“Lips together, teeth apart”
a history lesson doubles as the relaxation tip I needed 5 years ago
Lips Together, Teeth Apart is the name of a play by Terrence McNally, who was one of the first to pass away from Covid complications. I consider the work a critical artifact of American culture. It depicts two straight couples spending the 4th of July in the Fire Island home of a brother who’s just died of AIDS. Set in the early 90s, it premiered with Christine Baranski, Nathan Lane, and Swoosie Kurtz. It put the decimating, neglected AIDS epidemic right in the face of upper crust Manhattanite audiences; “this is what you’re choosing to ignore.”
I had the treat of watching the play performed live on YouTube in 2020, just after McNally’s passing. Well known actors of today delivered one of the first virtual live theatre experiences. It was sublime. At the end, a breathtaking secret is quietly revealed. This secret informed a plot thread of my own novels.
The dentist who evaluated me recently said: “lips together, teeth apart,” as she offered solutions for my gum erosion. This erosion is likely due to stress clenching. (Incidentally, the play’s title comes from advice given to a character to help him address a mouth-related issue.)
My dentist explained that modern humans breath through their mouths, but aren’t designed to. By closing our lips, and keeping our teeth a millimeter apart, our parasympathetic nervous system is activated, relaxing us, bringing us down from a constant state of tension. It works INSTANTLY; I’ve been reminding myself to do this constantly.
And it reminds me of the intensely beautiful play.
Try it. Do you notice a difference?