In addition to permanent toe separation (gel inserts were never purchased nor needed), the greatest physical gift yoga has given me in the 30 years I've been practicing it, is the ability to always catch myself if I even think about clenching my jaw. This action - the jaw clench - has nothing to do with chewing food or gum. The mental attribute that goes along with the non-clenching habit - although I'm not sure if yoga has anything to do with it - is an internal 'wrong-answer/game-show buzzer' that goes off in my brain at the outset of the potential clenching movement. (The internal buzzer sound is so intense at this point, I had to stop chewing gum altogether.)
The word clench isn't even pretty. (If you are ever bothered by an ugly word in English, just Google the Italian version. Stringere is the Italian word for "clench," which is pretty). Stringere means: to tighten, squeeze, pinch, clench. The definition of clench: "a contraction or tightening of part of the body." Some people are extremely talented at subconscious clenching. We have all known someone who seems to be in a "permanent clench" mode of being.
The action of the jaw clench isn't pretty, either, especially if you are over the age of 40. If you don't believe me, look in the mirror and clench your jaw. To recap: it's not a pretty word, it doesn't look good on you, and check with your dentist, but I'm fairly certain your teeth don't appreciate it, either. (We also know someone who has gnawed their way through a nighttime "don't grind your teeth" mouth guard.)
Clenching and tightening of muscles and joints are often physical responses to stress. Two common areas of the physical body where people stash stress are in their trapezius muscles - that area between the neck and shoulders - and in their lower back. Since all things are connected, these two common stress dumping grounds affect all areas of the back, hips, and psoas muscles. Holding onto the negative aspects of anger and grief can become debilitating, resulting in the manifestation of the physical clench, which may likely and eventually explode into something noxious like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or cancer.
What is to be done? Beyond your yoga teacher, physical therapist, massage therapist, acupuncturist and the supplement lady at Natural Grocers in aisle seven saying, "Stop it," I recommend approaching the self-discipline of awareness. In whatever form that may take.
If you are game to try a visualization, try this: imagine you have a piece of tin foil permanently lodged between your back molars. If that image doesn't do it for you, imagine you are sitting poolside chomping ice, and all of a sudden, you crack a tooth. Conjure up one of those sensations whenever you find yourself clenching your jaw, and that should help you to stop clenching. I realize I'm taking the "Pavlov's Dog" or shock-therapy approach here, but the tough-love thing is how I roll. I like to get results in a speedy manner. (Please do not place tin foil in your mouth or crunch ice).
For those of you with more sensitive sensibilities (or aren't much attuned to visualizing things), get on YouTube and search any game show from the 1970s (Match Game is a personal favorite), and really focus on the sound of that wrong-answer buzzer. Listen to it several times. Memorize it. Run that tape in your head every time you catch yourself clenching your jaw. The beauty of learning how to not clench your jaw, is that the rest of your body follows suit...and softens up.