The inner smile is the expression of Shen or spirit into the Tai Chi form or chi kung exercise. The smile feels like a sense of warmth inside and behind the eyes. It is as though you are greeting a close friend, who you haven’t seen for a while. It is the feeling of warmth that comes from that smile. The smile should not be expressed fully through the mouth, but there will be a hint of feeling in the muscles at the side of the mouth.
The warmth of the smile should extend from the eyes through the whole body, feeling the warmth in every part of the body. This can be practised as a relaxation exercise, feeling the warmth spread down and relax. The relaxation will come naturally as you smile to the eyes and then can be extended down the body. With practice the effect of the inner smile in relaxing will come immediately. So that when you stand at the start of the Tai chi form or exercise you can smile to the eyes and feel the relaxation.
The feeling of warmth should continue throughout the form or exercise, but without any conscious effort. It can be practised in isolation, keeping the feeling in the eyes, and returning to the inner smile when the feeling is lost. The inner smile need not be at a constant level and should reflect the yin and yang elements in the form. The inner smile will be expressed through the eyes. Normally the eyes will follow the movement, feeling the inner warmth. The eyes should not be focussed on anything. In the yang elements of the movement the eyes should become one-pointed, almost staring, and looking in the direction of the focus of the movement, do not actually focus the eyes on an object. In the yin elements the eyes should soften, almost cowed and looking down, this should be subtle and not obvious. While this can be practised, it should become natural, so that it can be part of the form without conscious effort.
The eyes are the outward expression of the shen or spirit. The eyes will reflect the level of spirit being expressed. The inner smile can be used more widely in everyday life to express a feeling of warmth. This is not about expressing warmth falsely, but about finding your own natural warmth and letting it be expressed.
Inner Smile exercise
Standing or sitting, feel the warmth of the smile in the eyes, and then feel it behind the eyes. Let the warmth develop for a few seconds and then let the feeling of warmth slowly descend through the body relaxing muscles as it does. Take your time feeling the warmth in an area before moving on. The sequence should be flexible, but should be something like: eyes, jaw and mouth, throat and neck, shoulders ad upper back, heart and lungs, arms, wrists and hands, chest muscles (softening the breath), spine, lower back, abdominal area, buttocks, legs, ankles and feet.
Feel the tension drain out of the body into the earth. Let go of negative emotions and negative thoughts, let them drain into the earth too. Relax and stay in the feeling of relaxation for as long as possible. Finish by imagining new refreshing energy rising up from your feet to the Tan Tien, filling the Tan Tien and then extending to the whole of the body.