I’ve often been described as intense, serious and contemplative. And I’ve spent a good amount of time researching and writing about the benefits of smiling. I even make a conscious effort to smile consistently throughout my day; not so much to debunk those descriptors—I own intense, serious and contemplative like a badge of honor—but more to soak up the health benefits of smiling. From my perspective, all my efforts seemed to be on the right course until I saw myself through the lens of a camera.
For about a year I’ve been continually encouraged by mentors, advisors and even friends to amp up my presence on my website and on social media with more personal photographs. Essentially, I’ve been advised to reveal more about my life—to show the world more of me. It seems simple enough. But, you know how there is always one person in a family or a group of friends who takes the photographs, and then there are those who are always ready with a perfect tilt of the head, pose, and smile? I’m behind the camera. Being in front of the camera is daunting, and so I pushed the advice to get in the spotlight aside again and again, until last month when I finally got in front of the camera..
Seeing myself in stills made me see, perhaps for the first time, what others see. I look intimidatingly serious! I promise, I don’t feel serious but pictures don’t lie. The edges of my mouth definitely dip down while I write, practice yoga, and even just walk down the street. But I don’t want to walk through life forcing a big goofy smile—that feels and looks unnatural. So, in an effort to discover a more authentic “smile,” I researched the centuries-old Taoist practice of the “inner smile.”
Taoists believe that emotional awareness stems from acknowledging the effect of emotions on the body; and that by using techniques like the “inner smile,” negative emotions can transform into positive “life force,” or Chi. I am definitely interested in the concept of Chi, but in an effort to expedite my learning curve, I stayed focused on the smaller task of understanding the “inner smile.” From what I understand, the objective of the “inner smile” is to form a small smile by turning the tips of the mouth upward and then visualizing moving that smile inwardly throughout the body. Traditionally, the act of turning the edges of the mouth upward is just the start. The idea is to move the energy generated by the “inner smile” through the organs to balance and integrate the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and consequently promote healing. I am in love with this idea and, in fact, I explored how modern science views the healing effects of the smile in my article, The Power of the Smile. But for my somewhat more vain purposes—to look and even feel more pleasant—I first focused on the simple act of creating this smile.
I learned, in order to form an “inner smile,” push your tongue to the roof of your mouth or behind your two front teeth (or really anywhere that feels comfortable between those two spots) and pull the tips of your mouth wide and up. If the tongue action feels unnatural or you sense you are clenching your jaw as a result, simply drop the tongue to the bottom of your mouth and focus on the upturn of the mouth. Then take a few breaths. I practiced this as a part of my daily meditation for a total of three minutes. It took me a few days to master the mechanics of it before I was able to acknowledge the more comprehensive effects. As soon as I focus on the upturn of the corners of my mouth, I feel my forehead expand and relax and my eyes open wide. There is an overall lightness that overtakes my body. And while my body feels light, my feet stay grounded, so there is a continuum of energy pushing down into my feet and pulling up to the crown of my head. I definitely look more pleasant and feel different too!
I wouldn’t say I have transformed in this week into the lighter and brighter version of myself, but I would say it has helped me feel the difference between the energy of my “serious face” and the energy of the “inner smile.” And I’m hooked—I want to feel more of that inner smile energy—a lot more. I’ll keep my serious, intense, and contemplative nature; I’ll just feel lighter, more balanced, and maybe healthier. I’ll get back to you on the long-term effects!
Make A Change Today,