Smiling, Mirror Neurons, and Resilience
The simple act of smiling appears to activate neural messaging that promotes health and happiness. When we smile neurotransmitters like dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are released. Smiling not only relaxes our body; Recent discoveries suggest it can also lower our heart rate and blood pressure.
- There’s Magic in Your Smile
- The 9 Superpowers of Your Smile
- Smiling can trick your brain into happiness — and boost your health
- Why You Need to Smile More
There is strong evidence smiling activates mirror neurons in the brain.
One fascinating article in Psychology Today notes:
“Using brain imaging, scientists are exploring the areas of the brain that are activated when we see another person smile. Of course, you’d expect the visual areas of the brain to light up. But other areas of the brain light up too, including the premotor cortex, an area that helps activate our own smiling muscles and the somatosensory and insula cortices, areas that report what it feels like physically and emotionally to smile. Neurons that fire both when we observe and when we take part in an action are called mirror neurons. When we see someone smile, mirror neurons simulate our own smiling.”
The article continues:
“When we see another person smile and then mentally simulate that smile or respond with one of our own, we feel happier. A simple view of another person smiling triggers a whole series of changes in our brain and autonomic nervous system. We can never really know what it feels like to be someone else, but our mirror neuron system and ability to mentally simulate another’s actions may bring us closer to understanding each other.”
- Mirror Neurons: Smile and the world smiles with you!
- The Mirror Neuron Revolution: Explaining What Makes Humans Social
- Mirror Neurons Are Essential, but Not in the Way You Think
- Empathy and the Role of Mirror Neurons
- Conversation: Mind Mirror Neurons and imitation learning as the driving force behind the great leap forward in human evolution
- And strong critique of Dr. Ramachandran’s bold speculations
Leonardo—Why Does the Mona Lisa Smile?
It is highly likely that Leonardo Da Vinci had deep insight into the neurobiology of smiling many years ahead of other scientific explorers. One fascinating article explains: Why Mona Lisa is Smiling
“The reason we ask why she is smiling is actually because all the other portraits aren’t. Before, during and long after the Renaissance, artists did not paint their subjects smiling. Leonardo made a definite decision, though, even hiring people to come and, wrote Vasari, “make her remain merry, in order to take away that melancholy which painters are often wont to give to the portraits that they paint”.
“What this little gesture did was huge: it brought art to life. In the centuries leading up to the Renaissance, paintings were generally created as idealized images, often religious, to be contemplated and revered. The Mona Lisa was a real woman who with a smile initiated a dialogue with the viewer that had not existed before; it changed the very nature of the relationship between art and audience. With that one smile, Leonardo had imbued a work of art with a conceptual stroke of what’s now called “genius”.”
“So, it’s not why she’s smiling that’s important, it’s that she’s smiling.”
- Smiling invites us to enter a pure Taoist state: simple, uncontrived, innocent, relaxed, loose, no goals, no results, no past, no tomorrow, only smiling, natural, happy.
- In this state, busy-ness, hence stress, vanishes.
- Smiling is a state of flow.
- It cleanses the Mind and Heart.
- When I smile into my fears, fears melt. So also, with anger, resentments, impatience, envy, and offense.
- Smiling opens the spaces between things and happenings where we spend most of our lives. Waiting at a stop light or 40 minutes in a doctor’s office becomes a gift.
- Smiling appears a powerful means to interrupt negative emotional patterns and scary stories based upon them.
- Our time sense changes; we have far more time available than we imagined.
- Our perceptive capacity changes when we slow down and smile. We can notice the beauty of little, “ordinary” things and moments.
- We are grateful for the gift of life. We can truly experience Brother David Steindl-Rast’s wonderful practice, “Stop/Look/Go.”
- Smiling encourages “field independence.” Things good and bad arise in the “external world” or in our own mind, so many bubbles, we need no longer be tossed around by them. Smiling becomes a sanctuary and a place of refuge.
- Smiling appears to correlate directly with lowering blood pressure. In August my BP was 160/95 in the doctor’s office (so called “white coat hypertension”) With smiling it is now regularly and easily 118/75. And I have found smiling to be more powerful than hand warming measured by a thermistor which is the standard biofeedback protocol. Why? Because hand warming introduces an element of intentionality which appears to affect BP, notwithstanding that you can feel entirely “relaxed.”
- When we smile, we use far fewer muscles than when we frown. This suggests smiling conserves energy, physical and subtle.
- Gentle smiling, even in sorrow, offers a glimmer of hope, a sliver a light in the darkness. An attribute of the Goddess of Mercy, Quanyin (Kannon), she who hears the cries of the world.
- In the field of negotiations:
- Most importantly Need abates, and with it,
- Assumptions, biases, and expectations
- We can more easily peer behind the mask. Some people attempt to manipulate smiling; but as Shakespeare writes“False face must hide what the false heart doth know.” Your heart will tell a false smile from one that is innocent joyful and authentic.
- Uncertainty becomes our friend, and a ‘no’ an allyOur sense of timing sharpens, and we have space to See the Big Picture.
- In fact, smiling recalibrates everything.
Some Discovery Questions
- Smiling is documented to release dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins and other neuro-compounds. What about the Heart which is also known to produce its own hormones?
- Does the Heart also have mirror neurons? If so, how come? If not, why not?
- How does the vagus nerve modulate the function of mirror neurons in its role as an intermediary between the brain, heart, and other parts of our body? (See video below of Professor Dagus Keltner.)
- If smiling induces production of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins and other neuro-compounds in our bodies, do our mirror neurons produce the same neurochemical effects when we observe other people smiling?
- What are some of the possible effects across communities when we couple smiling with the act of paying forward in connection with the other 10 Essential Moves?
- What are the possible potential synergies when combining energetic (‘qi’ and love) neuromechanical, neurochemical, and social network effects as contemplated in the intelligent CHME/IRC platform?
- What is the relationship of these forms of feedback and serendipity, especially across communities?
- At what point does the compounding Resilient Multiplier Effect measured by theIntegral Resilience Quotient (IRQ) reach a tipping point? How can we know?
Next: Humor and Resilience
Smiles and Tears
Some smiles are all sunshine as the following link of Louis Armstrong displays.
But if we look closely at Louis Armstrong’s face in this video can we not detect through his smiles a hint of suffering and tears? We must not assume they are so very far apart. Often in life sunshine and clouds travel together.
Dale Carnegie’s Poem
“It costs nothing, but creates much. It enriches those who receive, without impoverishing those who give. It happens in a flash and the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. None are so rich they can get along without it and none so poor but are richer for its benefits.”
“It creates happiness in the home, fosters goodwill in a business, and is the countersign of friends. It is rest to the weary, daylight to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and nature’s best antidote for trouble.”
“Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed or stolen, for it is something that is no earthly good to anyone ’til it is given away. And if in the hurly-burly bustle of today’s business world, some of the people you meet should be too tired to give you a smile, may we ask you to leave one of yours?”
“For nobody needs a smile so much as those who have none left to give.”
(with appreciation to TJ Fortuna)
Smiling like some delicious tincture or herb can be creatively combined with other practices.
• One such practice is the Thymus Pump. https://theheartofconsciousliving.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/the-thymus-thump-a-powerful-way-to-enhance-your-health-and-happiness/
• Another practice recommended by qigong Grandmaster, Li Junfeng is to smile into each organ, as also practiced by his friend Mantak Chia. Li Junfeng teaches how to smile into the spaces between our cells! This requires deep listening and quieting the Heart and Mind.
• I have found it is fun to smile when you encounter “things” along the path of life… a leaf, a cloud, a blueberry muffin… You might be surprised that things have a habit of sometimes smiling back!
Inner Smiling and Mitochondrial Resilience
What if it is possible to influence mitochondrial morphology, behavior, and resilience by smiling? It is a plausible hypothesis. As our scientific understanding of mitochondria increases, there is an opportunity to combine these discoveries with powerful Eastern meditative practices. It is a brave new frontier, and the good news for amateur explorers is we can find out for ourselves!
It is generally assumed that smiling is solely an external practice. However, as Masters Li Junfeng, Mantak Chia, and other teachers emphasize, external smiling is only the beginning of the journey. We can learn to smile inside each organ, between the cells, and even inside our cells. One brave new frontier is to inquire what is the effect of inner cellular smiling on mitochondrial resilience? For, after all, mitochondria are the energy factories of the cell, possessing their own DNA. Might it be possible to influence mitochondrial epigenesis by the inner smile?
Here is Master Li Junfeng’s protocol of inner smiling meditation with some insights from integral resilience practice.
• First, and foremost, do not approach this practice by seeking to accomplish anything. The real power of smiling, inner or outer, lies in non-contrivance. We are not gaming the body, mind, or heart. We are simply enjoying and gratefully celebrating being alive. By smiling we have arrived! It is an end in itself. No thought or action is required. We are here!
• Next smiling attracts and constellates love and qi. They are inseparable.
• Here your Heart energy field plays an essential role. Master Li advises we begin the practice by Quieting the Heart, symbolically “cleansing” your Mind and Heart (by the Zhong Tian movement) and then by “opening” your Heart energy field and connecting to the Universe.
• As your Body, Mind, and Heart are opening, clear, fresh, clean qi and love from the Universe can flow into your body. The flow is easy.
• Master Li advises to begin by opening the energy field at the crown of the head. At each step of the practice he advises you allow fresh qi and love to clean and wash the organs or cells in which you are making contact.
• As you proceed smiling down from your crown chakra, your Body, Mind, and Heart are becoming more still, peaceful, and quiet. Everything falls away. Only vast spaciousness, peace, and quietude remain.
• Your journey can continue by smiling into the spaces between your cells. You can imagine this space opening and opening. Please remember: You are not seeking to accomplish anything. Simply enjoying exploring some new terrains.
• The last step in this practice is to smile inside your cells, following the same protocol. Here is where your inner smiling will make first contact with your mitochondria!
• Detecting and Measuring Mitochondrial Resilience. We will soon be able to track and to measure changes in mitochondrial morphology, dynamics, and resilience within retinal ganglion cells (RGC) of the eye by using adaptive optics. Technological advances in adaptive optics (AO) and optical coherence tomography (OCT) will hasten over the next few years a grand integration and synthesis of best scientific and wisdom healing practices and traditions. https://ssir.org/articles/entry/seeing_the_big_picture_in_medical_science
• Pain Management. It is likely the same or a similar practice of inner smiling can be applied to pain management. NIH has announced resilience as the “new paradigm” for pain management, and smiling is a powerful means to build such resilience (https://resiliencemultiplier.com/guide/laughing-heart/resilience-and-pain-management/)
Again, you are not trying to manipulate anything. Paradoxically, the likelihood of pain abatement may be directly correlated with our not seeking it. Simply smile and infuse love and qi into your pain. Detach and observe the process.
Basic Reference: https://resiliencemultiplier.com/guide/laughing-heart/mitochondrial-resilience/