Whole Living Daily

Mindful Smiling: Yoga Off (or On) the Mat

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A mindful smile needn't be big and toothy. I liken this to the Buddha's smile, such as this one I saw in Ladakh, India.

Did you know there are about 30 muscles in your face?

Even if this is familiar information, how often do you think about them?  I know I could remember to relax and even exercise these muscles more often!

Here’s a simple and joy-bearing practice that also stimulates the facial muscles: Mindful smiling.

Mindful smiling is a form of facial yoga and a moving meditation.  Whether on your mat, or off, this practice can inspire peace, comfort, and even strength.  There are times during my yoga practice when my energy is low and my body challenged.  Finding a soft smile at times like this can conjure up my strength.  It reconnects me with my determination and reminds me of the physical, mental, and societal opportunity to practice so freely.  Off the mat, mindful smiling has the same centering effect.

The practice of mindful smiling is deepened by bringing awareness to the breath.  As you inhale, feel and think about the fact you are smiling.  As you exhale, say to yourself, “let go” or, “release.”   Visualize the release of anything that creates tension in the body and mind.  The smile need not be big or toothy.  Think of the Buddha’s smile… it is soft, but incredibly present and prominent.

I love what Thich Nhat Hanh states about mindful smiling in his book, The Art of Power, “Smiling is an effective practice.  You don’t need to feel one-hundred percent joyful before you can smile, because smiling is a yoga practice… Even if you don’t feel joyful, smiling helps relax the muscles of your face.”

Regular practice of mindful smiling, perhaps a little every day, not only trains the facial muscles to relax, but also our mind.  It’s a constant reminder of inner peace.  Try it now, anywhere.

Sophie Herbert is an alignment focused yoga teacher (and perpetual student), a singer-songwriter, and a visual artist. She has lived, studied, and volunteered extensively in India; teaches yoga in Brooklyn and Manhattan; and recently released her first full-length album, "Take a Clear Look." Please visit her website at SophieHerbert.com.

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