He Smiles with His Liver

Dear Health-Conscious Reader,

“Keep reading, Sandy.”

My assistant looked back down at the glossy brochure covered with photos of tropical paradise.

“…But the city of Yuba is a far cry from the bikini beaches of Kuta in the south.”

“So maybe you should stay in Yuba.”

“Are you crazy?” I laughed. “What’s the matter with a bikini beach?”

I was looking for a place to start my trip to Bali because I knew I was going to the remote town of Ubud. I had made three important connections who all lived there.

The first is Ni Wayan Lelir (Nee Why-an Lee-lur), a herbalist and fifth-generation traditional healer. I’ll be writing more about her to you, and we’ll be working with her to develop some formulas you can’t get anywhere else so we can re-circulate some of the lost wisdom of the Balinese healers.

I would also meet with her husband, I Made Westi (Eye Mah-dee Wes-tee), a farmer who is trying to reestablish the traditional and sustainable form of Balinese farming. He inherited some land that his grandfather and father used to farm in the traditional method. But in his generation, everybody switched to using fertilizer. It’s devastated the other crops, and I’ll be sharing more about that with you, too.

My third contact is probably the most famous man in Bali. His name is Ketut Leyir, the healer who helped Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Eat, Pray, Love. You might remember the movie starring Julia Roberts.

But you can’t get to their home of Ubud by plane. It’s in the middle of the Balinese jungle. So I decided to begin my journey in Kuta. It’s easy to get to because it’s a popular Australian surfing hangout.

From Kuta I traveled deep into the middle of the densest, greenest rainforest I’ve ever seen. It was there in a quaint little village I got my last little bit of luxury before heading even farther into the jungles of Bali.

I’ve been in hotels all over the world and have had the privilege to stay at the very best. The Breakers in Palm Beach, the Ritz in Manhattan… in L.A. I’ve stayed where the Hollywood rich and famous stay. But I have to admit this Four Seasons was the most incredible hotel I’ve ever stayed in.

The hotel is a collection of buildings and cottages built into the cliffs that hang over the banks of the Ayung River. Just getting to the lobby you have to cross a bridge that hangs 70 feet over the lush, dense greenery and the rushing water far below. Every level you walk down to is open to the air – even the restaurant and rooms.

There were plants on top of plants, and the mood is set by the sound of the river. I could have spent the entire time just relaxing there. But it was time to trek even higher and deeper into the jungle so I could meet with Ketut Leyir.

He’s 96 years old now and only has like three teeth. He jokes about it in Eat, Pray, Love. I love the line where the main character says to him, “You need to come to America,” and Ketut tells her, “I don’t have enough teeth to travel on an airplane.”

Ketut was very interested in my coming there. He said he had a dream I would come, and he made a big deal of it. He told me that he’s a ninth-generation healer, and that he was happy I wanted to write about him and his ancient practices.

Ketut is a Balian. These are the traditional healers who have studied books inscribed on palm leaves called Lontars – the sacred healing texts of the Balinese. The Lontars have descriptions of illnesses, how to diagnose them, and how to cure them.

Like most Balinese, Ketut is Hindu. But Balinese Hinduism has a bit of Buddhism mixed in so they have a more introspective approach than most Hindus. They have a lot of things right, and it’s a good way of looking at the world. So I want to share something simple from Ketut’s Balian wisdom with you that you can use for yourself.

One thing you notice right away about Ketut is that he smiles all the time. In Eat, Pray, Love, he wonders why people don’t smile more. He says, “Why they always look so serious in yoga? You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clear away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver.”

It may sound strange, to “smile in your liver.” But Balians are taught that illnesses coming from inside the body are caused by disharmony. To create harmony, Ketut’s tradition teaches that in your work and daily routine you want to make sure you are doing something that helps other people. It’s also important to maintain and strengthen your relationships.

And the way you begin creating this kind of harmony is to smile. Turns out there’s more to smiling that you might think. Scientific studies consistently show that smiling boosts immunity, increases positive emotions, reduces stress and lowers blood pressure.1

To help you get all the benefits of smiling more, here’s a traditional Balinese exercise called “inner smile.” You can do it sitting up or lying down.

  • Start by inhaling through your nose. Hold your breath for a moment, then exhale through your mouth. While you’re doing this, feel your muscles start to unwind, and simply visualize the word “smile.”

  • As you continue to breathe slowly, focus your concentration on the muscles of your eyes. You tend to hold a lot of tension in the muscles of your face. Relax these muscles, and focus on how they feel when you smile.

  • Now, imagine this feeling moving up towards your brow, around your ears and over your head. As your face starts to relax, bring the corners of your mouth up into a gentle smile.

  • Direct this inner smile into every part of your body. If you feel tension anywhere, just concentrate your smiling energy there until all your fear and worries drop away. Continue until your smile reaches all the way down to your toes.

Do this often enough, and you’ll promote healing in your body, and you’ll smile more like Ketut does. Even in your liver.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

1 Ekman, P., Davidson, R.J., Fiesen, W.V., “Emotional expression and brain physiology,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1990;58,2,342-353