An Ayurvedic teacher once said, “An illness is a function of the loss of the inner smile.” What is the inner smile? Where is it, exactly? And, if it is so important to health, how do we do it? How do we maintain our inner smile, even when our outside world may not be such a nice place?
According to the Yoga master Aadil Palkhivala, the inner smile lies deep in your Heart Center and only emerges when you truly feel connected with all things. Your inner smile is your bliss; your calm inner state, formed by your knowledge of connectedness. It is the feeling of true love, but not in the passionate or sentimental sense. No one and no event can bring you bliss, just as no one and no event can take away your inner smile. Your inner smile is a choice – do you choose to connect to your heart and soul, or do you choose to let your circumstances push you around?
One way to choose bliss is to practice Smiling Breath. Your breath is physically the closest you can get to your inner world. To develop Smiling Breath, smile from within on your inhales. In other words, smile with your eyes and heart (and lips) as you breathe in all that is good. Feel light and full. Then, on the exhale, calm your mind, focusing only on the feeling of breath on your upper lip. Repeat several times, smiling on the inhale and focusing on the exhale. In this way, you program your subconscious to link the sensation of breath with bliss. So even in the busy-ness of daily life, each of your breaths will remind you of your inner smile. With each breath, you choose bliss.
Another way to strengthen your inner smile is to exercise your gratitude muscles. When joy comes knocking, embrace the moment with gratitude. Each day, make a list of at least three things, events, or people you are grateful for. This can be in a journal, a prayer, or part of a child’s bedtime routine. I used to say “Happies” with my kids while tucking them in at night. Thich Nhat Hanh’s seed allegory describes how this focus on gratitude keeps your inner smile glowing. He says that your mind is a field, an empty plot of land where every kind of seed can grow. Seeds of suffering, happiness, joy, sorrow, fear, anger, and gratitude can all be grown on your mind’s field. The quality of your life depends on the quality of seeds you plant. We must tend to and water only the most wholesome seeds whenever possible to help them grow stronger. For example, whenever we are aware of our blessings and feel gratitude toward the people and situations that made them possible, we are watering seeds of thankfulness and awareness. At the same time, seeds of greed and anxiety will not be watered and will start to wither. Your daily gratitude practice will keep those positive, healthy plants growing and there will be no room for the “weeds” of negativity to blossom.
The real challenge to finding your inner smile comes during times of grief. Being connected to your Heart Center and knowing that bliss is a choice is a good start, but sometimes it takes more physical effort to smile (on the inside or the outside). One way to lift yourself out of anger or sadness is to actually lift your arms overhead. When you are upset, what does your body do? Clench up and pull inward – chest collapsing, fists squeezing, shallow breathing. Your body physically holds grief in your upper torso. So throw your arms up, open your armpits and chest. Do you notice that this posture looks a lot like someone celebrating? It’s not a coincidence! Lifting your arms has always been a joyous gesture. Back bends and twists also open the chest, giving your lungs more room to practice your Smiling Breath.
Lastly, exercise your laughing muscles! You always feel re-energized and refreshed after a good, hearty laugh. So make funny faces (like in Lions’ Breath). Play Pass-A-Laugh (one person creates a funny laugh, the next person tries to imitate it and then passes a new funny laugh to the next person, continuing the silliness)! Dance and sing along to Kidding Around Yoga’s Laughter Yoga
Your inner smile is always in there. Begin to notice it and practice finding it so you can enjoy your bliss, regardless of the circumstances and people surrounding you.