Want to escape from debilitating stress, slow down all those thoughts swirling around your head and focus on the task at hand like a laser beam? The solution may be right at the tip of your tongue.
Back in the 1970s, Maxwell Cade, a pioneer in biofeedback, could train people to significantly increase their reading speed in just two or three hours. Using a technique called EMG (electromyography), which essentially measures muscle movement and the electrical impulses the movement creates, Cade would attach two sensors on each side of the Adam’s apple.
The sensors picked up even slight movements of the tongue and into the throat. Through a biofeedback device, that information was communicated to the participant in real time, so that they became keenly aware of when they were and weren’t moving their tongue. This increased awareness in turn enabled the participant to control their tongue movement and still the tongue at will, which resulted in vastly increased reading speed.
Just how does controlling the movement of your tongue enable you to read faster?
Most of us, without even knowing it, engage in subvocalization. Whenever we think (or read), the words on the page don't only register in our mind. The physical apparatus of speech, and the tongue in particular, joins in the act. We don’t usually say the words out loud or use the full range of muscle movements we would if we were speaking the words. But our tongue is tensing and moving to the sound of the words just the same.
If you are reading and your tongue is silently mouthing the words, even using tiny muscle movements, your reading speed will be limited to the speed at which you can say the words you are reading.
By becoming keenly aware of and then eliminating the tongue’s subvocalization of your reading material, you can easily read far faster than your tongue can speak. You are now limited only by the speed of your mind, not the speed of your tongue.
Relax Your Tongue, Focus Your Brain
If the only benefit of eliminating subvocalization is to increase your reading speed, it would be well worth the effort. But learning to relax your tongue and eliminate subvocalization at will can do far more than give your reading a boost.
For most of us, we also subvocalize when thoughts swirl around our head. If you can stop your tongue from moving to the words of your thoughts, you can stop most of those thoughts as well.
This has tremendous implications. When you’re trying to accomplish a task, or just trying to relax, and those thoughts keep barreling forward like a freight train, relaxing your tongue can work wonders to get you on the right track.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how focusing on your feet in certain ways can get you quickly grounded and centered. Relaxing and stilling your tongue can take it a step further by getting you to still your mind. From that stillness, you can focus easily and deeply.
So how do you relax your tongue and start becoming aware of when you’re subvocalizing? Try this exercise (based in part on a protocol designed by meditation and biofeedback practitioner Anna Wise, a student of Maxwell Cade):
1. Close your eyes and become aware of your tongue. Once you become familiar with this exercise, you can do it anywhere with eyes open. But for now, try it with eyes closed.
2. Allow your tongue to relax. Just let your tongue go. Feel as if your tongue is dissolving into your mouth. If you have trouble getting your tongue to relax, try alternating between tensing and relaxing it, until you have a clear feeling of your tongue when it is relaxed. Then proceed to relax your tongue and let it go.
3. Notice the perimeter of your tongue. Notice the top of your tongue, then the underside of your tongue, then each side of your tongue. Notice each part of your tongue as it extends to the very back, to the base of your tongue.
4. Next, notice the area within that perimeter - that is - the volume of space that exists inside your tongue. Allow yourself to feel as if the volume of your tongue is simply empty space.
5. Notice the space between the top of your tongue and the roof of your mouth, then the space between the bottom of your tongue and the floor of your mouth, then between the sides of your tongue and the sides of your mouth. Finally, notice the space that surrounds the base of your tongue.
6. Go back to step 2, again allowing your tongue to simply relax, but now with the sensation of space both inside and surrounding your tongue. Of particular importance is that you extend your awareness to the base of your tongue, as that area plays an important role in the subvocalization process.
7. Once you feel your tongue is fully relaxed, from the tip to the base and in all directions, keep that feeling of relaxation and at the same time try to think. You will find that either you had trouble thinking while keeping your tongue fully relaxed and still, or your tongue began to tense up a bit in anticipation of subvocalization – i.e. in anticipation of thinking.
If you experience tensing, go through the steps again to relax your tongue. If you’ve been subvocalizing for years, or your tongue is particularly tense, you may not even be aware of the tongue's subtle movements that are nevertheless derailing you. And so, learning to relax the tongue fully can take some time.
The more you practice this relaxation exercise, the more you’ll start noticing tongue tension and subvocalization you never even knew was there. As you relax and still your tongue more and more, you’ll notice that your ability to focus clearly, calmly and naturally expands exponentially.