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Face Yoga: Fountain of Youth?
When Susannah Troy first tried face 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: Americans are obsessed with discovering the fountain of youth. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Americans spent a whopping $11.5 billion on cosmetic procedures in 2006.
Men and women in all age brackets seek out face yoga classes in hopes of softening wrinkles, lines and creases that already exist and preventing new ones from forming, says Troy’s instructor, Manhattan-based Annelise Hagen. The author of the soon-to-be-released The Yoga Face (Avery, 2007), Hagen says she has no shortage of students hoping to take a few years off their faces.
While traditional yoga poses can also help you look more youthful by stimulating anti-aging hormones, face yoga is generating a lot of buzz.
A few of Hagen’s devotees, mostly in their 50s, have even discontinued their usual Botox injections in favor of Downward Dog. “There’s no need for Botox,” says Hagen. “Here you’ll see better results.”
What do you do in a face yoga class?
Which poses comprise a face yoga sequence depends on who you ask. Hagen teaches a combination of traditional yoga postures along with face-specific exercises formulated to combat wrinkles through relaxation and tension reduction, and to tone the muscles as a preventive measure.
“Through repetition and resistance, you can be proactive when it comes to the aging process,” says Hagen. “I tell my younger students that if they do this now, they won’t have to worry about damage control in the future.”
Some of Troy’s favorite 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 face 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.”
Koontz does not devote an entire class to face yoga, but rather incorporates face-specific poses along with breathing and meditation into about 20 percent of the class. When it’s time to practice the more traditional yoga positions, she gently reminds participants to keep those facial muscles relaxed. “It’s very synergistic,” she says. “Whatever the body is doing, it continues into the face.”
Is face yoga all it’s cracked up to be?
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 inclluding streaming yoga videos and is co-owner of Piedmont Yoga in the San Francisco Bay area. “But to claim that this is the same as a face-lift is commercialism.”
Although Yee advocates incorporating relaxation of the face muscles into an ongoing yoga practice, he worries about people who are practicing yoga simply for the hope of superficial benefits.
“That is the antithesis of yoga, pretending to be something that you’re not,” he says. “There is a beauty in becoming older.”
Koontz admits she was a bit apprehensive about incorporating facial postures into her classes because of the shift in focus from the interior to the exterior. “Yoga is about what’s on the inside,” she says. “But we, women especially, care about our appearance, so I look at it as just another way to benefit from yoga.
“Plus, it might bring people into the studio who would never have tried yoga,” Koontz continues. “Maybe they sign up because they are interested in looking younger, but they stay when they realize all of the other benefits yoga has to offer.”
Whether it’s external beauty or internal fulfillment, it seems those who practice face yoga and see results are unlikely to hang up their sticky mats anytime soon. “I have never felt so beautiful,” says Troy, who credits her positive vibe to an inner spiritual energy as well as what she sees in the mirror. “I definitely enjoy the fringe benefit of looking better — I am only human.”
Face Yoga Poses to Try
Here are some face yoga postures to try at home, courtesy of yoga instructor Leta Koontz. Her DVD, Fresh Face Yoga, will be available this fall.
Lion Face (pictured at top of page)
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 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.