“Bellydance is a service,” my dance teacher was telling us. “We are offering something of ourselves to the audience, but we must be sure we are in control of how much we are offering. So open your mouth while you are dancing.”
Open your mouth? I’ve trained for years in yoga to keep my lips sealed, tongue on the roof of my mouth, pelvic floor lifted. Rahel continued, “You want to feel your pelvic floor engage slightly, closing that energetic opening, and open the mouth at the top. We become like a cup,” she brought her wrists together, fingers open, perhaps unconsciously taking Lotus mudra, a hand posture that indicates offerings and also the ability to receive. “A cup you can drink from.”
This got me thinking about these two energetic valves that can seal, move, or release energy: the mouth and the pelvic floor. What are you doing with your mouth right now? Let me guess: lips closed, jaw slightly tight, leaning forward towards the computer screen. What happens if you open your mouth and let your jaw slacken? Do you feel a release anywhere else? Say, deep in your pelvis?
These two places are energetically and literally connected. The deep core line is a myofascial train that runs through the entire body. It begins at the roots of the toes and slides up the front of the spine to the tongue itself. In my experience, the pelvic floor is key to engaging the whole line. Try it now: squeeze the muscles that would stop your pee mid-stream. What happens when you do that? What happens to your mouth?
In the Qigong practice, the mouth represents an energetic seal that connects different meridian lines. In cleansing and releasing exercises, we exhale out the mouth, opening the gate for stagnant qi (energy) to exit. When we are building and cultivating healthy energy, we contain the qi with the lips closed.
The Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” When my mouth is open, I’m usually giving a speech, performing poetry, teaching a yoga class, or generally blabbering on about something. When my mouth is closed, I’m listening, thinking, absorbing. I also know that I have a tendency towards sore throats and a tired voice, and that my lower back pain is often exacerbated by stress that tightens my abdominals and pelvic floor, exhausting the muscles that should be supporting my lower back. If I’m not paying attention, my pelvic floor releases when I open my mouth, and tightens when I close it. I’m like a sealed bottle, closed off, working (stressing?) internally, or like a sieve, taking in too much, giving out too much, not regulating what stays and what goes.
As I watched Rahel demonstrate a dance movement with her mouth closed, I could see that she appeared subtly closed off, almost less visible. When she repeated the movement with her lips parted, she became more present, brighter, more visible. I’ve noticed that when I’m teaching yoga, I can engage my pelvic floor and speak from my belly to be seen and heard. When I want to fade into the background and give space for my students to have their own experiences, I relax my pelvic floor and close my mouth.
What if I could do this in everyday life, be more like a cup I could drink from? When I needed to, I could reverse the cup: close my mouth and release my pelvic floor, emptying the cup, becoming slightly less visible. In yoga, we always start by observing. Join me this week, and watch your mouth.
JC Peters owns and operates a yoga studio in Vancouver, Canada, with her mother. She is also a competitive spoken-word poet. Visit her at www.jcpeters.ca