Yoga

Why you should stretch your tongue – and this is how to do it!

When I was little, sticking my tongue out just felt great. I wanted to do it all the time, whenever something or someone really sucked. Parents, teachers, rules, restrictions – baaah. The only time I indeed refused vehemently was – exactly, when the doctor asked me to.

Years of training in appropriate behaviour later, there finally comes the chance to stick out my tongue in a totally sanctioned environment – the yoga class. It’s not only okay, it’s absolutely encouraged. Yogis call it Lion’s Breath, and hhmm, it still feels good. :) 

Tigers do lion’s breath, too! ;)

There’s just a little problem. Now, as adults, we’ve become so self-conscious that we feel ashamed to do it. Walk into any beginner’s yoga class and see how students start looking around: Is every one doing it? Don’t I look stupid like that? No, really. I just CANNOT. And do I really need to make that funny noise at the same time? Yoga is weird, indeed.

Well, no. As with everything in yoga, it might look a bit – ahem – unusual first, but there’s a whole lot of sense and meaning behind it.

Let’s look at the anatomical benefits:

  • If you stretch the tongue out as far as possible (I’ve seen people touching their chin!), you’ll increase circulation to the root of the tongue and the throat and at the same time stretch the jaw muscles
  • You can stimulate and release a whole range of often overlooked muscles – as Leslie Kaminoff points out, the “tongue and jaw can be thought as the front of the neck, and cervical tension can frequently be related to tightness in these structures
  • You’ll get a good stretch in the muscle that covers the front of the throat, the one that pulls down on the corners of the mouth and wrinkles the skin of the neck when you contract it (it’s called platysma, in case you’re interested, even if just for purely cosmetic reasons ;))

    Extrinsic muscles of the tongue. Left side.

    Tongue muscles, left side. (Wikipedia)

  • Because it’s accompanied by a forceful exhale (the lion’s roar!) you’re not only activating the three diaphragms, but engaging the three bandhas will eventually become easier – or at least that’s what the scriptures say

HOW TO DO IT

This is how Swami Vishnu-devananda instructed the posture:

“Assume a kneeling position, keep your palms over the knees and gently lean over the hands. Now protrude the tongue as far as possible by contracting the throat muscles, meanwhile rolling your eyeballs upward. During this position exhale the breath as much as possible. Repeat 4-6 times.”

So here’s something for you to try out:

Next time the teacher says: And now – Lion’s Breath! you just imagine your (insert whatever feels appropriate) standing in front of you and finally, after all these years you’re able to stick your tongue out at them!! See? The scriptures are so damn right. What a release! :)

Oh and if you’re worried about the cleanliness of your tongue, and who isn’t – (I just say: bacteria, food debris, fungi, and dead cells – YUM), read on here.

I wish I had known this as a kid – I could have just said, well, I’m practising YOGA!

Enjoy,

~ Andrea

P.S. I wrote this post a while ago but strangely enough a large number of people who find the blog google “how to stretch my tongue”. Seriously, guys, there seem to be a lot of us out there. So, here you go :)

24 replies »

  1. Thanks for the anatomical benefits … my students always giggle shyly when they first do Simhasana, so it helps to share practical info with them – and it’s not long before everyone is roaring with delight :)

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  2. I have practiced Lion’s Breath for years, and honestly, sometimes do it when stuck in traffic. Makes ME feel better, but seems to worry some of the drivers of cars next to mine. :-)

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  3. Great read. I too was self-conscious when I first started yoga classes, overtime it has truly allowed me to connect deeper with myself and let go of ego. Thanks for sharing! :)

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  4. i think an important, or even main reason for sticking the tongue out is to stretch it so it can eventually go back behind the uvula & into the pharynx for the king of yogic seals — the khechari mudra. i’ve seen yogis grab it with a cloth and stretch it too.

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  5. Reblogged this on Day by Yoga and commented:
    So the other day, when I was standing in Victory Goddess (do you know how weird it is to say that?) with my tongue out, I didn’t realize that I was working these little muscles:

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  6. Love the post and love lions breath! Teach it in class all the time and tell people about the “deep front line” of facia connecting the tongue all the way to the big toe!! Check out Gill Headley for more on that one. Namaste :)

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  7. True how people get sooo self-conscious about this pose. My trick is having them face the wall first instead of the mirrors in the studio. After our sequence, we do Lion’s Breath/Pose and have them do it one more time. This time facing the mirror. They may have either succumb to shelving their ego, being embarassed or whatever… or they’re too tired to complain! ;)
    Namaste! =)

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  8. Thank you! I have been wondering about this in class. Never got around to asking the teacher. I’m on my way to class now! (It’s 520am here in Bondi). Cheers.

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