One simple pose, if done consistently, is guaranteed to improve your overall well-being as well as your yoga practice. This posture is as old as the human race. We start to adopt it when we are just weeks old. It is extremely adaptable; you can do it anytime, anywhere. The pose implements several muscle groups and produces remarkable changes in the self when practiced regularly. Practiced solo it is wonderful; used with others the rewards are even greater.
What exactly is this magical movement? Take yourself over to a mirror to find out.
Look carefully into the mirror, make eye contact with yourself and breathe deeply, inhaling and exhaling fully three times to prepare for the pose. Slowly begin to contract the muscles of your cheeks and mouth, so that the corners of your lips begin to move toward your ears. Allow the lips to part slightly, exposing the teeth. Stay here if you feel comfortable; if you would like to challenge yourself, allow the muscles of the cheek to contract fully, slightly squinting the eyes, and expose as much your teeth as possible. You are smiling! You are smiling at the beautiful, perfectly imperfect human that you are.
As you smile at yourself, notice the details of your face: the lines, asymmetries, flaws, scars and imperfections that tell the story of where you’ve been on your journey. Your eyes, ears, nose and mouth work in balance with each other to allow you to experience the world through sounds, smells, sights and tastes. Smile at yourself and consider how lucky you are to be gifted with these senses that we humans tend to take for granted.
Smiling is one of the most basic human physical actions, and one of the most important. It connects us to each other, and is a simple and beautiful expression of pleasure and joy. Taking a moment to smile to yourself while driving, washing the dishes, lying in bed or going for a walk triggers the release of endorphins in the brain. Smiling connects mental synapses that we associate with positive experiences; the act of smiling can produce the same feelings of contentment, joy and love that typically cause us to smile. Smiling with loved ones reinforces established connections, and smiling at strangers can be a great way to unexpectedly bring joy to someone’s day, to build community and to meet new people. The same holds true when smiling at yourself in a mirror; by doing so, you are sending a positive message of friendship and acceptance to your inner self – a very important exercise indeed.
When practicing yoga, we often get caught up in the idea of perfecting our physical movements. Whether you are a nervous beginner comparing yourself to others in a class, or a seasoned practitioner working hard on achieving a new inverted pose, it is all too easy to forget that yoga is about lovingly moving our bodies in pursuit of connection with the self: body, mind and spirit. When we forget this path, we can become impatient with ourselves, negative, frustrated and uncentered. If we can remember to smile throughout our practice, recalling the joy of moving our bodies with strength and balance, developing and moving forward at our own pace, then we can come a step closer to being centered in our lives – both on and off the mat.
Jennifer McLennan is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor who has practiced in India, Canada and Costa Rica. She is currently a private yoga teacher in the beach community of Santa Teresa, on the southern Nicoya Peninsula.