The Power of a Subtle Smile

If you ever come to one of my yoga classes, be warned, I am probably going to ask you to smile. It’s a simple gesture, and most likely it’s probably something you’ve done before, but it’s also a gesture most of us don’t exercise often enough.

Why smile? Researchers tell us that smiling, even when we aren’t feeling like it, can actually make us feel happier. That is the ultimate goal for most of us, isn’t it? …to be happy. So, what the heck, why not? What’s the harm in smiling? Some people might complain that smiling causes wrinkles. But, those are smile wrinkles. We should all be working towards more smile wrinkles, not fewer. People with wrinkle smiles are statistically speaking happier than the rest of us. If you don’t believe me, Google it. 😉

But to return to a serious face for a moment, if bragging about our happiness with our smile wrinkles and statistically significant happiness aren’t enough, why else should we smile?

A smile communicates a benevolent message to the smiler and to the receiver of the smile. In western culture, a smile on a person’s face can mean, “Oh hello, isn’t it a beautiful day?” “I’m one of the good ones; I’m safe;” “You can trust me;” and, “I’m full of joy.”

I want to be clear for a moment here about the kind of smile I’m describing. It’s a simple, subtle smile. While I find supreme value in deep belly laughs and LOL’s and even LMAO’s, those aren’t the smiles I’m talking about here. I’m referring to that smile that sometimes appears on your face when you’re appreciating something or someone that just fills you up with bliss. And in this moment, your conscious mind might not even register your body’s response until someone else points out to you what your face is doing in that moment (“hey, you’re smiling!”). And maybe you suddenly feel your face cramping a little because your mind has registered what your face is doing. I believe we’d all be happier and better people to ourselves and to one another if we lived more of these kinds of spontaneously subtle smile moments.

This is the kind of smile I invite my students to purposefully put onto their faces, particularly when their bodies are forcing some other unconscious facial expression (like a grimace directed at their yoga teacher). Maybe we’re moving through a challenging asana (physical) posture, or maybe my student stopped listening to my voice and is marinating on unpleasant thoughts that have crept up in her mind. And then my voice interjects with an invitation to smile. I think something changes physically and mentally when we smile in these moments. I think smiling allows us to let go.

A smile signals benevolence, an act of do-no-harm, non-violence. In Hindu philosophy this concept is captured in the word, ahimsa. Ahimsa falls under the yama category, meaning it’s also a restraint. As we oscillate in life between suffering and pleasure on our way to blissful balance, this moral concept invites us to restrain from doing ourselves and all other beings harm. Ultimately, practicing this and other yamas and niyamas will lead towards the alleviation of suffering. I believe that ahimsa begins with a smile. Sometimes this smile is an outward reflection of that pure, blissful light we each hold delicately within our bodies when we are experiencing a peaceful moment, and sometimes we need to remind our bodies what peace feels like. Both kinds of smiles accomplish similar effects internally and externally. So, I invite you now to join me in the act of adorning a simple smile.

10 steps to achieving a simple smile.

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Take a deep breath in, and take a deep breath out.
  3. Drop your shoulders out of your ears.
  4. Engage the muscles on both sides of your cheeks.
  5. Begin to feel the gentle curve taking hold on your lips, as they begin to extend outward and broaden across your face.
  6. Keep breathing.
  7. Are you clenching your teeth? Let them go.
  8. Let your eyes relax.
  9. Let your face relax but hold the gentle curve across your lips.
  10. There you go; you are now smiling.