Loose Jaw/Soft Belly
There are times when I worry about the similarities Gretchen and I share in common. In fact, that we both worry obsessively is one of those similarities. Sometimes, when Gretchen is giving me my Chinese herbs for anxiety, I think she should take them herself. But our tendency to worry, is just the beginning.
No, Gretchen is not projecting her issues onto me nor am I doing so in reverse. Rather, over the years, we’ve realized that what one suffers, so will the other and while it might sound amazing, it’s actually quite annoying.
For instance, Gretchen has had issues with TMJ disorder (Temporomandibular Joint) most of her adult life. She even went to a dental specialist to see if she could get the pain to subside. She wasn’t very impressed with the dentist, mind you, because he kept saying, with his hand on her arm, “Just relax, you need to just relax.” After paying $100 for a 15 minute “consult,” Gretchen realized she was unable to relax every time the dentist put his hand on her arm.
She did find relief, though, when a physical therapist friend gave her some direct pressure and stretching exercises to do as well as showing her how to take a cork, cut it in half, and place it in between her back teeth and gently hold it there. That worked best of all and when Gretchen is having an episode, she walks around with her mouth partially open and a cork stuffed in at the back of her throat. It looks funny, but it works!
When I was diagnosed with jaw dysplasia, Gretchen and I just looked at each other and both said, “Not again!” because we knew that her bad jaw and my bad jaw were another example of our parallel lives. Of course, I can’t stuff a cork in my mouth to find relief. Luckily, I have a doctor (an osteopath) who helps me tremendously by adjusting my jaw and my body every month. Oh, and I have pain pills, which Gretchen gives me at times when it’s particularly bad.
And Gretchen massages me, too, which also helps. But she knows that because, she too, gets massages. It was an agreement Gretchen made with Momma Ann that, as a dog walker and dog massage therapist, she needed to take care of her own body so every other week, Gretchen goes to her body worker and realigns herself.
She’s gone to many body workers over the years and each has helped her in their own unique way. Her current massage therapist has helped Gretchen with her feet and kept her walking dogs relatively pain free. Okay, not completely pain free, but the burning, aching pain she felt in the past is not nearly as bad.
Still, every body worker she’s ever seen has always said to her, while digging into one painful muscle or another, “Loose jaw, soft belly.” Gretchen told me this the other day when we were out on a walk with our newest boarder, Scout — a 6 month old black lab who is a ball of energy and as goofy as puppy goofy can be. She’s very cute and while I get a little annoyed with her, we’ve settled into a very nice routine lately.
“Rubin,” Gretchen said to me, “You need to loosen your jaw and soften your belly, it really helps.”
Huh? And then I checked in with my body. My jaw was clenched and I was holding my belly tight. “Oh,” I said, “I get it!”
Yep, Gretchen and I hold our tension and worry in the same spots and in the same way. We clench and when things get particularly difficult, we forget to take a deep breath.
Once I realized how I dealt with stress, I decided to ask my pals how they deal with it. It was fascinating to see how differently we handle difficult situations.
Let’s start with Scout…the youngest of my friends (and yes, while she annoys me at times, we are becoming good friends) and then I’ll work to the oldest (Ms. Griffey at age 15!).
Surprisingly, Scout has stress in her young life though when I compare it to the more adult stress my friends and I struggle with, I smile. Stress for Scout is being left in her kennel for an hour — a puppy time out — or encountering something new and different in her life. For instance, the other day she saw something dark and large huddle in the corner of the house. It was just a garbage bag filled with donations to Goodwill, but to Scout it was a monster.
Scout is relatively quiet in these stressful situations though when she makes noise, it’s usually a yawning whine. She does this at night when she’s put in her crate for bedtime. About 5 minutes after, she whines and yawns and lets out an exasperated moan until finally she quiets down and falls fast asleep. Last night, in fact, she fell asleep within the first minute, partly, I think, because we had such a full day. Then, about an hour after she fell asleep, she started snoring — slowly and deeply — and the rest of us (Gretchen, Ann, and me) chuckled. Yes, even I thought it was adorable.
In terms of age, Rosie is the next oldest of my pals though her age is not as exact as Scout’s. Rosie is, they assume, between the ages of 1-2, but I’d say she’s more on the 1 side than the 2. Unlike Scout, Rosie is on high alert most of the time, particularly any time she is outside her house. Every fiber of Rosie’s being is wired and any sound or movement makes her twitch. This is partly due to the fact that Rosie is blind in one eye and that she suffers miserably from allergies that turn her skin flaming pink and cause her to scratch herself bloody.
Poor girl. But it’s also because Rosie hasn’t had a lot of new experiences so when she sees another dog approaching or a person or a bicyclist or anything moving, she raises up on her back legs and tenses every muscle in her body. She is so out of her skin with tension that even when I say, “Loosen your jaw, Rosie, soften your belly,” she can’t hear me. We’ve been working on helping her stay calm in the world, but Rosie’s family have called in the professionals as well — a holistic vet who as prescribed Chinese herbs and topical medications as well as providing acupuncture and a dog trainer who is trying to help Rosie find her calm place deep within her.
I guess, in the end, Rosie is still learning to handle stress and though she has a long way to go, she is making progress.
And then there’s Theo. She’s still kind of new to our pack, but I’m learning quickly that Theo, while she seems timid at first, is really in charge of the world. She was definitely stressed those first few walks since she walked with Monty and me and we are quite a bit bigger, but once she trusted us, she took the lead on our outings parading us around like we were her servants.
This week, Gretchen introduced her to Roux and while she was a bit nervous at first, so was Roux so they kept their distance from each other. Then, after about a half hour of walking, the settled right in and wanted to play with each other. Gretchen didn’t let them yet, but in the future, they will definitely get to kick up some dirt together. Watch out, Roux! Theo’s a bossy lady!
Henri and Bella are next in age, I think, and they are polar opposites in how they deal with the stress of their lives. Bella is out front, posturing at stress like a Rottweiler or German Shepherd. Her only fear in life, it seems to me, is a garbage truck, but everything else is met full on in typical terrier style. But don’t be fooled. While she might look like she could take down all the stress in the world, she internalizes a lot and struggles a bit with an upset tummy. I can relate because that’s what I do as well at times.
Henri, on the other hand, is more like a duck it seems. Stress rolls off his back and he bounds through life thinking every thing is exciting and everyone is his long lost best friend. If he feels really stressed, he cuddles close to Bella or whichever human is closest, but mostly he just smiles and says, “Hey, what ya doin’?”
I think Carter and Kali are next in chronological order and just like Henri and Bella, they are opposites in how they deal with stress. Carter’s way of dealing with stress is to not eat but rarely is Carter ever stressed. He sees the world as his playground and bounds out the door with such an abundance of joy that he almost pulls Gretchen down the stairs every time.
Kali is much more worried. I think this is why we get along, frankly, because we are both more cautious and worried about the world. Often on our walks, Kali and I walk side by side while Carter pulls and sniffs and wraps his leash around his long legs. If there is a weird sound or a sudden movement, Kali’s ears go back and she races up to Gretchen and places her front paws on Gretchen’s chest. It’s kind of cute, actually, and Gretchen does what she can to reassure Kali but sometimes Kali would rather walk home than continue on.
That’s where I come in. If I walk right next to her, we can make it pass her stress and continue on with our walk. I like being a comfort to Kali and I think she likes it too!
Roux is next and despite what you might think about goofy Roux, she gets very stressed about certain things — like being left, or stopping on our walks to take photographs, or the flags on Jackson Street that wave at her from above. Boy, she hates that! Her way of dealing with that kind of stress is either to bark or to pull really hard on her leash. Both, I must admit, can be slightly annoying, but we’ve learned to calm her down with a yummy treat or a romp in the woods. A tired Roux is a less stressed Roux so we do our best to de-stress her every chance we get!
Tyson is next and Tyson has learned to deal with his stress (which mostly comes in the form of separation anxiety) through medication. I am not one to poo-poo medication as I take Chinese herbs and allergy medications daily. I’m glad Tyson has medication to reduce his stress though over the years, I’ve realized that as he grows older, Tyson has learned to manage his stress better and better. And now that he lives with Rosie, he has had to practice deep breathing exercises to keep up with her. Hang in their buddy…Rosie will get older too!
Woobie is next and I am pressed to remember a moment when Woobie gets stressed. She is such a laid back dog, but Gretchen tells me that sometimes great happiness (like Woobie has) can be stressful. The way Gretchen explains it is this: Woobie’s family has a new baby in their lives. The baby is what Woobie lives for. She wants to be wherever that baby (and his Momma) is, but sometimes the baby cries and Woobie isn’t sure what to do to ease the baby’s discomfort. So she paces around the room trying to figure out how to comfort her baby or support their mother and father and that, Gretchen says, can be stressful.
Monty is next and Monty, while another easy-going guy also gets stressed out about certain things. Like riding in the car. Like fireworks . Like thunder. How does he handle his stress? Heavy breathing. Monty pants with the best of them and when we’re riding in the back of the car together, his stress is often panted all over me. I tried to lie down to give Monty a hint that sometimes you just have to submit to the car ride or the fireworks or the thunder, but when Monty is panting in this way, it’s difficult to get through to him. Luckily, all of his stress triggers are temporary — they end eventually — and Monty is really quick to bounce back.
Lastly, is Griffey. At 15 years old, she’s seen a lot of stress in her life and lately, her biggest stress is simply that she’s getting older. A tad bit senile, Griffey gets disoriented especially after she wakes up from a deep sleep. We went to Grif’s house two times each day this week to take her out for a potty break and a short walk while her Dad was at work and the rest of her family on vacation. Griffey was surprised to see us every time we showed up and sometimes she’d be so asleep, she was slow to respond to our arrival. We’d coax her up, take her for a short (or sometimes around the block walk), and then tuck her back into bed with some treats. In fact, when I think about it, I think that’s how Griffey handles stress…she eats! Gretchen can relate to that. But I have a feeling that in Griffey’s younger days she didn’t have a care in the world; she was just happy to be with her active and loving family.
So, while having a youngster in my midst this week (and all the way through next week!), Scout has taught me to loosen my jaw and soften my belly. It’s not the normal way I try to reduce my stress, but they are certainly good tools for me to keep at hand. And if I need help knowing how to loosen my jaw and relax my belly, I just have to watch Scout. This girls knows how to relax!
Have a great week everyone!
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