Think of someone you know that has a beautiful smile, the kind that touches your heart and lifts your spirits. You see their eyes light up and they generate a warmth and joy that connects from within.
The likelihood is that you are smiling as you think of this person. Your body relaxes, your breathing is steady, and your mood lifts.
Studies have shown that the act of smiling, alters your body’s chemistry and elevates your mood. We only have to try it to find out!
I will often invite people to smile during a yoga class. If we are holding a yoga pose that requires balance, focus and concentration, we might notice that we tighten in the mouth and hold our breath. Softly smiling however releases tension in the facial muscles, we also let go of tension in the mind and the body. A reminder to breathe steadily in and out through the nose counteracts any feelings of tightness. When we take deeper slower breaths, with a typically longer exhale, we stimulate one of the key nerves of the body, the vagus nerve. Activating this nerve slows the heart rate, reduces blood pressure and helps us feel more calm and at ease.
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the human body and is the main pathway connecting the gut to the brain. It is in charge of reducing and turning off the ‘fight or flight’ response of the body. You can consciously activate the vagus nerve to induce inner-calm through relaxing the muscles of the face and breathing steadily in and out through the nose.
Sitting comfortably on a chair or on a cushion, take a nice inhale through the nose and sigh out through the mouth. Do this a couple of times.
- Settle yourself and notice your normal breath as it is in this moment.
- Take a breath in through the nose, pause, and then exhale out through the nose, long and slow.
- Centre yourself in the here and now, feeling the length in your spine, notice how your shoulders drop a little with each out breath.
- Now, take a deep steady inhale through the nose, breathe down into the lower belly, feel your ribcage expand, then your chest. Stay with the pause at the top of your inhale. Then take a long deep exhale through the nose, emptying your chest, the rib area and the lower belly. Feel that sense of slowing down as you continue with this breath, softly smiling as you do so.
- Breathe in smiling, feeling the healing, nourishing aspects of oxygen in your body. As you hold the breath for a few seconds, imagine it radiating health and nourishment inside you. Then breathe out thinking “Letting Go”, releasing all of the tension in your body through your exhale.
You can do this breathing at any point throughout the day, waiting at the train station, queuing in the supermarket, or intentionally taking the time out to do this at home or at work.
Keep smiling…..and, of course, keep breathing!