Slightly raise the corners of your mouth while reading this, even if you don’t feel happy. Go ahead, try it. You know you’re curious. What do you have to lose?
Smiling makes you feel happy and relaxed. Those in drug or alcohol recovery are probably familiar with the phrase “fake it till you make it,” which means action sometimes precedes or inspires feelings or desire. In his 2012 Psychology Today blog post, Dr. Alex Korb explains that by flexing our smile muscle (zygomaticus major), our brain will interpret it as a reason to be happy.
Smiling also activates the release of our feel-good chemicals (endorphins, dopamine & serotonin), helping us to fight off stress & relax our body. It’s universal & contagious. Everyone smiles in the same language, which transcends any difference among us and communicates a sense of safety and unity. We often return a smile because we feel acknowledged, included, perhaps loved. At the very least, according to Recruiter.com, you are more likely to be hired or promoted over your blank or frowning face co-worker. So it’s in our best interest to smile as often as we can to promote and maintain positive feelings toward ourselves and others.
- Sniff a flower.
Imagine holding one of your favorite flowers. Lean in. Take a big whiff. Hold it for a few seconds. Notice its fragrance.
- Blow out candles.
Imagine blowing out a birthday cake full of candles and emptying your lungs until each one is extinguished. Try it one more time: Take a big sniff of your flower and hold it. Now blow out your candles, emptying your lungs. This rids our body of natural waste (carbon dioxide) and quiets the mind, silencing our inner critic. The pace and depth of our breathing has a direct effect on the regulation of our mind and body. Notice the pace of your breathing during different activities throughout your day to determine if you tend to breathe deeply, shallowly, or sometimes hold your breath.
Regular deep abdominal breathing:
- releases endorphins.
- reduces anxiety by engaging both sides of the brain.
- stimulates our organs to function more efficiently.
- oxygenates our skin.
- enhances our creativity.
- helps us initiate and maintain weight loss.
- sharpens our intuition.
If you are feeling relaxed, but would like to deepen the relaxation, try it one more time. Take a big sniff of your flower. Hold it. Now blow out your candles, emptying your lungs. Does your body or mind feel more relaxed? Not yet? Don’t give up. Practicing will help train your body and brain to automatically breathe deeply & restore calm and clarity.
If you really want to get creative and individualize your breathing rituals, you can imagine inhaling peace and exhaling chaos, inhaling clarity and exhaling confusion, inhaling confidence and exhaling self-doubt, or anything else you need more or less of in your life.
Smiling man photo available from Shutterstock