"Hip openers" - categories of poses that free tension from the outer hips, glutes and pelvis- are the most popular of all the yoga poses I teach. They can feel challenging, but hip openers expand awareness to otherwise ignored areas. Freeing the hips creates a sense of spaciousness, ease, expansion- even bliss.
Anecdotal wisdom in the yoga community espouses that whatever you repress- anger, sadness, frustration, or desire- ends up stockpiled in the hips.
I have noticed that when I relax my hips, my face feels better. I may even begin to breathe more deeply or- best of all- yawn. To someone like me, who has TMJ, yawning is the gold standard of facial relaxation, signifying my boy's intuitive response to replenish oxygen.
The pelvis is at the base of the spine, and the skull (with the mouth and jaw) on the top. It only makes sense that these two portals would communicate and correspond with one another. When the body is in a fight or flight state, tension increases in all areas. Heart rate increases, hip flexors tighten to prepare to run, eyes dilate, jaw clenches, adrenaline surges. The lower sphincters tighten. The body prepares to flee. The fight or flight response tells the hip flexors to tighten in order to flee a perceived threat.
The opposite happens when we practice yoga.
The breath deepens, heart rate slows, adrenaline production decreases. We are able to open and receive.
Why does hip opening relax the face?
These two poles communicate with one another. When the hips and pelvis relax, the Susuhmna Nadi* unblocks. Pranayama (life force) races up to infuse the head and face with even energy. The autonomic nervous system switches from the sympathetic to parasympathetic. Everything relaxes.
Try this as an experiment. Clench your buttocks. Now notice what your jaw is doing. It's probably clenching, too. Now, lead from the top down. Open your mouth and sigh. Better, right? Now try Lion's Breath,: inhale through the nose and forcefully exhale through the mouth as you open your eyes and stick out your tongue. You relaxed your buttocks when you stretched your face.
There are many other subtle and powerful examples of hip and pelvis to face connections. Stay tuned for more on this in future posts. But for now, just remember: release your pelvis to release your face.
*In yoga, Susanna Nadi is the main energetic pathway that goes up the spine.