Mindfulness Based Practices : The Half Smile
In Buddhist meditation practice the half-smile can be a tool for maintaining mindfulness .. if you look at the many statues and images of the Buddha you will notice the gentle half-smile, the slight upturning of the mouth in meditation.
Did you know that smiling is innate not learned? babies start to smile around four months and show different 'smiles' to their mothers (a genuine smile) than to strangers (more a social smile involving the mouth but not the eyes).
Smiling has also been shown to be a powerful social signal; shown to defuse anger and encourage positive engagement. Physically research shows that smiling can lower blood pressure, enhance the immune system and release natural painkillers (endorphins) and antidepressant hormones (serotonin). Smiling also makes people more likely to see you as more attractive, successful, younger, and as someone they will like.
Modern psychology confirms the positive effects of smiling. Research on facial expressions and emotions found that if you make the facial expression of a particular emotion - you actually will feel that emotion. A half-smile has also been shown to help stimulate positive emotions .. so you can purposefully attract peacefulness just be holding a half-smile .. even when you don't truly feel like smiling!
So when you next meditate try bringing a half-smile to your face as you turn inward. Just allowing your lips to slightly upturn .. keeping a relaxed face and adopting a serene expression .. noticing how this simple action of lifting the muscles around the mouth can in fact affect your whole body and mind.
Remember your body communicates with your mind.
The half-smile when irritated
When you find yourself starting to react to something or someone in a negative way, try the half smile immediately. Inhale and exhale quietly for three breaths .. bringing and maintaining a relaxed half-smile both externally and internally. Notice how this might affect your mood or reaction.
The morning half-smile
Try placing a small sign at the end of your bed or on your bedside table so that the word "smile" appears first thing when you open your eyes in the morning. This sign will serve as a reminder and you can then use the moments before getting up to focus on the breath .. inhale .. exhale for three breaths gently while maintaining a half-smile.
Where is your smile?
Many years ago I worked in a busy telephone customer service environment. Have you ever spoken to someone on the phone .. and you just know that they are unhappy or disengaged? When we smile our voice and energy reflect that smile .. we sound happier and more positive.
I provided each staff member with a small mirror and asked them to place the mirror at their desk so they could witness their facial expression while on the telephone, and to remember to smile! The difference was remarkable. The customers reported better service, staff members appeared happier and more relaxed, and there was renewed energy in the office.
If you happen to pass a mirror or reflective window during the course of your day notice what expression you are holding on your face. How does your expression feel on the inside .. are you naturally smiling or are your teeth and face 'clenched'?
"Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile,
but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy"
~Thich Nhat Hanh