Releasing and Minimizing Daily Tension:
Having an instrument that doubles as our daily body is a unique challenge for singers. Daily stress from normal working and living can wear on the instrument we need to be in tip-top shape for practice and performance. Here I'll offer some specific stretches and suggestions on how to minimize and release tension throughout the day. I'll focus on the most common locations that accrue tension and have particularly adverse effects for the singing instrument: the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) and ligaments, and the masseter, sternoclydomastoid, and trapezius muscles.
First, I suggest simply observing your posture and locations of tension. Do you hunch at your computer? Do you bend your neck to your phone or do you bring your phone up to meet your eyes? Do you clench your teeth when you're concentrating on a task? Does your voice feel tired by the end of your workday? Do you clear your throat out of habit or need?
The masseter - our main muscle of mastication - is one of the strongest muscles in our body for its size/weight. It can apply 150-200 lbs of pressure to objects between our molars! For those of us who clench or grind our teeth, this strength can aggravate our temporomandibular joint. This strength can hinder us when a day's worth of tension or accrued TMJ discomfort keeps us from releasing our jaw when we sing or transfers tension to our neck. Here are a few tips to help you minimize jaw tension throughout the day, and to release that tension if it accumulates.
1. Use the action of chewing to help free up your jaw and TM joint. Imagine chewing a giant piece of gum or making cartoonish chewing motions. Let your jaw swing downward and to the sides in a natural circular motion.
2. Massage jaw line - Use your fingertips to massage the jawline. Start at the TM joint where the cheekbone meets the jaw in front of the ear. Work your fingertips down along your jawline. Gently add your thumb to massage the jawline under your chin.
3. Masseter massage and press. Use your fingertips to massage the masseter muscle. Starting an inch or two in front of your ear, work your way straight down from the cheekbone (the zigamatic arch) to the bottom of the jaw (the angel of the mandible). Move your fingers up and down the masseter. Try this with the jaw closed as well as open. Gently clench your teeth if you aren't sure where your masseter is - you will feel it flex. For a deeper, more tenderizing massage - open your jaw and put your thumb into the masseter between your molars and press directly back toward your ear. You can also try this from the inside of your mouth.