Spring is finally in full bloom. The extended sunlight and sprouting flowers help lift our energy and mood. However, while the season may be nudging us up, this May also comes along with a variety of growing challenges and anxiety in our communities, country, and all around the world. And while each of us will experience the impact of these difficult times in different ways, we can all benefit each other by ensuring that we also attend to our own wellbeing.
In yoga and Ayurveda, a major pre-requisite for wellbeing is to allow the body and mind to shift along with the seasons. In this case, our health is actually supported by acknowledging and aligning with the bright energy of spring. Just as extended sunshine spurs the renewal of nature, we too are deeply nourished by letting the light in.
Yoga offers many practices to help us open ourselves up to the lightness of being. Smiling is actually one of them.
Actually, smiling is used as a healing and meditation practice by many ancient cultures. Taoists have long believed that having a smile on your face and directing it inwards towards your organs and inner body is essential to good health and longevity. Balinese healers believe that a smile clears away negative energy and practice smiling meditation as a simple way to calm the mind and bring healing to the soul.
Thich Nhat Hanh often teaches on the power and practice of smiling, from many different approaches. One of the staple meditations he offers is: “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile.” He explains that, 'smiling concept is not to force a change in your mood through smiling, but to allow it to unfold through acts of meditation and mindfulness. This allows your smile to naturally open you to all those corresponding layers of being: calmness, happiness, peacefulness.' He offers many meditations to help work with breathing to reach a natural smiling state. If you try the smiling bit and your heart isn’t into it, he doesn’t say to fake it till you make it. Instead he coaxes you to explore what that might be all about. Since smiling is an expression of our natural balanced state, why might it feel difficult for you to smile? It is in this exploration we start to open the door. So that there is more space and possibility for things to shift.
One of my favorite smiling practices comes from teacher Tara Brach. During meditation, she often offers the instruction, "Imagine a smile in the heart". She clarifies that this inner smile is 'not as a way of cover up anything, but rather to make room for what is.' This is very true for me. When I 'imagine' a smile, I feel an opening, a softening, a physical expansion in my body. I feel more spacious.