Reflections on Smiling with Sonia

Please welcome Jen Boyce to Whole Life Yoga’s blog today.  Jen is a current student in Whole Life Yoga’s 200 hour yoga teacher training  program.  She can be reached at jpboyce@comcast.net.  How will your smile (or lack of a smile) impact your world today?

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For those of you who attend Sonia’s Friday morning class, you know she is into monthly themes. In April, when Sonia said the focus of the month was on “smiling”, I internally rolled my eyes and thought, “Oh, brother!” I have always valued being true and telling it like it is so smiling when I don’t feel the need feels inauthentic.  In general, I don’t smile unless I want to.  Not because I hate life or feel depressed, my face is just not designed that way.  I blame it on my under bite. Some people appear to have faces that rest in a slight smile.  Me, I have “mad face”, coined by my daughter when she was a toddler.  Add to that, I run on the reserved, serious side. I rarely laugh out loud and I dislike how I feel inside myself when I smile on command (i.e., for a photo).

Sonia quoted Thich Nhat Hanh who stated “…smiling is a practice, a yoga practice. Don’t say, “I have no joy, why do I have to smile?” Because when you have joy and you smile, that is not practice, that’s very natural. When you don’t have joy and you smile, that is a real practice.” The idea of a smile as “practice” resonated with me.   However, I still felt totally awkward smiling during class. It wasn’t until we were on our backs that I played with smiling without worrying about how I looked. And I did note a slight increase in energy.

The next day my family and I headed to Santa Cruz, CA for spring break. At the airport, we jokingly plastered smiles on our faces.  It helped to pass the time and though we found it interesting to note the return smiles from others, we still felt silly. Every time something went well like getting through security without a full body pat down, we jested, “Maybe it was the smiling!”

The “aha” moment came when we were in line to board the plane. A woman noticeably brightened and widened her smile when she saw us (a happy, perfect American family eagerly awaiting vacation <:). Ever the honest one, I felt compelled to explain, “We’re totally fake smiling.”  And then I laughed.  I thought it was funny. Not so.  Her face FELL.  That’s when it hit me. She was feeding off of our energy and I had just slapped her in the face.  Something to think about….

The next day I ran the Santa Cruz Half Marathon. The day was full of reasons to smile—sun, warmth, beautiful coastal views, and most of all, GRATITUDE that I was getting to run another half marathon.  Though this was my fourth half, my last one was back in 2011, shortly before I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Ever since returning to running post-treatment, I had been slowly working toward this moment. There had been bumps in the road, but I had made it. It was like coming full circle.  Definitely smile worthy.  But as one can imagine, there are plenty of instances during a race that are NOT smile worthy. It can be exhausting and painful. And sometimes, meditative. I find I go into another space for periods of time and “wake up”, realizing that a half mile has gone by and I don’t remember any of it.  I am guessing that I am not smiling then. Maybe I am.  Thich Nhat Hanh stated, “To meditate well, we have to smile, a lot…. Sometimes the mind takes the initiative and sometimes you have to allow the body to take the initiative.  Sometimes the spirit leads, and sometimes the body can lead.”  I ended up finishing 10 minutes faster than my goal.  It was my first race where there were actually some decent photos of me running (smiling!).  I looked like I was having a great time. And for the most part, I was.

Jen

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.   The second book in the series, A Killer Retreat, is available at booksellers everywhere!

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