It is definitely true that a South East Asian smile is uniquely powerful. I’ve only visited Thailand and Cambodia but I’ve also met tourists from Korea, China, Japan, Malaysia, India and Singapore while travelling. Smiling is much easier here it seems, I have felt its effects much more deeply every time and have had it returned a thousand fold.
When a Thai woman or man greets you with their gorgeous Sawadee Ka they often place their two palms together on their heart, bow and smile. It is impossible not to feel happy endorphins flowing through your body as you bow back. In fact the very saying of Sawadee Ka opens and relaxes one's face into a smile.
Smiling is great for the brain as it switches on the vagus nerve (our parasympathetic trigger) and slows down the whole nervous system, releasing happy hormones.
I remember cycling in Siem Reap back from visiting temples at Angkor at rush hour and sensing my stress levels rise as I was faced with the messiest traffic of motorbikes, push bikes, tuk tuks, cars, trucks going in all directions including counterflow. And then out of the blue this woman cycling across gave me the most gorgeous smile from deep within herself and I just completely melted. I could literally feel my whole being relax, my heart open and even an urge to cry my anger and frustration cradled with this compassion pouring from within. I cycled the rest of the way held by that beautiful inner smile, resourced again, and so grateful.
A genuine, soulful smile is such a priceless gift to another being, and to oneself too.
If any of you read Umberto Eco's fabulous book, The Name of the Rose or saw the movie, you know that smiling, laughing was perceived in the very catholic occidental Middle Ages as very suspicious indeed, the work of the devil even.
Contrast this with the Inner smile meditation of the ancient Tao tradition. You let your awareness travel from one organ to the next, visualising them smiling at you and you smile back at them. It is exquisite. Starting with the heart, then the lungs, liver, gut etc… When you open your eyes again, your whole being smiles, you feel embodied, present, resourced and radiant inside out.
So smiling is seen as a spiritual and therapeutic act and is very much part of the cultural "substrat" in South East Asia. You only have to look at the much revered Buddha, who's perpetually beaming from within, free from suffering, to understand why smiling is so powerfully significant and so effortlessly common here. What a great spiritual and physiological mirror!
So as I am about to leave this part of the world in the next couple of days, I thought I would write about the land of smiles that is Thailand but also about all the other smiles from all the other Asian countries I came across.
They played such a great part in my almost constant happiness and I am convinced that they affect the energetic field of these countries too. If we consider their societies as giant organisms, I would argue that smiling is a key ingredient, a gene even, in their cultural/societal original matrix.
I am so resourced still from their felt memories imprinted in my tissues and my deep self. My eyes are dancing from within and so is my soul.
Here are photos gleaned along the way. I hope they make your whole being smile too.