"Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy." ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Some of you might have seen my partner Nancy practicing at The SweatBox. She usually practices in the second row by the women's dressing room. You'd know her because, without fail, every single time she holds Standing Bow Pulling Posture for the whole time, a huge smile takes over her face. She can't help it; it just comes.
Nancy has been a Vinyasa Flow practitioner forever. It is only in the past several years that she's "warmed" to Bikram Yoga. It's her antidote to any injury and, like me, she appreciates the balance that it brings to her other physical activities. If you run, Bikram takes care of your knees. If you cycle, your hips. If you do Vinyasa flow, Bikram Yoga is healing for your wrists and shoulders.
Urban lore says that it takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 muscles to frown. That's almost triple for a frown, so theoretically a lot more work. I'm not sure if this myth is true, but it serves me in my teaching because I think we all could do with more smiling, more positive affirmation. We know that smiling actually activates neural messaging; the act of smiling, even if it is forced, sends a bit of happiness to the brain. We also know that smiling is contagious, so when someone smiles in class, it affects the other students practicing around them. The practice space gets lighter, more energized.
Nancy is not alone in her smiling after holding her balance in a hard posture. From time to time, I notice other students having that reflexive post-posture smile, but it's not the norm. I don't know why more people don't celebrate their Yoga practice with smiles. I rarely do it. Maybe it's how we are hard-wired. Maybe for people like Nancy, the smile reflex is more developed, easier to access. Yoga can be serious business, it requires us to really focus and concentrate. I would never encourage someone to force a smile during Yoga. That would feel contrived and awkward, but if it bubbles up, surprises you at some point, let it happen. It's a good thing.