I was looking at some pictures of myself and my partner, taken around 5 years ago, and I was disappointed to see how much my face had aged. I gazed at my straight-faced reflection in the mirror, and it suddenly struck me… what was missing was my smile! I grinned warmly into my own eyes, and then glanced back at the pictures… and was heartened to see that, actually, there wasn’t a huge amount of difference between the younger me, and the current, older me. Some ageing, yes; a plumper face, agreed – but the smile somehow negated enough of that to be reassuring!
Now, I understand, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that a smiling face looks more alive and vibrant than one adorned with a serious or vacant expression: however, I suddenly became acutely aware of how my face felt, when I wasn’t smiling… and the word that immediately came to mind was droopy… and who the hell wants to feel droopy? It is hardly high energy!
So, I decided to check up on myself, every now and then, and ask, “what is my resting face saying about me right now?”. I already suspected that smiling wasn’t just about appearance – and my little experiment proved me right. When I recognised that I was sporting a switched-off or frowning expression, and swapped it for a comfortable smile that also reached my eyes (yes, you can feel your eyes smiling!), I actually felt more cheerful. And not only that, my head and shoulders automatically lifted a little – an instant boost that cost nothing more than a bit of self-awareness!
Okay, it is true that there are certain circumstances under which a smile is completely inappropriate (not too many, but some); and there are certain circumstances under which even the most upbeat individual would struggle to muster even the slightest twitch of the lips; I am not talking about those times – I am talking about general, every day life. And I acknowledge that a consistent, manic grin would be more likely to cause ourselves to feel a bit crazy and uncomfortable, and other people to avoid us like the plague. But, a small, relaxed smile, hovering at the corners of our mouth, just waiting to blossom into something wider and warmer, can genuinely do wonders for our state of mind! And when we feel that a smile is maybe not entirely appropriate at a given moment in time, we can still be consciously aware of how our face is sitting, and what message it is imparting. We can appear attentive, or curious, or interested, or fascinated, dependent upon the circumstances; all of these, and more, will actually help us to feel what we are expressing, whilst allowing our face to appear animated and lively. I am not a scientist, but online research appears to confirm that there is a growing belief in the theory that our facial expression and body language are recognised by our brain, which then responds accordingly, communicating that information back to the body.
Which brings me to the subject of how we consistently hold our body… and this cute cartoon that really makes me laugh, every time I see it!
Posture, like facial expression, speaks volumes to our brain, as does our consistent inner and outer dialogue. I have come across people who habitually slouch, and consistently communicate in a dismissive or cynical way… and none of them have been even remotely happy or satisfied. Circumstance is often blamed, and yes, it is true that it definitely does affect how we feel and behave; however, we have all witnessed individuals who have faced the most dreadful adversity, yet who hold their heads high, whilst approaching the world with dignity and warmth (we are so fortunate, to have amongst us those souls who are living proof of just what we human beings are capable of aspiring to!).
Where my own body is concerned, over a period of two years I put on around 28 lb in weight, most of which settled on my stomach and hips (one of the side effects of reaching a ‘certain age’!). I became discouraged, and for the first time really struggled to motivate myself to do anything about it. That wobble drove me mad, and I began to avoid any mirror that reflected anything below my chest… I felt fat. I managed to lose 7 lbs, but still, not enough to reduce the dreaded spare tyre. As it happens, my eldest daughter is a fitness and kick boxing instructor, who runs her own school; my youngest daughter also trains there, and teaches some of the classes. Several times a week I would drop her off and collect her, calling in to help put the equipment away after the sessions… but I always resisted taking part, because I was ‘too fat’ (yes, really!), which both of my daughters thought was ridiculous!
One evening, I stayed to watch the kick boxing gradings, from the toddlers all the way up to the adults, and I was blown away. The atmosphere was amazing, and I was totally impressed to see how much progress the students had made… and I suddenly really wanted to be a part of it! That evening, I committed to training, and there I was, at the very next session. At first, I felt like a galumphing (I think I just made that word up) elephant, and the idea of roundhouse kicks terrified me. I had a stiff, incredibly painful shoulder, and a dodgy knee, and I feared that they would hold me back… but the physiotherapist told me that actually, I was doing the very best thing for myself – and he was right! Almost three belts on, my shoulder is 90% better, and my knee just aches sometimes, and my roundhouse kick is coming along nicely! I even attend some of the circuit training classes now, in addition (last night I did three 30 minute sessions, one after the other!). I am still ‘fat’, but the weight is coming off, bit by bit. And I am not saying that it is easy, because it isn’t, and I am not saying that things don’t hurt after training, because they do. However, my body feels so much stronger, and I cannot emphasise enough how empowering that is! It has improved the way I hold myself, and more importantly, it has transformed the way I feel about myself… and that makes me smile!
So, if you recognise any of this within yourself, make an immediate commitment to yourself, to lift your spirits, your shoulders, your chin, and the corners of your mouth… until it becomes as natural as breathing!