In the midst of hectic schedules, social stresses and the rushed lifestyle associated with modern urban living, it’s easy for negative thoughts to arise and accumulate on our faces. We sulk, scowl and frown to express irritation or frustration when things do not go our way. And while being told to cheer up is the curse of the downturned mouth, smiling amid the mayhem may not only make us appear more approachable but be the key to good health and longevity.
According to Taoism, "emotional intelligence" is the process of recognizing emotions by their effects on the body, and employing exercises that transform negative sentiments into positive life force, or Chi. The life force stems from the vibratory nature of phenomena: the flow and tremoring that is happening continuously at molecular, atomic and sub-atomic levels. One of the most ancient Taoist Inner Alchemy (Neidan) practices, is the "Inner Smile." Normally we think of a smile, as an expression of friendliness or benevolence directed towards other people. But with the Inner Smile meditation, we offer the smile to ourselves, directing it towards our major internal organs. According to the Tao, different physiological systems store different emotions, and therefore organs have different energies. The Inner Smile meditation focuses on five organ systems: the heart, the lungs, the kidneys, the liver/gall bladder, and the stomach/spleen. Starting as a mere facial expression, the smile spreads to soften the whole body, dissolving malevolent energy and replacing it with gratitude and serenity, empowering us towards strength and restoration.
While you may be unconvinced of the merits of a simple smile, before you raise a sarcastic eyebrow or pull a frown, you may want to consider the implications. Prominent French physiologist, Dr, Israel Waynbaum, found that facial muscles used to express emotion activate specific brain neurotransmitters. His research shows that frowning triggers the release of the stress hormones cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenaline. Stress doesn't merely turn our moods a little sour, it spikes blood pressure, weakens our immune system, accelerates aging, increases our susceptibility to anxiety and can lead to weight gain (especially around the abdominal area). Meanwhile, the effortless act of smiling changes your brain chemistry. It signals the body to release feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins, which give us a natural high, and help to fight off depression, reduce pain and relax muscles. Smiling also releases immune-boosting T-cells, which defend the body against germs, viruses and bacteria and accelerates healing.
But what if we don’t feel like smiling? Can we fake it until we make it? Although a genuine smile has a deeper impact, a surface smile tricks the brain into producing the same chemicals. And scientific studies have shown that the more we smile, the more we want to smile. As Buddhist monk and global spiritual leader, Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
For a detailed guide to the Inner Smile Meditation see:
– Written by Sofia Sosunov