Last month when I went on a yoga retreat. Along with daily yoga practice, we also focused on overall wellbeing and good health. Amidst our conversations came up the topic of smiling.

At the end of each yoga practice session, we were told to finish by putting a smile on my face. Smile, even if it’s forced, because the mind doesn’t know the difference. The endorphins are released anyway.

In principle, I agree. However, in that moment, at that time, I did not want to smile. Moreover, the instruction to do so was one that annoyed me. So what should I do – smile anyway or be true to myself and just express whatever it was that I wanted to express.

The dilemma started to really bug me. Sure I was there for myself, but in the end, I was part of a group. Wouldn’t I be throwing off the group dynamic by refusing to smile? Would my fellow retreater-ers  think that I was being unfriendly, unkind, and just plain old grumpy? Could I get away with not smiling without having to share my story — or would I just have to grin and bear it? Besides, would the mind really believe I was smiling if I was also doing an internal eye roll at the same time?

While the intention behind the smile exercise was genuine, I found it torturous for me in the moment that I was in. There was something about being told to smile — for who? Why should I smile just because somebody else told me to. Aside from that, even though I knew this was a specific exercise, asking me to (force a) smile was assuming that I was not ok with the expression I had. It was assuming that I needed to smile to feel … different from how I was already feeling.

Seeing as the whole smile issue was giving me quite a bit of anxiety, I went to speak to our yoga instructor. She knew that I was grieving and that I was quite anxious in general about being in a social setting. She assured me that it was absolutely ok not to smile. She also reminded me that I was there for myself and that I should do whatever I needed to get the most of the experience – even if that meant not participating or sitting off on my own.

I truly appreciated her support and her understanding. It also gave me a bit of courage to not be afraid to express myself. I was still respectful and aware of those around me, but I felt more empowered to do what I needed to do to heal … and for me, that involved a lot of quiet time, a lot of writing, and not much smiling at all.

My takeaway from all this – be true to your feelings. Be honest (with yourself and others) about your intentions. Trust that those around you will understand … and if they don’t, then it is a good opportunity to practice your communication skills … and if they still don’t get it, then that’s ok too. This is your life to live. Live it how you want. Smile if you want to … and don’t if you don’t!