Over the years I’ve read and heard many times that smiling is more than what happens with your face when you feel joy. In several forms of Chi Gung, which are exercises to cultivate and increase awareness of chi in the body, there is a form for Chi Nei Tsang practitioners called “The Shower of Smiles”. Gilles Marin, the master teacher of the Chi Nei Tsang Institute, says that the smile you use during it is not an actual facial smile but an internal feeling and energy. Then there is the repeated mentions in many places on how actual physical smiling improves health, chi flow and so on as well in spiritual practices, meditation.
Some go so far as to suggest that a person deliberately smile to change their mood and energy to a happier one during meditation.I used to see this as a carriage-coming -before-the-horse kind of thing, because who wants to smile when they don’t feel it, and who wants to see a fake smile? Probably no one.
So it was out of complete desperation after my mother died and I was finally freed up from four years of my life being completely eclipsed by my being the black sheep doing the heavy caregiving that I gave this weird idea a try. I went back to hand drumming for dancers after a long absence. Since I was ready to come back to some sort of life, I lifted the corners of my mouth a little bit to break up the chronic depressed little frown my face had frozen into.
I won’t lie to you, it felt totally artificial, weird, and hard at first. Part of it was that I didn’t want my face to age and sag any further than it had already. I’d seen books on people doing eye and face exercises to retain some elasticity, health and looks as they age, and it was convincing that they felt and looked better as a result. I reasoned that I’d lesson my mouth and jaw muscles from getting wrinkled and jowly if nothing else and be less disgustingly ugly.
The interesting thing is that it started to work after some time of simply trying to remember to do it when I was drumming for several months. I started being less pissed off by everything, more detached, and people gradually started treating me better. It was imperceptivly slow, but there was a positive effect as I continued to do it.
I have a narrow, somewhat weasel-y sort of face with eyes too close together, and a chin one of my boyfriends used to call “the can opener”. Added to that now are wrinkles, folds, age spots, and fat little chipmunk cheeks that bunch up when I smile naturally or otherwise. I am apple doll cute, which I have come to accept though it’s not particularly attractive to me. Still, I feel better inside, and I seem to look better to others, so I do it anyway.
I now work my face with smiling while I am in SPIN class because there is mirror there and I have attained some ability to hold my spinning form. I practice a variety of smiles to stretch my foreheard, brow, jaws, mouth, nose, and even throat. I let it look weird and ridiculous. I know how to find my dimples and knit my brow and grin like a complete idiot.
No one in the class has ever said anything about my smiling, but I will bet some of them find it unnerving. I also rotate some of my joints and stretch my neck. I figure it’s my time and my workout, so I do what I can to make myself loose.
I have a long missing front tooth which really takes away from my smile. My teeth are yellowed, out of balance from the missing tooth, and I need the amalgams laced with mercury taken out. There is really no way to have a decent smile without teeth that have been taken care of. So I project that while I am smiling internally, preparing for the day I will have a decent smile. One day someone came up to me off the street just to tell me I have a nice smile, so I think it’s working.