This month, we are focusing on finding the happiness within. In this simple article we discuss what it means to practice yoga with an inner smile and share tips on how to do it.
Practice yoga with an inner smile
When I say “practice yoga with an inner smile”, what do I mean?
- Feel the smile inside
Start by feeling the smile in your chest, in your heart. Allow this inner smile to reach up to your eyes and down to your toes. Imagine every cell, tissue and organ in your body is smiling…. you can do this before you even step on your mat!
- Practice with kindness
Try to let go of criticism. As you practice each asana on your mat, offer kindness towards yourself. Avoid being too hard on yourself. So often in yoga classes I see people pushing themselves to get into that “perfect” position, to have really “open” hips, to reach their toes, striving to find the “perfect” headstand or handstand. However, this approach encourages us to live in the future, and think that we are not good enough, in the now. Yes, its great to have goals, however, once you set your goals, let them go and stay present.
- Softly drop comparisons
If at any time you start to compare yourself to others around or to the “you” of yesterday, smile at yourself, then softly drop the comparison. Focus inside. Find that smile again.
- Stay present in your body, acknowledge your wellness
For me, yoga is about staying present in your body, in the moment, in the now, with this inner smile and softness towards ourselves. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, has some great wisdom in this area. He often talks about practicing your inner smile, and suggests that to meditate well, we need to smile. He also says that happiness is the cessation of suffering. He once explained to someone that when we have toothache, we know we have toothache. We know we are in pain, suffering. We stress out about (and share) this stress and discomfort. Yet, when the toothache has gone, the pain has gone, we tend not to recognise this absence of pain, we tend not to recognise our wellness. Maybe we find a new pain to notice or something else to worry about. And so it continues. Next time you have pain, take a moment to be present and notice when that pain has gone. Notice all of the other areas in your body, which are pain free. Smile inside. As you practice your yoga, find that inner softness and presence, acknowledge your wellness with a smile.
- Meet feelings and experiences with a smile
It is important that we do not deny experiences or feelings, or push them away. What we are suggesting is that you can approach these feelings or experiences in a different way – meet them with a smile, rather than with anger or frustration or craving. This inner smile helps to bring a softness and kindness towards yourself. It can also bring insights and an openness to something new. Next time you are finding a yoga asana challenging on your mat, instead of getting frustrated and craving that “perfect” shoulder stand, smile, be kind, listen inside to your body. You never know what might happen!
When to practice?
You can practice your inner smile in every yoga class that you go to. No-one else needs to know.
Some yoga classes start, or finish, with an intention. Maybe next time you are practicing yoga, set your intention to find and practice your inner smile. At the end of the practice you can send this inner smile out into the world, to family, friends, neighbours and anyone else who might benefit from sharing this smile.
During your yoga practice, when you are in a strong asana, see what happens to your inner smile. Strong asanas are often an ideal time to practice. Notice that instead of forcing or pushing yourself, how you can relax a little into the position and see what happens then.
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Take your inner smile off the mat
As you practice on your mat, so you can take your inner smile off the mat. As you go through your daily life, make time to find that inner smile.
Start now. Imagine the smile in your heart, chest, body. Turn the corners of your mouth up into a smile. Acknowledge your wellness, the present moment, the now. Namaste.