Mind-Body Series: Ocular & Oral Self Release Techniques
Here on the blog, we’ve previously talked about the importance of integrating somatic practices into our journey towards wellness. This blog is the first in a series where we will go over some specific exercises that can be used to release tension or pain and increase awareness of how the body is connected to certain thoughts, behaviors, trauma responses, and beliefs.
In a somatic orientation, certain segments of the body are directly associated with psychological and emotional patterns collected through childhood and difficult emotional experiences. You can read our previous "Awakening Our Body," blog to learn more about what that means and how it can impact our moment-to-moment state of being. Know that opening the body is not difficult. But, keeping it that way is – unless you also process the cause of the holding. In somatic therapy, we work to open the body while also understanding what negative thoughts, feelings, behaviors or past experiences may be contributing to patterns of tension, pain or numbness.
Ocular & Oral Holding Patterns
This article will focus on the ocular and oral segments of the body. While not always top of mind when thinking about holding patterns, these areas are associated with profoundly deep emotions. The ocular segment is often associated with worry, complexity, despair, and tense forms of thinking and feeling. This segment also includes the temporalis, which fans up the side of the head. It is one of five muscles used to close the jaw. Those with chronic holding in this area may keep this muscle tight even when the jaw is relaxed, making the eyes look hard even when one doesn't feel angry. Indeed, the old adage that the eyes are the windows to the soul holds some truth. The eyes can express the level of dissociation from the present moment that one may be experiencing. A glazed look is usually more temporary and superficial, while a deadened, flat look is often deeper rooted. Relieving the ocular band allows the facial muscles to soften, allowing the eyes to become more open and expressive.
The oral segment holds similarly deep rooted emotions. Often those with holding patterns in this area will report a history of “swallowing” expressions of sadness or hurt. Over time this can cause jaw pain and a habit of grinding the teeth. Working with facial muscles helps to break down the “mask” of emotional holding. Masking takes a lot of energy – think of smiling when you're not happy or feeling stuck in a state of “people pleasing.” Oral release exercises allow us to process and reform these patterns. Note that in addition to being a critical part of respiration and digestion, the mouth is also considered a sexual organ, and oral segment releases through kissing or sucking can also support pelvic releases.
Self Release Techniques | Building a Foundation
Before beginning, there are a few things that are helpful to keep in mind. First, when working with the body it is useful to begin working with areas that have relatively neutral sensations. As somatic awareness deepens, it becomes safer to work with areas that are more charged. For example, someone with a history of sexual trauma may begin working with the abdominal and pelvic segment after developing some activation and opening in other parts of the body such as the face or throat.
These exercises are also best completed as a practice. While they don’t take long, when starting out it can be useful to complete these exercises in a safe, quiet space when there is time to attend to emotions that may arise. It can also be supportive to keep a journal nearby to record any thoughts, emotions, or memories that feel significant.
The breath is also a critical part of somatic awareness. It is recommended to use deep, diaphragmatic breathing before and during somatic exercises. Some techniques also use charge breaths – which are open mouth, upper chest breaths. These chest breaths activate the sympathetic, or “fight or flight” functions of the nervous system, while deep belly breaths activate the parasympathetic, or “rest and digest” functions. Always try to ground with two or three breaths before starting. Also note that in somatic therapy, we maintain a neutral inhale and release on the exhale. In general, it is useful to imagine using the exhale to relax areas of tension. For specific exercises where you are pressing, shaking, stressing, stretching, or massaging the body, this action should be completed on the exhale. These are some of the primary methods of somatic release.
- Journal Prompt -
When working on releasing any segment of the body begin by noticing and identifying what may have triggered the body sensations you are experiencing. Were you just at a family function and smiling or swallowing your authentic feelings because it doesn't feel safe to say how you feel and now your jaw hurts? or you woke up after a night of teeth grinding with some jaw pain? Were you overworking at your job because your worthiness is tied up in your measure of productivity and now you have a headache? These are examples of thoughts and feelings that can create chronic tension and pain in the body. Pay attention to how your body responds to your choices, relationships and beliefs. Then work to interrupt and repair what is no longer serving you and support your body in letting go of the stress and tension that is a result of old programming. You can pair some of the below exercises with positive affirmations like...
I am good enough
It's not what I do but, who I am I am that is lovable
I am safe now
Ocular Segment Exercises
The ocular segment is divided into two bands: the top of the head and forehead (band one) and the eyes (band two). There is also fascia connecting the forehead frontalis and occipitalis muscle, which is located in the back of the head. They act as one band running across the top of the head and are used to move your scalp.
Complete each exercise for about 5 breaths or until you feel a sense of release and relaxation. Listen to your body and stop when it feels like it’s enough.
Place one hand on the forehead and the other on the occipital ridge - the region at the back of the head where the base of the skull meets the spine.
Move both hands forward, then back with breath.
You’ll feel the skin over your skull and forehead move back and forth with each breath.
Supraorbital Notch Press
Place thumbs on notch (upper edge of eye socket just above the inner corner of the eyes).
Massage lightly clockwise while breathing deeply in and out through the nose.
Occipital Point Press
Place hands at back of head with thumbs on occipital points. Press and massage in clockwise motion while breathing deeply in and out through the nose.
With inhale, press temples with palms. Exhale, and slowly release.
Raise alternate hands over head (arm pointing straight forward - not to the side) with inhale and lower with exhale. Follow hands with eyes - try not to move your chin just let your eyes move up and down.
Reverse breath. Hands go over the head on exhale and down on the inhale, followed by eyes.
Complete at least 5 breaths on each side.
Gently cup palms of hands over eyes and let go of the breath. You can apply gentle pressure on the inhale and release on the exhale.
Complete at least 5 breaths.
Trataka meditation in yoga is believed to purify the eyes and improve short-sightedness/general wellness.
1. Place a candle at or just below eye level approximately 12-24 inches away from you.
2. Relax eyes and gaze at flame until no longer easily able to keep eyes open. This may result in eyes watering.
3. Keep eyes closed and concentrate on maintaining a mental image of the flame. When no longer able to visualize flame, open eyes.
4. Repeat the process for as long as comfortable.
Oral Segment Exercises
These exercises primarily focus on the masseter, or jaw muscle. This muscle has two layers and is often over-active in individuals with complex trauma or stress.
Again, complete each exercise for about 5 breaths or until you feel a sense of release and relaxation. Listen to your body and stop when it feels like it’s enough.
Massage Masseter (jaw muscle)
External massage first with mouth closed, then massage while opening and closing jaw slowly.
Internal massaging the jaw internally can feel nice as well.
You place the thumb inside the mouth until finding the superficial layer of the masseter. Using the index finger, you then massage the Masseter from the outside. Essentially you are rubbing the muscle between the thumb and index finger.
Move your jaw in all directions. Stretching the jaw up, down and all around!
When completing any new self-release technique, always remember to start softly and maintain attention to the breath. Explore new techniques with a sense of curiosity and mindfulness. Our goal is never to force the body to open, but rather to more deeply observe the holding patterns that are present. In deeply witnessing the tension and pain, we make space for it to transform. Simply by committing to bringing attention to the body through regular practice, we are making space for somatic healing to unfold. Bringing love, compassion and curiosity to our body is a beautiful self-love practice.
If these exercises are difficult or emotional, it may be useful to work with a somatic therapist that can hold additional space while navigating the healing journey. Exploring the impact of abandonment, inundation, or codependency on the psyche may also support growth.
Author: Lindsay Rosser, LMFT #87065 - Lindsay is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the owner of WellBeings Therapy. She is a Certified EMDR and Integrative Body Psychotherapist who primarily works with adults who experienced complex trauma as child. For more on Lindsay you can read her bio.
Author: Mckenna Coffey, Pre-Licensed Therapist - Mckenna is a pre-licensed provider who joined WellBeings during her graduate studies at the University of Southern California. She is an integrative therapist with a trauma-focused, identity affirming, and sex positive practice. For more on Mckenna you can read her bio.
Jack Lee Rosenberg, Ph.D., Beverly Kitaen-Morse, Ph.D (1996). The Intimate Couple: Reaching New Levels of Sexual Excitement through Body Awakening and Relationship Renewal.