If, like most of us, you’re looking for simple and easy ways to get more out of life, smiling exercises might work well for you. Joe Hoare introduces us to this wellbeing workout.
Smiling exercises are some of the simplest, gentlest and yet most effective mood-boosting exercises we can do. The science behind them is now conclusive, and it can be no coincidence that long-standing traditional health and wellbeing practices like yoga, tai chi and chi gung all recognise and advocate their use.
Practice makes perfect
The basic 10 second smiling practice is just that – smile. The best time to start is first thing in the morning, before you’ve got out of bed.
Practise smiling warmly and genuinely for at least 10 seconds.
Use prompts to help you smile more during your day. The bathroom mirror is another opportunity as we all tend to be there at least a couple of times a day. Make a point of smiling at yourself!
‘Life is a mirror. If you frown at it, it frowns back. If you smile, it returns the greeting.’
You might also start to notice and experience the pain-reducing effect of smiling. Smiling and laughing trigger the release of endorphins, our body’s natural pain-killers, so besides improving our mood, they also have the potential to improve our physical health. The book Anatomy of an Illnessby Norman Cousins tells his story of how he overcame his ankylosing spondylitis using smiling and laughing exercises.
Just smile! If you are naturally experiential and are happy just doing the exercise, just smile warmly and genuinely for 10-15 seconds.
If it helps, use the power of your memory/imagination. Bring to mind an occasion that elicits a warm genuine smile.
Do some facial yoga. Give your face a gentle massage, focusing in particular on your jaw muscles. Gently open and close your mouth at the same time so you really work these muscles. These are important smiling muscles.
Practice smiling with your eyes. Use the muscles around your eyes to smile with too. This is called the ‘Duchenne’ smile, and is what makes a smile genuine and warm.
From time to time, smile at a stranger as a random act of kindness.
See what other activities you can add your smile to, and notice what difference your smile makes to your experience.
Laugher Yoga and Happiness: 7 Insights from 15 Years of Laughter Yoga
Book available for Kindle and paperback