Smile Power

Feb 23, 2022


I remember once being instructed by a meditation teacher to “Think with a smile.” I’ve always loved that instruction, and even though I admit I am not always able to do that, it’s an image that has stayed with me as a reminder that the way I experience life depends— sometimes quite dramatically—on the inner attitude I bring to situations.

It’s helpful when I can think with a smile because even though the outer situation doesn’t necessarily change, it shifts the way I relate to it and generally makes things better and not worse. 

Have you ever noticed the slight smile often depicted on the faces of the gods and goddesses of Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern spiritual traditions? In Sanskrit, this facial expression is referred to as manda smita, a gentle smile. I have always loved contemplating that smile. It feels encouraging and comforting to me and seems to say, “Don’t worry, hold on, everything is going to be okay.”

It reminds me to remember the abiding goodness and tranquility that yoga teaches is the substratum of whatever I might be dealing with on any given day. Reflecting or meditating on that gentle, slight smile of the Buddha or Lord Shiva often evokes that inner smile within me, uplifting and encouraging me. 

Just as an inner smile can be a potent way to shift your experience of a situation, an outer smile can also do this. In some ways, we can consider smiling as a practice in itself, one that has the power to impact our state for the better. In fact, scientific research has shown that smiling triggers a wide range of beneficial effects and that people who smile a lot are happier in their marriages, have better cognitive skills, and live longer.  

In his article, Santosha, Smiling and Longevity, neuroscientist Ram Rao describes some of the positive changes in the body that are correlated with smiling. He says:

Smiling helps to boost the immune system, which provides resistance from many diseases. Smiling relieves stress, lowers blood pressure, triggers the release of endogenous pain killers and changes the mood attitude for the better….”

 Isn’t this great news?

Right now, in fact, I am writing this with a smile on my face and in my heart even though I am dealing with a frustrating situation regarding a mix-up in refunding a purchase I never received from a well-known Vancouver-based athleisure clothing company (wink, wink.) Even though the confusion is entirely due to the company’s error, I’ve spent hours on the phone trying to resolve the problem and get my money back, so far to no avail.  And, yes, I am human and therefore have at times felt angry about how this situation is being handled. 

Today, though, I did an energetic asana practice of standing poses and arm balances with deep, resonant Ujjayi breathing. Even though I was feeling angry I consciously practiced smiling when I came back to Mountain pose or Child’s pose in between the more effortful poses. Guess what? My state shifted. Lying in Savasana, a genuine inner smile arose, and I felt a sense of peace and tranquility. The situation still needs to be resolved, but it’s not weighing on me like it was before my practice. It is such a relief to be able to let it go. 

What does smiling have to do with yoga? The practice of applying an inner, and outer smile as a way of generating a more peaceful and uplifting state is an example of pratipaksha bhavana, the yogic practice of intentionally “cultivating the opposite” that appears in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  Try it in a challenging situation or a before you have a difficult conversation or write that email trying to resolve an aggravating situation. See how smiling, even when you might feel like doing the opposite, shifts your experience.



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