By Luis S R Vas
Face yoga is the latest fad to hit the us, and it consists of several yoga exercises for the face, calculated to smooth away wrinkles, bring a glow to your face, and melt the age away
When Susannah Troy first tried facial yoga, she had no idea what to expect. The 45-year-old New York City resident was mainly searching for a little inner peace when she ventured into class nearly a year ago.
“I was over-stimulated with city living and was trying to restore myself,” Troy recalls. “I needed to clean out all of the anger and toxicity that had built up inside of me.” Spiritually, she found what she was looking for, but was also pleasantly surprised with something she calls the “fringe benefit” of her practice. “People tell me I have never looked younger or prettier. It’s a late-in-life miracle.”
Troy is not the only one feeling and looking better after face yoga classes, which are geared toward those who want to look younger without the intrusiveness and cost of surgeries or painful injections.
It’s no wonder that face yoga classes are so popular, especially in urban settings in the West.
Men and women in all age brackets are seeking out facial yoga classes in the hope of softening wrinkles, lines and creases that already exist, and preventing new ones from forming, says Troy’s instructor, Manhattan-based Annelise Hagen, author of The Yoga Face. Hagen says she has no shortage of students hoping to take a few years off their faces.
A few of Hagen’s devotees, mostly in their 50s, have even discontinued their usual Botox injections in favour of facial yoga. “There’s no need for Botox,” says Hagen. “Here you’ll see better results.”
Some of Troy’s favourite exercises include rolling the tongue to make vibrating sounds, and exaggerated yawns to release the jaw muscles. “We also laugh a lot out loud and blow kisses to send love around the room,” she says.
Leta Koontz, owner and yoga instructor at Schoolhouse Yoga in Pittsburgh, also incorporates facial yoga into her classes. “We hold a lot of tension in our faces,” she says, “so if we can consciously learn to relax those muscles, and to reduce the overall stress in our lives, the end result is almost the same as Botox.”
This latest yoga trend isn’t without its critics. “Relaxing your face is an important part of yoga because the face is an indicator of tension in the rest of the body,” says yoga expert Rodney Yee, who’s made more than 30 yoga DVDs and is co-owner of Piedmont Yoga in the San Francisco Bay area. “But to claim that this is the same as a facelift is commercialism.”
“Yoga is designed to touch every muscle in your body,” says Kahley, 51, of Fox Chapel. “But what I realised was that it wasn’t affecting my face.”
The publishing industry has been quick to sit up straight, breathe deeply, and take notice. Besides Ms Hagen’s book, there is The Yoga Facelift, by Marie-Véronique Nadeau.
“Nothing is going to have a lasting benefit like Botox or filler or collagen injections,” said Dr Dennis Gross, a Manhattan dermatologist, the author of Your Future Face, and the creator of a skin-care line. “But there are short-term improvements,” he said.
“Facial stretches and yoga temporarily reduce the neurological impulses associated with stress, and the grimaces that lead to the lines in your forehead,” he said. “The plumping of your lips is more a massage, and only adds colour for a few minutes.”
And once the foot hits the pavement during rush hour, or the BlackBerry is back in hand, the face automatically tenses up, and the benefits of deep breaths and relaxation wear off.
“If you already have a wrinkle or a frown line, relaxation isn’t going to erase that,” said Dr Richard Elias, an oral and maxillo-facial surgeon on the Upper East Side.
On the other hand, Dr Elias said, there is no physical downside to facial workouts. And, he added, the exercises might help with prevention.
“Jowls, sagging under the neck, creases at the mouth, are all signs of aging that most probably will not be helped by a yoga class,” he said. “If you make the muscles in your face bigger it will not make sagging skin tougher or tighter, nor will it help remove fatty deposits. Only a face-lift can do that. When you do a face-lift, you’re removing fat and loose skin, and pulling some skin back.”
“I know I’d see better results if I practised the exercises at home,” said Anne Starr, a banker who has taken the Revita-Yoga class for more than a year. “The title intrigued me, and I love the anti-aging qualities the class offers. The fact that I’m working muscles I’m not conscious of, paired with the yoga techniques, makes me feel I’m doing something really beneficial for my face and body.”
“When we smile in a relaxed, natural way without crinkling our eyes, we tone and eliminate wrinkles,” Ms. Hagen said as she waved goodbye to several students. “I don’t teach a smiling exercise since it happens naturally when the session ends.”
Hagen’s hugely popular one-hour-long yoga classes include deep breathing exercises, inversion positions, meditation, and facial exercises including eye movements borrowed from Kathakali.
“The eye movements mean a lot in Kathakali. I use some of the traditional movements from the Indian dance to help exercise the ring muscle around the eyes,” said Hagen.
“Everyone in India probably already knows that yoga has more holistic benefits, and anti-ageing is just the side benefit of pursuing yoga. But I was finding a way to simply tweak everything for a Western audience, and dial it up a notch for anti-aging,” said Hagen, who started learning yoga as a 10-year-old when she visited an ashram in California with her mother.
Hagen’s facial exercises include the Lion Face (open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue for 60 seconds); Smiling Fish (fill your cheeks with air and blow it out like puffer fish), the Marilyn Monroe (purse your lips coquettishly and blow kisses while keeping your forehead smooth) and the Satchmo (puff out your face and transfer air from cheek to cheek) to increase blood flow.
Try them out
Here are some facial yoga postures to try at home.
Take a slow, steady inhale of breath and constrict every muscle in your body: your toes, your buttocks, your fists – everything. On a slow, steady exhale, relax those muscles, stick out your tongue, widen your eyes, and open your hands. Repeat three times. On the last repetition, try to hold the exhale position for 30 to 60 seconds to really stretch your tongue. According to Hagen, this is excellent for circulation to the face as well as a great way to release tension in the jaw – which she says tends to lead to wrinkles.
Stand with your legs in a wide stance with toes pointed slightly inward. Bend forward until the crown of your head touches the mat. Gently rest your thumbs on your chin, and place your fingers near your cheek. Koontz recommends inversions for a healthy complexion. “The blood pressure in your head rises, and the body reacts by lowering your blood pressure level,” she says. “Your heart beats slower, and your blood vessels dilate, or relax.”
Sit in any variation of the lotus position you prefer, and place your pointer fingers on the outer edges of your eyebrows. Then slowly and gently pull your eyebrows away from each other, and at the same time, close your eyelids. “This is like natural Botox!” says Koontz.
Twist times two
To develop the muscle tone in your face, Koontz recommends twisting your face when you twist your body. Once you are in a twisted position, lift your cheek and press your lips to the same side your body is twisting. At the same time, gently stretch and relax the muscles on the opposite side of your face. Repeat for other side.
The face yoga routine
It’s hard to get with this yoga thing when you work at a desk all day. The only trouble is we get tired, tense and lethargic.
Here are three exercises that will get you a little more relaxed and feeling fresh, without taking your fingers off the mouse or keyboard.
Alternate nostril breathing
• Close the right nostril with your right thumb, and inhale through the left nostril. Do this to the count of four seconds.
• l Immediately close the left nostril with your right ring finger and little finger, and at the same time remove your thumb from the right nostril, and exhale through this nostril. Do this to the count of eight seconds. This completes a half round.
• Inhale through the right nostril to the count of four seconds. Close the right nostril with your right thumb and exhale through the left nostril to the count of eight seconds. This completes one full round.
To strengthen your eye muscles, and in turn decrease eyestrain, try doing Yoga eyes for 10 seconds.
If you focus and refocus your eyes on objects at differing distances, this will offset eyestrain and can even slow the deterioration of your vision.
For example, look up from your work and gaze out a window into the far distance, then shift your focus to something at close range, even a streak on the window glass itself.
This one’s a little more fun and lighthearted, but it’ll contribute to your relaxation and good humour. You don’t have to be a yoga freak; just let loose with those facial expressions and afterwards, your face will thank you.
Eye socket massage
Eye socket massage is for relieving tension and stress from areas around the eyes. It also relaxes the eyes, and surrounding facial features. This exercise needs to be repeated for at least 3-5 times and the massage is easy to practice, which gives your eyes a better relaxation.
For practising this yoga exercise, place both the index and middle fingers of your hands on either sides of your nose just below the bridge. Rub your fingers up to the bridge and along the eyebrows.
You will feel an indentation in your eye socket. Try to continue that indentation for a moment. Do it smoothly, and follow the line of your socket and back to your originating place beside your nose.
You can improve circulation in your cheeks by squeezing cheeks and grabbing bits of flesh.
Relieve tension in forehead and jaws
One of the great yoga exercises for face is for relieving tension in your forehead and jaws that could lead to headaches. Make use of your middle and index finger of both hands, and keep them in the middle portion of your forehead.
Rub your forehead gently by making small circles with your fingers, and continue the massage across your brow to your temple, where we hold tension, and give that area a gentle massage.
Move down from your temples to the pivot of your jaws, another place where we hold stress and tension. Continue the massage with small circular movements along your jawline and across your cheeks, up your nose and finishing at your starting point. This yoga exercise works well especially for those who compress their jaws when under stress.
Improve blood circulation
This exercise helps to increase blood circulation, muscle relaxation, and relieves anxiety as well as stress. Try to clench or tighten your teeth and open your lips as wide as you can. Stretch your lips, cheeks, chin and neck to their limit. Hold and release. Continue the exercise for some time.
These are a few simple ways of using yoga exercises for the face to release stress and tension in your face, shoulders, and neck.
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