In fact, the idea of focusing “smiling energy” has been the cornerstone of meditative practices since ancient times. With the advent of modern research, such psychologists as Robert Zajonc have made significant advances toward scientifically explaining how the physical act of smiling affects humans biologically, emotionally, and socially.
Since Zajonc’s groundbreaking findings in 1989, scientists confirmed that putting on even a forced smile helps the body release powerful feel-good chemicals in the brain that fight off depression and lower stress, and that genuine smiling really is contagious and helps evoke altruistic behavior, and much more. Amazingly enough, something called “inner smile” meditation has been a part of Taoist medicinal knowledge since ancient times. The neighboring Balinese healers believed smiling washed away “bad energy” and that smiling meditation could successfully treat stress.
Modern Inner Smile Meditation in a Nutshell
In modern times, non-Eastern cultures are rediscovering ancient healing practices that tap into the power of the must human of facial expressions. The practice of inner smile meditation recently began reaching the American mainstream thanks to activists like Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced tic not han). In March 2010, Nhat Hanh mentioned the practice of smiling meditation during an interview with Oprah Winfrey.
The Zen Buddhist argues that happiness and mindfulness are intricately linked and that both are easily possible to achieve. Simply put, Thich Nhat Hanh says that the key is to actually be aware of the present moment and to feel more grateful. The monk mentions something that is at once simple yet remarkable:
Breathing in, I am aware of my heart. Breathing out, I smile to my heart and know that my heart still functions normally. I feel grateful for my heart.
The great thing about inner smile meditation is that you do not have to be a trained monk and bestselling author to benefit from the practice. The essence of the “Inner Smile” simply involves directing the healing energy of a grateful smile inwardly to your body parts. In the Oprah interview, Thich Nhat Hanh mentions smiling mindfully or with awareness at his own heart. As a matter of fact, the classic meditation practice is all about trying to smile into any or every part of your body.
Beginner’s Guide to Practicing Inner Smile Meditation
Of course, when it comes to meditation, there are not really right and wrongs ways of doing things – the goal of inner smile meditation is simply to take some time to form a small smile on your lips and then form thoughts of extending that smile inwardly to each of your major organs. Some practitioners allege that the practice simply works by giving you the time to smile for a few minutes and feel grateful for life. But others believe that it actually relaxes the organs and helps people realize, for example, that they are dehydrated or overeating.
Regardless, you can practice the ancient technique by sitting up in a relaxed position, closing your eyes and focusing on deep, steady breathing before focusing on the mindfulness and awareness that Thich Naht Hanh mentions. Suppress stressful thoughts of the future and worrying thoughts of the past – focus only on your present breathing and smile an easy half-smile.
Once you begin feeling relaxed, imagine that you are really smiling at each major part of your body. If you are an anatomically precise person, you can decide to smile to your heart, lungs, brain, liver, and so on. Alternatively, you can decide to just focus on major muscle groups or whatever method you find most rejuvenating.
Above all, you should remember that the inner smile practice is supposed to be one of the most accessible meditative techniques out there – if you have trouble holding the small smile in place, you should simply relax, breathe deeply, and try again. Remember, there is no right or wrong way of practicing inner smile meditation and there are plenty of resources out there that can help you refine your personal technique. At just 10 minutes a day, this meditative practice can be truly successful at reducing stress and related health problems because it taps into the immense, scientifically-proven powers of the human smile.
Photo: Theen Moy