Our smile is contagious. It soothes us; it soothes others.
It's also likely that you're feeling some stress these days. An abundance of stress is one of the amazing traits that all humans share. Some of it is absolutely necessary. Most of it is not.
For example, you and I are enjoying tea and a lion turns the corner. This is a good time for stress. Our bodies are up; our eyesight is on; we're hiding in the cafe and wondering about that lion.
Another example? You and I are enjoying tea. We talk about the financial market and its volatility. You become agitated because you're so concerned you'll never get your money out of the crypto you bought when it was high. You aren't sleeping because of it.
Yoga is system of alternatives to stress. The movements, the breathing, the meditation are all gifts of the tradition that take us into calm states. The techniques take some learning and require our mindful attention. They work when we work with them.
Sometimes, however, we need to start with something a little more fundamental. Yoga requires discipline and practice. If we bring stress into our practice, there's a decent chance we'll also bring it out of our practice. So let's consider a pregame possibility.
In the Yoga Sutra, the first step of any yoga practice is ahimsa. I'm going to translate this loosely as kindness. We start with kindness. And for our purposes today, we'll think about the simplest expression of kindness among humans.
Think of a tiny baby who offers you her toothless, gooey grin. That's her statement of kindness. She thinks you're alright. You feel pretty alright in response.
What if we choose to practice our smiles?
Little awkward, right?
By now, likely, there was at least a little chuckle. Maybe it's an exasperated chuckle but still. A chuckle. That right there is your doorway in.
When we smile, our stress response diminishes. Our nervous system reads our smiles as a statement of safety and engagement. It calls back the fighter pilots. It activates our comfort. Here's a miracle of existence: when we become comfortable, so do those around us.
No need to put on your yoga pants for practice today. Just see what it's like to offer a smile to a few strangers today. Notice the responses.
More importantly, notice how you feel as you offer the smile and in the hours after.
And if you want a terrible joke to grow your smile a tiny bit more... what do you call a flying skunk?
I love you.