Force a Smile, Face the Fear

The first time I tried a smiling meditation was about three months ago, on the floor of a warm, crowded living room that had been made into a full-time healing space at the House of Intuition (HOI) in Echo Park. I remember specifically that it was just post-inauguration and the Women's March and I hadn't carved out any time for myself in weeks. Like so many of the people in my energy field, I was feeling pretty hopeless and like the last thing I should be concerned about was my own self-care. Instead, I felt like I should be trying to immerse myself in as many activities as possible and wallowing throughout every second I spent alone. After a particularly dismal weekend in which I did about a trillion activities I didn't give a fuck about just for the sake of being by someone's side, I came around and remembered that, "Caring for myself [was] not self-indulgence." Instead, as Audre Lorde iconically wrote, "it [was] self-preservation."

So, I found myself back at HOI with Aimee – the woman who first introduced me to energy healing – for 4 straight hours of Kundalini yoga, meditation, and a Sacred Reiki Circle. Though I've practiced Kundalini many times at home, I was nervous to try it out in front of others because, as anyone who's practiced it will tell you, it's nothing short of intense. The total soul-awakening that occurs in each kriya feels so infinitely big that I worried my energy alone would somehow knock out my classmates. Or that I'd just start bawling uncontrollably and no one would quite know what to do with me.

Having mustered up the strength to make it through the asanas dry-eyed, I felt relieved when it was time for meditation – I had made it this far, now it was just time to chill. You can imagine my surprise, then, when Aimee asked us all to close our eyes, sit up tall, and force a smile for 15 minutes.

Now, as some of you may recall, I am not new to the whole forced smile bit. In fact, it was a very critical part of my morning routine for some time. That said, I hadn't been practicing this bit of my morning routine for some months because I'd been living with my boyfriend and, well, it just seemed weird to smile at thin air when he was laying right there, asking me if I wanted oatmeal or eggs.

So, when Aimee offered her instructions, I felt my whole body tense up and my mind filled with fear about indulging in what had always been such a private practice in a room full of practiced yogis and healers. As you probably know, this is the exact opposite of what you want to happen when you're about to enter meditation. Still high off asanas, though, I managed to summon the strength to quiet that inner voice justttt enough to turn up the corners of my mouth and breathe.

And let me say: it blew me away. I don't think I have ever witnessed such a vast transformation as the one that transpired from the minute I walked into that class until the moment I blissed out of it. I walked away that night feeling connected, hopeful, raw, and totally unafraid of my bigness.

And this really isn't a huge surprise. Psychological studies tell us that forcing yourself to smile lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, reduces your stress response, boosts the immune system, and reduces endorphins and serotonin, which are natural pain relievers. These effects are pretty common knowledge and all great reasons to work a smile into your daily self-care routine.

None of these, though, are the reason I've decided to add forced smiling back into my life.

I have reincorporated this practice into my life because it makes me feel big and, most critically, it reminds me that that being big is okay. That night at HOI, I wasn't hesitating to smile because I didn't think I could hold my face in position or that I wouldn't be 'good' at it. My egoic mind attacked me because I was afraid to take up space.

You're smart so I won't bore you with the history of women feeling like they need to be small in order to be liked. It's the reason we say 'sorry' constantly, the reason we sit so tightly while men get to manspread, the reason we don't speak up in meetings or ask for what we need at work or at home, etc. etc. blah blah blah. You can also add to that list: our tendency to walk through life, smiles turned upside-down, afraid to take up any energetic space.

That night, I chose to smile in class because I knew that the fear I was feeling had to end there. The fear that my needs were taking up too much space and that I had to succumb to the low-vibe energy of my hopelessness, my country, and my heartbroken friends and family just to fit in and glide by unnoticed? Nah, no thanks. It was time to get past all that ish.

I chose to smile because I needed to assert my joy, my hope, my BIGNESS. Sure there are countless physical benefits to smiling, but energetically? Energetically, this practice makes you feel larger than life and proud to be who you are. It alters your mood, changing you into a person others gravitate towards and look up to on the daily. Showcasing your good energy, in fact, does the opposite of what I thought it would: It does not knock others over, but instead draws them into you.

It does not make you full of yourself to live life in this way, but full. of. your. SELF. Could there be a better way to live?

– Lenea Sims