The body interprets stress only one way…fight or flight. This response pumps adrenaline into the body moving blood away from the organs and into the limbs. If you’re facing immediate physical danger, this is an appropriate response that can save your life.
If you are experiencing mental stress, however, where the mind is ongoingly concerned, anxious or worried about paying bills or an unhappy relationship, the body’s response of fight or flight can end up being harmful. Constant dumping of adrenaline into the body over a long period of time leads to chronic inflammation, the condition that is now considered the number one factor leading to certain aging diseases such as obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, hypertension, and strokes. It also leads to an impaired immune system, allergies and the breakdown in the body’s ability to discern allies and helpers (the body begins to view everything as a threat).
Meditation is one of the most effective ways to countereffect stress. It takes quite a while, however, to learn and become effective with it. Vigorous exercise is also a great way to burn through the accumulated stress chemicals that build up in the body. Certain types of breathwork are also beneficial in reducing the effects of stress.
But there is a very simple technique that can be used that has immediate results. It’s called the Inner Smile. This is a smile that is created by very slightly raising the corners of your lips while adopting the inner stance of a smile.
Try it…first smile big, lifting the corners of your mouth way up. Feel the corresponding shift inside of you with this smile. Now just slightly smile and put more emphasis on the shift inside of you.
One of the biggest proponents of the Inner Smile is Thich Naht Hanh. He is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk who teaches inner transformation, including meditation techniques, to people all over the world. In the picture of him above, he radiates peace with his smile.
This Inner Smile can be maintained throughout the day without much effort from your facial muscles. It creates, however, dramatic results within the body:
- It tells the body that everything is okay and to turn off the pumping of adrenaline into the body, immediately.
- It lowers your blood pressure, immediately.
- It boosts your immune system, immediately
- It releases endorphins, natural pain killers and serotonin, immediately.
- It creates a positive mind, immediately. This lessens the stress of problems, increases the ability to solve problems and extends lifespan. It also lessens the effects of negative information that we are constantly bombarded with, such as the Daily News. (Try a simple experiment: Cover the picture of Thich Nhat Hanh, then reread the second paragraph about symptoms of stress while frowning. Then read it again while practicing the Inner Smile. Notice the difference in your response to the information.)
- It lifts the moods of those around you causing people to treat you with joy and happiness.
- One interesting research on the benefits of smiling discovered it has the same effect as eating 2000 chocolate bars. (Now that’s got to be good for you!)
I tend to be a frowner when I’m concentrating on something. I don’t notice it until someone asks what was bothering me. I’ve been known to scare people when I’m driving, if I’m concentrating on some problem. The Inner Smile helps me “break” this pattern and give me detachment from what I’m concentrating on. This leads to easier solutions and new insights.
When I was in first grade we had an incredibly abusive and angry teacher. She used to pick on certain kids, if they weren’t fast enough learning. One of her favorite torture tricks was to grab a kid by the ear and jerk him around. Hal was a first grader who bore the brunt of her meanness. He always smiled, no matter what was happening. I often think back about him and wonder how much therapy he needed as an adult to recover from our first grade teacher. I think, however, that his ever-constant smile protected his body from much of the damaging effects of our teacher. He probably has one of the best immune systems on the planet.
Try the Inner Smile and let me know how your day went for you. Oh, and if you see me frowning, remind me to smile!