Not feeling especially happy today?
There’s a well-known, quick fix solution social psychologists might tell you about … it involves putting a pencil between your back molars and clenching down for about two minutes. You’ll feel a little happier when it’s over (and not just because you get to relieve your face from the discomfort). Try it with an open mind – it’s a little weird, but it works.
Here’s the “science” behind the trick. The muscles activating in this “pose” are the same ones that bring a smile to your face. This biting-down activity is doing more for you than simply “turning a frown upside down” … in theory, it’s securely activating the same tissues and nerves around your mouth to simulate a sense of well-being in your psyche, mimicking a smile without the psychological effort of “faking it.” In other words, you’re letting your neurological system take care of your mental well-being, from the outside in.
The same logic applies to our yoga practice, perhaps in an even broader context.
Think about your body language during the times you feel your happiest, most confident self. As you walk into a room, perhaps your chest is protruding. You walk a little taller. When you’re full of good energy … your arms are extended and ready to hug, help, high-five … whatever. You’re literally a “bigger” version of yourself. It’s not rocket science – it’s just easy to tell that you’re feeling good by looking at your posture.
On the contrary, during the not-so-great days, you might catch yourself slouching or folding your arms, holding yourself tight for comfort or protection. You’re a smaller version of you, maybe using those hands to chew your nails as a coping mechanism for your anxiety.
Much like the good old pencil trick, this is how the yoga helps us psychologically from the outside-in. You’re opening your body. Expanding your chest, lengthening, stretching … Releasing whatever nervous energy you’re holding up that’s keeping you tight, small, or timid. By standing tall during tree pose, you’re giving your body permission to feel strong and balanced – even if your mind isn’t 100% there. By proudly releasing your chest in camel, you’re beaming with confidence – even if you’ve had the kind of week that would rather make you feel like crawling into a cave. By enlarging your body, you’re enlarging your mind.
Bottom line … There are those sometimes elusive feelings in life we all strive for: happiness, confidence, inner peace. You may not always be feeling these things on the inside … but if you start by displaying them on the outside, through your body, you’ll get there. Don’t discount the power of a pose, no matter how small it may seem. Keep it up!