Smile. Go ahead, do it right now. 🙂 Think of something–anything–that makes you truly happy.
See how much better you instantly feel? It’s amazing how small, single actions can have an immediate and sometimes profound effect on how we feel. I’ve recently experienced this phenomenon in a yoga class:
Brendan, a teacher at my studio, is absolutely fabulous. He has this enthusiastic and vibrant energy; you can feel it when he walks into the room. Yet at the same time he is so assured and relaxed, always putting you at ease. His classes are upbeat, engaging, and precise — always spectacular. My practice, however, is not as predictable–I had a rough day and was exhausted, so I was nervous about how my body would react throughout class; thus, I moved into the first posture especially slowly. Absorbed in my own worried hesitancy, I completely did not expect Brendan’s next instruction:
“Turn the corners of your mouth up towards the ceiling!” Brendan joyfully said.
Pleasantly surprised by the instruction, I smiled. Then I smiled some more. The phrase blended in with the tone of the dialogue so well because the words themselves are phrased in such a Bikram-dialogue-esque way. The saying is purely brilliant, true words of wisdom. And Brendan’s cheerfulness is infectious; the enthusiasm with which he said it was priceless. Before I knew it, I saw myself in the front mirror with the hugest grin on my face. My worries had dispersed; I felt calm, assured.
Fundamentally, we are encouraged to relax in class. You may have had a teacher tell you to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth because breathing through the mouth sends signals to the brain that we’re in a panicked state, whereas by breathing through the nose, we physiologically affirm to our bodies that we are doing okay. It’s the same way with our facial expressions. If we’re exhausted or frustrated, we tend to hold tension in our faces. But our tense expression actually makes us feel worse, because it reinforces our exhaustion and frustration. However, when we smile, we affirm to ourselves that we are doing fine. Smiling sends signals to the body that we are content, so our entire bodies relax, and as a result, the practice comes more easily.
By encouraging students to smile in class, Brendan reminds us all to approach the practice with happiness. Because really, the yoga itself is so good for us. However, it is only natural to throw some judgments or expectations into our practice–it is so easy for us to worry about how we do in class or get frustrated over what happens or doesn’t happen. But does doing so really serve us? Or does it only make our experience harder and more stressful? So don’t let your practice be a source of anxiety; rather, just do the best you can and treat yourself with kindness and appreciation no matter what the result.
So next time when you hit a really difficult point in class, try this: relax and don’t take everything so seriously. And most importantly, try to find the joy in your practice:
Turn the corners of your mouth up towards the ceiling.