Week 621: Mouth Yoga

I woke up one morning—on one of those delicious mornings when I was able to awaken naturally, without an alarm—and discovered that I was smiling. It was a surprising discovery, as the smile was simply planted on my face and wasn’t going anywhere. As I lay there experiencing its presence, I noticed—as I inevitably do—the impact the smile had on my body and psyche. Just as my mouth was uplifted in the corners, I felt a resonating uplifting quality in my awareness and body.

I’ve written before about my practice of deliberately planting a smile on my face once I’m sitting up, no matter what my mood. If I happen to be grumpy on a given morning, it’s a bigger challenge to smile, but I make myself do it anyway. I do this because smiling changes physiology and I choose to enter the day with as open and positive an attitude as I can. On this particular morning, the smile was spontaneously present and that was a nice surprise…baffling, but nice, given that I didn’t have any recollection of a dream as I awoke.

For this week’s experiment, I invite you to again play with Thich Nhat Hanh’s idea of “mouth yoga”. When practicing “mouth yoga”, one finds opportunities to smile. I believe Thay (as Thich Nhat Hanh is known) has talked about practicing smiling at stoplights and other moments during the day when we have to wait. It’s a way to return to yourself, and the smile automatically shifts your physiology into a more positive state. Also, smiling is a generous gift you can offer to others as you move through your everyday activities and then notice how you feel at the end of the day. Spending more time smiling might well offer your body and your psyche some unexpected ease by the time your day ends.

As you engage this experiment, be sure to bring any mixed feelings you might have into awareness. I know that there are mornings where I grumble about having to smile, even as I go ahead and plant the smile on my face, anyway. What consistently surprises me is how quickly my physiology and mood shift when I insist on keeping the smile on my face and do so for enough time to allow it to turn into a genuine smile, so different in feeling compared to the forced smile it is at the beginning. What I have found makes this an interesting experience is being able to track the changes in my physiology and how that impacts my overall sense of how I feel as I enter the day.

As with all these experiments, be sure to also bring along curiosity as your constant companion. Remember that curiosity opens and engages, and that’s in line with what your smile offers. Also, allow any judgments to arise, move through, and move on as you play with this one. They are part of the process almost all the time and it’s valuable to have many opportunities to hone a mindful relationship with judgment, given how powerfully our judgments can masquerade as reality.

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