Smiling Into Life

One of the basic first steps for meditation taught by Thich Nhat Hahn, is the simple phrase, “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.” He suggests we practice it five, ten or even fifteen times before moving into other meditations. But we don’t always feel like smiling. This meditation is smiling practice – a way to bring a genuine smile to any moment of the day. This can encourage us, calm us and help turn things around.

How to Practice

Start by sitting comfortably and relaxing. Breathe easily and naturally. Close your eyes if you like. Adjust your position to release any tightness in your body as best you can.

As you relax and hear the sounds around you, you may already feel a bit of a mental smile coming into being. It starts here, in your mind, and moves outwards.

Soften your eyes, especially the corners of your eyes. Relax any tightness between your brows. Imagine warm water easing out the tightness.

Let your lips soften into a small smile. Make it small. Think Mona Lisa. As your lips relax, feel that relaxation spread to your jaw, your chin, the bottom of your nose, your tongue. Feel how the eyes and mouth are now smiling just a bit.

Notice what happens as you bring this relaxation to your neck and throat and chin. Feel how the eyes are smiling and mouth is smiling and neck is smiling.

The sense of smiling drifts downwards to your heart and it smiles, too. Tightness in the chest starts to ease as the warmth of the smile expands — through your shoulders, down through your belly, past the base of your spine and into your legs.

Let the warmth of this smile fill your whole body, bringing ease and comfort and openness. As thoughts arise while you sit there, notice how the sensation of smiling brings an element of kindness or friendliness to them.

Sit like this however long you like. When you find yourself tightening, start again from the top and you’ll find the smile has been there all along, just underneath the surface.


This is one of those things that can be called up in an instant after a few times of practice. The whole smile-down thing becomes automatic. Do it on the streetcar. Or while waiting for a meeting. In the line at the grocery store. In the lunchroom. Maybe even use it like Thich Nhat Hahn suggests in the in and out breath: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.” The more you consciously smile, the easier it gets.