“If I could smile from the heart, then I wouldn’t be so !@#$%& depressed!”
I didn’t say it out loud, but I thought it really loud.
I had traveled thousands of miles to learn from a world-renowned qigong master, and I was desperate to feel better.
“Smile from the heart!” he said in his strange, Chinese-Malaysia accent.
This wasn’t just advice. He was teaching us a Zen meditation technique.
The other students seemed to get it. But I was depressed, and I didn’t.
In fact, I fought back the urge to let out a cynical laugh. Instead, I kept my cynical thinking to myself (see above).
Later in the workshop, I told the master that I was having trouble with the smiling heart thingamabob, and asked him if he had any advice.
He told me not to worry, not to intellectualize, and to just “smile from the heart”.
In other words, just do it.
For years, I tried to “just do it”. But it didn’t really work for me. I struggled for a long time.
In retrospect, having taught the same technique to hundreds of depressives, I know that it is natural for us to struggle more than non-depressives.
But I also know that this technique is critical — for depressive and non-depressives alike.
It’s like a key that turns on the ignition of your energetic healing system. It’s also the key to leading a happier life.
So yeah — it’s rather important.
Students are always telling me how Smiling from the Heart changes everything. Honestly, it may be the most powerful thing that I teach (and I teach some pretty powerful stuff!). The longer I practice, the more I realize that Smiling from the Heart is probably the secret to life, the universe, and everything.
Here’s what a student recently told me about Smiling from the Heart:
I think learning how to smile from the heart is the thing that changed my life. Experiencing it legitimized qigong for me. Someone can argue all day long about these arts being woo-woo or whatever, but experiencing smiling from the heart — no one could ever touch that with any kind of argument. That’s genuine spiritual stuff, and no one could ever convince me otherwise. – Melissa Coast
This article is my sincere attempt to help you to “get” what the student is talking about.
I’ll do my absolute best to give you a more complete answer than “just do it” so that you don’t waste years like I did. (I’ll also answer your questions below.)
Try It Now
It’s easier to help you understand this technique if you have an experience of it.
Do you have 4 minutes? Yes, of course you do!
Close your door, turn off your phone, and follow this free 4-minute meditation right now:
If you absolutely can’t do it now, then at the very least least schedule a time to do it. If you don’t put it on your schedule, then it won’t happen. Schedule it now!
If you listened to the audio, then you heard me saying following:
Smiiiiile from the Heaaaaart!
I was practically singing the words as I said them, right?
And that’s because I was smiling from the heart as I spoke!
The Flower Sermon
See, it gets confusing because the description of the technique and the name of it are the same. Really, the name of the technique is about as good as it gets when it comes to describing the technique with words.
When students ask me to explain Smiling from the Heart, I always think of the following story:
In roughly 500BC, the Buddha gave what would later be called the “Flower Sermon”. Hundreds of disciples sat in front of him, ready for another of the Buddha’s powerful sermons. But this time, he didn’t say a word. Instead, he just held up a beautiful flower and smiled.
Of all the disciples there that day, only one, Mahakasyapa, grasped the sermon. The rest were puzzled and confused. But Mahakasyapa smiled.
Seeing his reaction, the Buddha said: “I possess the true Cosmic eye, the marvelous mind of stillness, the true form of the formless, the subtle technique that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahakasyapa.”
Except for Mahakasyapa, all of the Buddha’s disciples were busy intellectualizing.
Is the flower symbolic? What does it mean? Is the Buddha referring to the different petals of his teachings? Has he gone crazy?
But Mahakasyapa’s mind was clear. Because his mind was so clear, because he wasn’t stuck in what we call the Monkey Mind, it was natural for him to smile when the Buddha held up the flower.
I mean, flowers are beautiful! It’s actually weird NOT to smile.
Here’s a photo that I took on our ranch in Florida:
The Origins of Zen
The Zen tradition started roughly 1000 years after the death of the Buddha. Bodhidharma, the 1st patriarch of Zen, summed up his teachings as follows:
- Not recorded in language or words.
- Transmission beyond the tradition.
- Directly pointing at the mind.
- Entering enlightenment in an instant.
Not coincidentally, all of Bodhidharma’s teachings also apply to Smiling from the Heart:
- Smiling from the Heart is difficult to describe (or record) in language or words.
- Smiling from the Heart requires a transmission to really get it (like the audio above).
- Smiling from the Heart points directly at the Zen Mind (and skips over the Monkey Mind).
- When you Smile from the Heart, you feel it in an instant.
From Heart to Heart
During his Flower Sermon, the Buddha was doing more than just holding up a flower. He was projecting energy and information. There was a broadcast on that day 2500 years ago — a transmission that Mahakasyapa received, and the others missed.
The Buddha’s disciples blocked themselves that day. Like the Buddha’s disciples, many modern students struggle with Smiling from the Heart. If you are busy worrying about how to do it, or if you giggle thinking that it’s silly, or if you wonder whether the smile should be on the face or not — then you’ll miss what we call the heart-to-heart transmission.
Why? Because thoughts and worries will block the flow of qi (or energy). Until you let go of your thoughts and worries, until you are able to stay in the Zen Mind, you’ll continue to be baffled by Smiling from the Heart.
11 Reasons to Stick With It
Look I understand that it can be hard to understand Smiling from the Heart. I’ve been there.
I’ve done my best to explain in words something that can’t really be explained in words. But it may not be enough. Some of you are probably still scratching your heads. And that’s fine — as long as you persevere!
So until you get it, until you are able to grasp Smiling from the Heart beyond words, maybe I can inspire you to just keep on trucking. Here are 11 things that you can look forward to once you get the hang of Smiling from the Heart:
- It gives you an instant shot of happiness, no matter what else is happening in your life.
- It is the real secret to healing with qigong, tai chi, and meditation.
- It boosts oxytocin levels and lowers blood pressure.
- It activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).
- It’s the ultimate, all-purpose spice for life. Everything is better when you Smile from the Heart (including food and sex).
- It instantly creates more inner peace.
- It’s the ultimate tool for creating more focus.
- It’s great for creating healthier relationships.
- It’s a powerful stress-buster.
- It’s an effective way for athletes to get into the “zone”.
- It feels awesome!
When you finally get it, when you suddenly realize how life-changing this one technique can be, then please contact me and say, “You were totally right!”
Or if you already recognize the awesome power of Smiling from the Heart, then go ahead and leave a comment below so that you can inspire others.
Note: This article was original published in 2012, but was completely revised and updated in 2016. Best regards, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong (pronounced "chee gung") to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. Today, I'm the director of Flowing Zen, an international organization with students in 48 counties. I've been teaching qigong since 2005, I've served on the board for the National Qigong Association, and I’ve helped thousands of people to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. If you're ready to get started with qigong, there's no better way than my best selling book, which comes with free videos and meditations. The sooner you read my book, the sooner you can start healing! Click here to see my book on Amazon.
Since learning Smiling from the Heart, and practicing it regularly, I’ve found that it sneaks up on me sometimes. I’ll be doing something really mundane like loading the dishwasher, and out of nowhere my heart smiles on its own. I think of them as sudden attacks of joy and peace. 🙂 They are like the exact opposite of a panic attack, and they are awesome!
Sifu Anthony says
“Sudden attacks of joy and peace.” I love it!
Damian Kissey says
🙂 from the Heart : The Key to more then just a happy demeanour !
Sifu Anthony Korahais , You are totally right !
Sifu Anthony says
Thank you, sihing!
Great post, thank you Sipak.
Smiling from the heart,
Mark Blohm says
This article is great beyond words : )
You are a great teacher!
Smiling From the Heart : )
Sifu Anthony says
Thanks you, sidai!
Sharon Wyman-Rogers says
When I’m Smiling from the Heart, everything is right!
Hi, great website, thank you for the info. Open heart meditation is a meditation especially for smiling from the heart. There are open heart groups now in many cities around the world. I have only been practicing 4 months but have already had so many beautiful experiences of feeling the love and connecting with true source, the creator. One bit of advice I will give is physically smile to your heart while meditating, just keep smiling and you will feel your heart to begin to open. It also helps to touch your heart energy centre with a few fingers, located in middle of your chest at armpit height. Much info in the form of books and websites on this very special practice. “key to life” I think so too 🙂
M. (Portugal) says
«Has he gone crazy?» – I laughed from the heart 🙂
Kinda difficult to my Western mind, but I’m catching this philosophy little by little. And Sifu Anthony is a great teacher, that makes learning a great experience.
Thank you, I was feeling really down today when I read this article. as I read it I began to smile from the heart and It really helped, the sun also appeared to be shining just a little brighter.
Another thing I noticed, and maybe you already eluded to, is that Smiling from the Heart puts you into an instant Qigong state of mind!
Great article! I know I’m a little late to this article but I have a question. It may sound fairly weird but I haven’t got a better way to describe it. Whenever I smile from the heart, I feel as though I am full of bubbles of tinglyness that are floating up my body and getting stuck under the top of my skull. Do you know what I’m talking about and, if so, can you tell me more about this? I don’t know if it’s good, bad, irrelevant, or what.
I’ve gotten.the smile from the heart…and I can do that when I’m “in the moment”, but, for example, a day like today is difficult. Waited 2 hours for an oral Surgeon appointment and had to leave due to another upcoming appointment, totally different waiting a morning…wife calls telling me she has no clue when she’ll be home tonight…..did qigong…released some physical stress…but I’m still awfully cranky right now….and my heart doesn’t feel.like smiling… 🙁
Thanks a lot for this Sifu… I have noticed that sometimes during intense periods of practice the emotions can get out of control and you end up having a hard time while cleaning emotionally, this technique is wonderful to balance things … the truth is that although it is extremely difficult at first achieving it , it is worth insisting , in my case, Two years later, sometimes ( rarely ) even flowers for itself 🙂 who knows in a few years …
In the beginning ,when I heard you say it I said to myself what is this?then I tried to imagine it, then I tried seeing it, then I tried looking at a flower. All this in my mind. And now after a few weeks it is there and so soothing….. It really empties my mind ….
Dominic Kwan (Dee) says
Awesome, Sifu. I’d like to smile all the way to enlightenment. You have a great voice too.
Debora Giarrusso says
Hard to say in words, hard to say in English (I’m italian) … I started to cry and laugh together, and a joy without no reason invaded me. Thank you so much
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Cynthia L Cortez says
If you are trying to relate to how you might feel, think of it this way. It is the way a woman feels inside when she first finds out she is going to have a baby, or the way a man feels when he holds his newborn child for the first time, or the way you feel and your pet feels when you give hugs, or the happiness you feel when you perform an act of kindness that brings a smile to someone who was struggling, or…, I think you get the jest of it.
But the key is to feel this way all over internally each and every day, like the beauty of nature living within and the sun glowing inside and the rays flowing out of all the poures from your head to your toes. It is all about feeling the sensation of joy and beauty and not using visualization. This is the true Zen. : )
For those who are struggling to understand “smiling from the heart,” I hope this helps.
I followed the guided meditation. When you said smile from the heart I just smiled without any effort. But what was strange a few minutes later I just smiled for no reason. There was joy and happiness but also tears kept flowing. As I write this a smile creeps up with tears. Strange! Would love to understand from you what is happening.
Thank you for this. Wonderful
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Hi Mahendran. I’m glad that you felt wonderful! It sounds like you opened up the energy of your Heart Meridian. This is a good thing! Keep up the good work!
Dylan C says
Out of almost 7 years of exploring relaxation/happiness techniques, this one gave the strongest emotion of euphoria and relaxation at the same time.. I feel truely lucky to have stumbled upon this. Thank you 😀
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
That’s terrific, Dylan. So glad you found something that works for you!
I assume you’ve seen my free training, but here’s the link just in case: https://flowingzen.mykajabi.com/p/the-art-of-self-healing-workshop
Ahh, I see.
Sometimes trying leads to……..nothing.
At times this year I’ve really felt my heart opening & blossoming.
I’d hoped to return to this by following your guided meditation, but it seem it isn’t happening today 🙁
Thank you. This is something I experienced since I was a child, smiling while hugging people and toys I loved. It feels wonderful to be able to guide the feeling and grow the ability to smile from the heart.
Ishan das says
This is sort of strange. I had this experience on my own (before coming to the “flowing zen” site). And I began looking for spiritual traditions that taught such a practice, because I wanted authoritative confirmation that I was onto something very valuable. But I could not find it in the traditions I looked into. Then, I got the idea that if I studied qigong, I would have more vitality. And when learning with you (Sifu) I came to see that you are teaching the “Inner Smile”, which is exactly the confirmation I was looking for. Studying with you and practicing every day what you are teaching is a very powerful reinforcement for me. Even if forget to smile from the heart, just by beginning the opening sequence, your instruction takes me back to square 1 where it all begins to happen. It is like I found my family. My smiling heart family. Now I know that “happiness is a choice”. It has nothing to do with external circumstances. It is totally an inside job. I do forget. But I always find my way back. One of my goals in life is to live from the heart that is always smiling. Thanking you.
Jeffrey Lewis says
That was amazing. I’m not sure if this is actually what happened, because I haven’t learned Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow, but I swear I entered that state on my first attempt. I’ve been practicing meditation on-and-off since I was 8, and because I suffer from depression, I wanted to put all my knowledge into completely entering this state of being. And I didn’t even make it to the end of the guided meditation before I felt overwhelming glee enter my body, I felt completely still yet I could feel myself rocking. I had a huge doopy grin and tears in my eyes. It was so overwhelming I lost my focus and had to restart the technique. The second time wasn’t at the same level as the first, but it was definitely Smiling From The Heart. I almost feel like I went through an emotional overload from my first attempt. I am wondering if you’ve heard of/seen this before. As I said, I suffer from depression so I didn’t expect this produce immediate results. So I ignored and closed my mind to any thoughts/expectations/emotions/everything and focused solely on your voice guiding me through the exercise. I’m 18 and 10 years ago my mother gave me a book on Chi meditation when I told her I wanted to be a Ninja. So I’ve been practicing sitting meditation and achieving a blank state of mind for 10 years-ish and I do wonder if that practice clearing my mind caused me to go over-board or something. I almost feel lost without that feeling now. Like a withdrawal from a drug.
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
I think you’ll do very well with qigong, Jeffrey. I hope you’ll take my 101 program some day. It’s perfect for you.
Sifu, I was feeling really angry and stressed out just now. So I searched on “depression” and “qi gong” and found your site. I’ve been seeing a Qi Gong teacher for four years for physical problems, but I’m bipolar, so I have recurring deep, crippling depressions. I’m not in a depression right now, but I’ve been having a terrible day.
When I read what you had to say about Smiling from the Heart, I just instantly did it. I sent my intention from my brain down to my heart and said, “Hi heart! Let’s smile!” And my heart and brain hugged each other. Big smile! Ahhhhhh…. Thank you so much!!!
This is such a gentle “exercise” and full of ease. It really is a tool to melt you into the Universal Heart.
I might be late to the (comment/reply) party, but I would like to share my best insight to this meditation.
I too struggled with depression, and I had a deep hatred for myself. I didn’t want to move on in this life anymore… I tried, and I tried and I tried. I was so forceful in everything I did. Not knowing what this really did, I moved further and further away from inclusion, immersion, totality. Togetherness…
I tried to reach the ultimate through ego, through effort. Through Fighting.
I became an Island. An isolated, dry, love-less and lonely island.
It suddenly came to me one day, that I became open. Receptive. Effortless…
I don’t know where it came from, or why it came at that time, but it was nearly at the brink of my own self-destruction. I couldn’t live with myself anymore.
Now, when I tune into my heart, and merge with that effortless, beautiful silent gem, I forget myself.
I disappear, and I find myself…
It’s so ironic, isn’t it? When I am not, I am.
When I am not, the birds are singing, the mountains are smiling. The clouds are waving, and the flowers are shining. The world, this gem of wonder is smiling at me, to me, through me. Out of me. Inside of me. Once this portal has somehow been entered, there is no how, there is no “technique”. There just is, isness. Totality. It becomes transparently clear, that this is me. That this is my natural self and being.
Forget this not, my friends. The effortless dimension of your being is forever yours, and forever is there for you. It is you! The mind sneaks back, has to define how, to structure it somehow and know it intellectually. This again creates the dreadful feeling of separation, of HOW! How to reach it.
Melt… Melt and let go. Forget yourself, and merge in the ocean of the Beloved.
“A knife can cut many things, but it cannot cut itself”
You cannot perceive the self, you can only be the self.
Ooops, this went on too long… It felt good to just let my heart pour out and go on by itself.
Thank you, Anthony, for this incredible article. It stirred up my heart again, with truth and ecstatic well-being and joy. Thank you.
Love you all.
Priscilla Peck says
I have been exploring Qi Gong for the past 4 years and recently enrolled on a correspondence course here in the UK, as all the other courses here are so expensive to attend, literally works out at thousands of pounds!
I’m a Hatha Yoga Teacher and have loved my yoga practice for over 30 years, but when I found Qi Gong it was like ‘coming home’ again; the practice dovetails so well with my yoga. Also I’m now over 60, ( with a brain of a 35 year old), but Qi Gong seems to loosen all the ‘cranky, creaky’ parts of the body and especially helps me mentally deal with daily stress, anxieties and sometimes sadness.
I only found your link and website recently, but I love your words and descriptions, this one ‘Smile from the Heart’ particularly struck a chord with me and I just wanted to write and thank you for your inspiration. I will continue with my studies and research, but will always be following you now as your words really resonate with my thoughts and understanding.
Once again thankyou and Namaste
Priscilla (from the UK)
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Glad it was helpful! To be clear, I did not invent “smiling from the heart”. It’s an ancient technique.
Sue Kranz says
Thank you for your passion and generosity of heart, spirit, and practice!
I strongly resonate with your story, and as well as the above reader/writer stories.
Many years ago I saw a poster in my Sangha’s meditation room that quoted the Buddha:
“Is your smile the source of your joy? or
Is your joy the source of your smile?”
I never forgot this and have practiced the half-smile practice for years. I found that your exploration of “smiling from the heart” and the above-guided meditation deepens my heartfelt sense of the power of this practice!
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
I like that quote, but I’m not 100% sure that the Buddha said it. Anyway, it’s good advice!
Jennifer P Fife says
I feel this! My fiancee calls me a happy girl, and I think this is what he is seeing in me. Sometimes I don’t feel so happy, I have borderline personality disorder, but I truly “try” to stop and smile and take in all of the beauty around me, in physical form, with my senses, smelling a horse, hearing a bird, the deliciousness of a grapefruit, the feel of the earth on my feet, the presence of relationship with animals… I shouldn’t say “try”, I just Do. Even to watch a wasp crawl up and run his little tentacles together like he’s excited about where he’s going…. Anything can make me smile from the heart 💓
Santiago arcon carballo ( oak chest) says
I knew this one, just happened to me and a friend of mine when we were young and went to climb a little mountain 4 am after having half acid each. It wasnt the drug but the whole setting of time, place and people made it happen and last until at least i got back to city, abd forgot quite soon. One gets to understand the nature will and to be humble but able to choose to be vain, at a price of course. Then well , got bigger and identified with my projection more and more to become more like a ghost than a living being. But now i feel slowly coming back, thanks for this joy. I remembered that everyone, especially homeless people realised of the state and really wanted to “test” me or maybe just get a little energy wich i gave, but there are too many of those around here, also i became progresively vain or to say it otherwise, the form progresively replaced the ritual. I feel it would be way more easy to smile with the heart in the nature or a little town, altbough i believe the ritual isnt affected by anything in particular as its everything or anything compromised in such act. Also there is a posibilitt we are talking about different things! Anyway thanks for the sensation and memorie, hopefully (def not ready yet) i ll remember the lesson until i have a full day of smiling to start, really miss those, wish you peace!
Like Inner Smile, one in the same me thinks and it’s wonderful!
I just started to get the hang of smiling from the heart and atm i try to practice it as a often as i can during the day. I guess its many levels of this skill and the benefits, and i just started to peel of the 1st layer, What i notice so far is the moneky mind calms down and i feel more present, but the biggest thing is i start to yawn when i practice it. Not sure why but i do…..
🙂 with a smile from the heart
/Niklas from Sweden