This summer in my yoga classes, I am integrating the theme of the “smiling breath”. I learned this practice from the teachings of Dennis Lewis, whose books and teaching cds I would recommend. An explanation of the smiling breath can be found in his book, “The Tao of Natural Breathing”. He quotes his teacher Mantak Chia: “Taoist sages say that when you smile, your organs release a honey-like secretion which nourishes the whole body.” And research has shown that the chemistry of a smile in terms of brain activity does not much differentiate between a spontaneous smile and a voluntary smile. In other words, activating an inner smile, like the smile one sees on Buddha statues, or on the Mona Lisa, naturally causes one to be healthier and happier. It is so simple. One evening last week when I was prepping for the next morning’s yoga class, I was irritated about something, mostly due to being tired and the grumpiness that can accompany exhaustion. I discovered that by simply consciously practicing the smiling breath for a half hour or more, my irritation melted away and actually seemed rather silly and funny. Life is too short to waste much time feeling irritated or angry, especially when one recognizes that those emotional states are actually unhealthy for our bodies, not to mention to the people around us.
To practice the smiling breath, begin by relaxing your face and your eyes, and then simply activate an inner smile. You can imagine the face of someone you love smiling at you, and receive their smile, let it light up your heart, let it light up and soften your eyes, and awaken your inner smile. Sometimes I imagine looking into the face of a baby; that simple recollection can activate a softening in my eyes, and a smile. And now, thinking of your smile as a gateway for the breath, breathe in, blessing your heart with the sweetness of your smile, and breathing out, blessing the world with your smile. Breathing in, smiling breath, breathing out, smiling breath. Simple.
Let this be your summertime practice. Think of it as an experiment. Every day remind yourself to engage that inner smile and let the breath travel through that gateway. And just notice the effects.