My news and Facebook feeds are full of stories about how Eastern inspired techniques like Meditation, Yoga and/or Tai Chi can ease life’s stresses. While this is useful information, I can recall one point in my overscheduled life when I felt my stress level increase as I drove through rush hour traffic to get to my yoga class on time. Alone in my car, with my hands gripping the steering wheel, cursing out wayward drivers, I started to laugh at myself as I recognized the tension that was building in my neck/shoulders during the end of day work to yoga commute. I knew my life was slightly out of control, but the irony of the mounting pressure to arrive to yoga on time cracked me up. My laughter started to ease the tension that was building.
As a way to combat my reaction to life’s stressors, I started to enroll in yoga training outside of the normal weekly class. Last year, I enrolled in a program called Comprehensive Yoga Therapy. Stress reduction is a major focus of this training. The teachers in the program (Bob Butera, Erin Byron and Steffan Elgelid) have written a book Yoga Therapy for Stress and Anxiety.
One of my favorite exercises from this book is called the Taoist Smile. As I read the instructions, it reminded me of how my laughter eased commuter stress. Now, as a Yoga teacher, I recognize commuter tension as students arrive to my 6 pm class. So, to ease them into the transition from work to yoga, we begin the class with a smile. As stated in Yoga Therapy for Stress and Anxiety, “ A smile is a force to be reckoned with. The ancient Taoists knew this and taught the self-care technique of the inner smile.” Below is a summary of this exercise, as described by my teachers in their book: (used with permission see pages 31, 32 for full text)
- Begin forming a smile, gradually widening it to a huge grin…
- Notice the feeling of your smiling muscles: the upward tug of your lips, the squint of your eyes, the relaxed forehead…
- Feel the presence of the smile in your mind…Feel your body light up as if showered by smiles.
- Let the grin soften, leaving a peaceful upward curve of your lips, and mentally move the soft smile to your forehead, releasing any lingering thoughts.
- Feel the smile permeate your skull, then cascade down to your neck and shoulders, filling your torso.
- Move the smile to your heart and create a peaceful acceptance of any emotions that may reside there…
The authors point out: “When happiness is present, fear cannot exist. When we smile, we cannot feel nervous. When we feel good we start smiling.” (Butera, 2015, p. 32)
So if you’re feeling stressed, tense or even sad, what do you have to lose to try out the Taoist Smile? And if for some reason you haven’t yet tuned into Eastern practices, why not heed the wisdom of Bing Crosby as he sang the lyrics of Irvin Kabal and Francis Wheeler – “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella.”
© Denyse Le Fever October 2015