One of my favourite yoga tools is the Buddha Smile. I love it because it is so simple and you can use it anywhere with favourable results. I admit, some of the other yoga practices you will want to use in your office with the door shut but, Buddha Smile is not only socially appropriate, it is contagious!
All you have to do is exhale and look down with closed eyes.
Hold your breath while you put just a hint of a smile on your face. You need to smile softly with both your mouth and your eyes. It is important to feel it in both. Then, when you feel like inhaling, keep the smile on your face and bring your head back up to a level position. Breathe and feel the smile on your face.
When you eventually open your eyes, stay present to sensation in your face and breath. It will feel awesomely grounding, I promise! Plus as a bonus, if someone sees you do this, you will look very relaxed and rested. They will smile too. It’s contagious like a yawn.
The contagion is caused by something called mirror neurons.
Mirror neurons are your own personal defence system watching out for social cues of safety and danger in the world. They are the basis of attachment behaviour, like when infants mirror the facial expression of people they are attached to, or when your loved one’s bad mood changes your mood in an instant.
These mirror neurons provide social information to the Autonomic Nervous System. The ANS controls all of the things that happen in your body without your awareness. Your organs operate, blood circulates and food digests under direction of the ANS.
I know, you’re thinking what happened to the simple smile thing? How did we get into neuroscience? Bear with me it’s not much further back to the smile and it is pretty cool information.
The mirror neurons originate in a huge nerve complex called the Vagus Nerve. The Vagus Nerve, also known as the wandering nerve, for its widespread influence in your body, originates in your brainstem. Did you guess it? The Vagus dominates the activity of the ANS.
Some of the nerves that branch off of the Vagus are myelinated which means, they have uber fast connectivity. The myelinated portion of the Vagus enervates the muscles in your face, eyes, and heart.
When your face is smiling an authentic smile, soft corners of the mouth, soft cheeks, and soft eyes the vagus gets the message that all is well. Your heart being hooked up to the myelinated Vagus, is the first place that information is shared. Consequently, heart rate is immediately affected. The heart communicates the effects to the rest of the body via heart rate variability.
The Buddha smile is one simple thing you can do.
It takes only one minute, its effects ripple through your nervous system conveying a message of ease and safety. If you use it when you feel anxious and your nervous system is in a habitual, rather than imminent, state of sympathetic – fight or flight -arousal, you can begin to reprogram your nervous system in a positive way.
So why is it called the Buddha Smile? It’s because that feeling you get when you open your eyes, it’s called compassion. Compassion is what the Buddha taught. To be more specific Buddha Smile is cultivating self-compassion which starts when you look down toward your own heart and smile.
Want help following up on this idea? Connect with me. Sign up for my embracing compassion series (below), watch some of my yoga therapy videos and contact me to explore more.