Original text & illustrations copyright 1983 by Richard F. Wheeler.

Website publication copyright Nov. 2007 by Richard F. Wheeler.

All rights reserved.

Lingual Exploration in Pharyngeal Space


Uses of the tongue in anatomical exploration

of the interiors of the nasal cavities

that lie behind the facial bones

and under the cranium

text, illustrations & art by

Richard F. Wheeler


At some point in their lives, most people experience some degree of facial or cranial trauma.  Medical complications aside, these random collisions, blows, accidents and misfortunes can easily disturb the delicate balance that exists among the bones and soft tissues that make up these areas.  This article is about my attempt to reshape the head from the inside, actively using my tongue as if it were an 11th. finger to explore and open up the internal passages and spaces that are so easily distorted and pushed in. 

As a practitioner of structural and movement integration ("Rolfing®"), my interest in human anatomy led me to explore the region of the base of the skull. 

Attempts to understand the functional inter-relationships of this complex area led to the observation that I had no direct experience of the living territory and was unlikely to get any, as manual exploration seemed impossible.  After considerable frustration it occurred to me that I did have an 11th. finger -my tongue- that might be capable of exploring this inner region if I could just reach around the back of my soft palate. 

The Process

I began using my tongue to reach back as comfortably far as I could and soon found that I was able to stretch back far enough to touch my uvula.  From there I could feel and explore the curved edge of my soft palate.  Reaching around this back edge (Fig. 3,E) brought up the immediate fear of “swallowing my tongue”.  Slow and careful exploration along my palate's posterior edge brought me to the point of realizing that I was in no danger of swallowing my tongue or harming myself. 

In the process of exploring my soft palate I found that if I pushed vertically up on the palate, the base of my tongue could push down (Fig. 3, C) forming an "S" shaped curve (E, above) that pushed simultaneously in both directions and, in the down direction, opened the front of my throat. 

The passage of my tongue around the back edge of my palate flipped the uvula up and then back down to its normal hanging position as my tongue moved forward to rest on my palate's superior surface (Fig. 5: B & C).  From there I found that my tongue could slide forward to palpate the soft tissue column containing the vomer (Fig. 5, D) and to touch both sides of the vomer into the openings of the choane to actually feel the soft tissues covering the conchae.  Superior to the choane, I could feel two openings (Fig. 4: A & B), facial sinus grains and above these, I found it possible to palpate the pharyngeal tonsil at the top of the vault (Fig. 5, I).  On the sides of this internal chamber I was able to palpate several folds of soft tissue (Fig. 5, G & H). 

During the process of this exploration I found the superior surface of my palate to be easily irritated and had to move my tongue quite slowly over this surface, otherwise I triggered a gag reflex which harmlessly returned my tongue to its normal position on the floor of my mouth (Fig. 7, A).  The first stage of desensitizing this reflex involved quietly resting  my tongue on the velum (superior surface) of the palate.  Next, I progressively relaxed all nearby structures (eyes, facial muscles, cranium, scalp, neck, etc.) and eventually my whole body. 

Further stages in this process involved head and body movement with my tongue in this position (turn, nod, tilt, sit, walk, and work).  (This process may be significantly enhanced through the use of a sensory isolation tank.)  I found that having my tongue rest in this position did not interfere with my normal breathing process and that I was able to breathe selectively through one nostril or the other by simply moving my tongue to cover the right of left choana (Fig. 5, E)  This coincides with a Yogic exercise that is normally taught by having the student cover the nostrils manually, one at a time.


Some effects of this work that I have experienced include changes in the shape of my head.

- The top of my head settled (Fig 8) with accompanying movement at the spheno-basilar joint.

-  My facial bones, the maxillae, have moved forward and away from the base of my occiput and atlas (Fig. 7, B).  They have also shifted laterally resulting in a wider palate. 

A number of internally audible clicks were heard during this process indicating that significant re-alignment, movement and un-sticking was taking place among my cranial and facial bones.  These were heard when:

-  Pressing vertically up on the inferior surface of the soft palate (Fig. 3, D)

-  Pressing forward on the back rim of the soft palate (Fig. 3, F)

-  Lying relaxed on the superior surface (velum) of the palate (Fig. 7, D)

-  Reaching straight up towards the pharyngeal tonsil (Fig. 7, C)

-  Palpating the soft tissue folds on both sides of the palpate (Fig. 5: G & H).  This caused expansion in the dimensions indicated in Fig. 9.

-  Decompressed the mid-section of my face:


The process of shifting and opening my head from the inside has been accompanied by several interesting experiences. 

-  Electrical shivers traveling up and down my spine, from sacrum and tail to cranium.

-  Deep feelings of inner peace, release and relaxation.

-  My energy seems clearer with less operational static and discomfort in movement.

-  My vision seems steadier and clearer.  My eye sockets feel rearranged from the inside. 

-  My hearing seems to be more sensitive in the high range and my eustachian tubes don't plug up as easily as they used to.

-  I am able to selectively and directly clear my nasal and sinus areas from the inside.  This clears up and decongests my head if I have a cold. 

-  My shoulders are releasing and dropping away from my occiput. 

-  My jaw used to automatically tense when I stressed my shoulder girdle.  This is lessing and I am experiencing much more independence of movement and function between my head and shoulder girdle.

-  I found that with my tongue parallel to the anterior surface of my cervical spine I was able to flex my head (chin in, back of neck long) and shift my upper cervicals and occiput back while the mass of my tongue held the palate and maxillae forward (Fig. 7, B).  This move also changed the axis of rotation of my upper neck and head (Fig. 10).  In this position, the tongue may be thought of as the 'psoas of the neck'. 


This exploration originally took place over a three year period.  I recommend and caution that beginners not expect to be able to do all of it all at once.  It seems to require time for the relevant stretchings and reshapings to take place.  The entire body will also need to accommodate to these changes.  I recommend that appropriate external manual rebalancing of the body's soft tissue structures by a trained professional accompany this exploration to maintain inner to outer balance.  A good rule for beginners is to be sensitive to the rate of stretch and change that seems most appropriate and to not just push ahead to the next stage without being comfortable with the current one. 

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 8

Figure 9

Figure 6

Figure 7

Here is a lateral view of two positions for the tongue.

Figure 10

Figure 7

“A” highlights the spinal axis and the maxilla. 

“B” shows an increase in facial-spinal depth.

“C” shows the tip of the tongue pressing upwards towards top of the cranial vault.

“D” demonstrates access to roof of palate.