Off Your Mat

Bringing yoga off your mat into your life, one pose at a time.

The Smile Pose: A Happy Practice

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Are you happy? I hope your answer is yes. However, given the ups and downs of life, you might not find yourself happy at this very moment. Here’s the good news. Happiness is just a smile away.

In studio practice, I will find myself lunging into a deep warrior pose. The class will be holding for a very long count. The room will become intense with trembling quadriceps and focused pranayama then the instructor will say, “Remember to smile!”cardio-yoga-art

The first time I heard that I thought it was a joke.  I assumed the instructor was being pithy, poking fun at our collective effort.

That wasn’t the case. There is a real physical benefit to smiling when you are under physical or emotional stress. Go ahead and google benefits of smiling and you will find article after article giving you reasons to turn that frown upside down.family yoga kid smile

Here are four reasons to smile:

1) Smiling lowers stress and anxiety

Smiling during times of stress might seem counter intuitive, however studies show that it can be beneficial. When recovering from a stressful situation, study participants who were smiling had lower heart rates than those with a neutral facial expression.

2) Smiling releases endorphins

Endorphins are hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system that have a number of physiological functions. They result in feelings of euphoria and a higher pain threshold. So, when you find yourself stuck, stressed, or uncomfortable, remember to smile. It might not change your situation, but it can make you feel better.

3) Smiling strengthens your immune system

Smiling increases your body’s production of white blood cells that fight illness. One study found that hospitalized children who were visited by story-tellers and puppeteers who made them smile and laugh had higher white blood cell counts than those children who weren’t.

4) Fake it until you make it

Paul Ekman, PhD, a psychologist who is an expert in facial expressions, taught himself to arrange the muscles in his face to make certain expressions. To his surprise, he found himself feeling the emotions that he was mimicking. When he raised his cheeks, parted his lips, and turned the corners of his mouth up, he felt happier.

He conducted a study examining the feelings brought about by forced and spontaneous smiles. Whether the subjects smiled spontaneously or on purpose, the activity in their brains was virtually the same. They felt happy.

So there you have it. Maybe the key to happiness is much more simple than expected. Next time you find yourself feeling stressed or blue, remember, a smile can be the quickest path back to happiness.

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Author: Sara Gray

Sara Gray is a legal assistant who moonlights as a freelance writer and blogger.

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