At first, I’d place a pinky ball (a solid ball the size of a tennis ball made of rubber, so there is give) under my back next to my spine while stretched out on the floor, working points on each side of the spine from top to bottom for at least three seconds each, breathing deeply into each point. When not able to take more time, I’d pick a point at the top, middle and bottom of my back only.

Over time, I’ve learned to get quiet, scan my body for pain and place the ball at the spot of most pain, leaving it there until it releases. Aside from working my back, I can also get on my side (e.g., for a spot on my IT band, upper arm and lateral torso) or front (e.g., pecs, rectus abdominus and psoas). Depending on what my body is telling me, I consciously take a joint through a range of motion with the ball in place to better find the offending spot or instinctively listen to allow my body to subtly shift. The meditative awareness lets you enjoy the tension releasing before moving on to the next painful point.

If a point is too painful with bodyweight on the pinky ball, I will move the pinky ball a little away from the target point, release that, and then gradually engage points closer to the target point until I can release the target point directly. I could switch to a hollow tennis ball, which would also reduce the amount of pressure on the point, as well as changing the surface on which I work (e.g., the floor vs. a cushioned couch or recliner).

This work can be very relaxing, so be careful not to fall asleep on a particular point, which can overstretch that point in comparison to the tight ones all around it. It is especially nice to place two balls as the base of the occiput before bedtime to achieve craniosacral’s still point.


Here’s a simple jaw stretch I learned in a headache class taught by Ben Benjamin that touched on the connection with TMJ. It’s always good to check with your doctor and/or dentist to make sure all is well with doing this. Of course, everyday stress often causes us to clench teeth and raise shoulders, so here it is:

Place one, two or three knuckles between top and bottom front teeth (depending on how wide the mouth can open).

This is a passive stretch, so to avoid biting down on knuckles, Ben suggested personally modified-in-length wine corks for the maximum stretch instead of knuckles and I’ve discovered baby carrots work well. The idea is to work up to 15 minutes a day–at first 30 seconds is a good start with a bit of unavoidable drooling. Rubbing the jaw muscles with fingertips while in the stretch also helps!

Robin Brownstein

TSP Massage Therapist

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