Archive for September, 2013

The Science Of Smiling

You’re racing down the street, late for your next
appointment, your hands are full and stumbling with coffee, bag, notebook, cell
phone and keys. Your next step is straight into a puddle, which of course splashes
you. Ugh, not a good start to your day. As you look up, a kind bystander
flashes a sympathetic smile that says, “Hey, it’s okay!” Unconsciously, your
cheeks tighten, eyes squint and you smile right back. That simple act allows
your shoulders to relax, tension in your face softens and a good feeling washes
over you.

We think of smiling as a reaction, a response to something
that makes us happy. However, growing bodies of research suggest that a simple
smile is linked to the cause of feelings of happiness. Meaning, a smile is not
just a response, but a source of happiness and good vibes.

So what is actually happening when you lift the corners of
your mouth? Neuroscientists tell us that “neurons who fire together, wire
together.” Because we spend so much time smiling when we are happy, the parts
of the brain that fire when you smile are connected to the parts of the brain
that fire when you are happy. This link in your brain has occurred so many
times, that there is no distinction between a fake smile and happiness. Fire
one, you fire the other.

When you smile, you release neurotransmitters called dopamine,
endorphins and serotonin, which are responsible for relaxing the body, decreasing
heart rate and lowering blood pressure.  Moreover, a smile releases neuropeptides, which fight stress
hormones. Research shows that people who activate their smile muscles find
cartoons funnier, are quicker to identify happy expressions on other’s faces, and
more easily understand sentences with pleasant messages. (1)  By pulling up the corners of your mouth,
you are setting off a chemical feel-good party in your brain!

But wait, it’s not just a chemical feel-good party for
you!  Everyone around you gets the
opportunity to feel good too!  Just
like chicken-poxes and yawning, smiles are contagious. The part of your brain
responsible for smiling resides in the cingulate cortex, which is an unconscious
automatic response.  One study
showed participants pictures of faces expressing joy, anger, fear and surprise.  Participants were asked to frown when
they saw pictures of smiles.  The
participants naturally smiled in response to pictures of smiles and had to
notice, and make a conscious effort to turn their smile around. (2) This means
that if they don’t make a conscious effort to resist, everyone is inclined to
join you in smiling!

There’s even more good news!  Not only does this feel-good party begin with a smile, it can
make you better looking!  Yes,
smiling makes you more attractive.  A study published in the Journal of Neuropsychological reveals
that seeing a smiling face activates the orbitofrontal cortex, the region in
your brain responsible for sensory rewards. Suggesting that when your eyes catch
a smiling face you feel like you just won. (2)

When you smile you create a chain reaction. You are firing
neurons in your brain to feel-good, be happy, create health and increase your
chances of living longer. When someone sees you, you have now passed along this
gift in two ways—they feel like they just won, and then they smile causing
their own feel-good party in their brain. So don’t hold back, wear your smile
everywhere you go!  The whole world
will thank you!

Test it out for your
self: Put on a smile and notice how you feel.  Then smile directly at 10 people you don’t know, and see
what happens.  You might be
surprised by the results!

1- Nuzzo, Regina. “Can Posture Change Your Mind?” Time Nov. 2013: 28-29. Print

2- Riggio, Ronald. “There’s Magic In Your Smile” Psychology Today, Cutting-Edge Leadership,
25, June 2012. 11 September 2013.


Posted on: September 20th, 2013 No Comments

The Gratitude Game: Retrain Your Brain

Our brains are wired to notice the negative and recall
struggle and pain.  This is an
evolutionary trait dating back to the caveman days when our lives depended
on remembering where the poisonous berries were or where the bears lived.  The world is a different place now, and
while it’s important to be aware of danger, we have more freedom to notice what is
good and to live with gratitude.  But
it’s a muscle that’s underworked and needs strengthening.  When
you want to build strength in your physical body, you regularly go
to the gym or to yoga, right?  Likewise,
when you want to be more grateful (i.e. more positive), you dedicate time and
energy towards strengthening that part of your brain.  Like everything else in life, it’s a

A gratitude practice retrains our brains so we begin to
naturally notice what is good, rather than harping on what is bad. We can rewire our thinking to be more positive.  Here
are 5 tips to build a gratitude practice:

1. Start Small.  Especially if you’re feeling
low, start with things you usually take for granted.  If you are reading
this right now, you have access to the internet.  How cool is that?!? A
world wide web of connection and information!  Or how about gratitude
for the parts of your body that work- your feet and legs that move you around,
your hands with opposable thumbs!  Or, most of us have a roof over
our head and a place to lay our head down at night.  These things are
actually quite astonishing. Expand your gratitude from there to people in your
life that support you and make life sweet.  Focus on all the things that are going well!  Of course you can acknowledge there are
things you wish were different, but spend time noticing and appreciating what
is already great.

2. Keep Track.  Not only does this make
gratitude a ritual, but it roots gratitude into us.  Make a list of
everything you feel grateful for, and expand the list daily. Write down 5
things in the morning and 5 things in the evening you are grateful for, for one
week and notice how this impacts the way you feel in your life.

3. Make it a Habit.  Wake up and go to bed
practicing gratitude.  Rather than checking your phone first thing, check
your gratitude list and add to it.  Practice gratitude while brushing your
teeth.  Even better, every time you
reach for your phone through the day, let that be a reminder to add another
thing to the gratitude list.  Find a system and do it everyday.  Make
it part of your routine.

4. Find the Teacher in All Things.  In
yoga we end each class by bowing to the teacher in all things, not just the
good things.  Our biggest lessons come from the most challenging situations
in our lives.  This is the way we grow and learn to become better
people.  Find ways to be grateful for the challenges and your whole life
will change.

5. Feel It.  When you practice gratitude
really allow yourself to feel it.  During challenging moments notice if
you tend to hold onto pain.  It
can feel comforting or justified.  And it may be justified.  (And you
may need some time to be there with your emotions.)  But staying there is
stubborn.  Make the most of your gratitude practice by allowing yourself
to feel it.   

How does gratitude impact how you see the world? The process of
training your brain may take commitment and effort, but it gets easier the more
you do it!  And the rewards are worth it.  Give it a try and let us know how it goes!


Posted on: September 6th, 2013 No Comments