I want to start by saying I’m not "anti" aging. I want to live a long life, and that means I’m going to get old. The changes that go along with that are not signs of failure. And yet, some of the more overt signs of aging—sagging skin, brittle hair, and a hopeless relationship with technology—aren’t qualities I’m exactly eager to embrace. In my pro-aging zeal, I exercise regularly, color my locks, and at least try new tech all the time. So when "Yoga for Your Face" popped up on my Facebook ad feed, despite the "anti-aging" marketing, I clicked immediately.
Soon I found myself entranced, watching women contort their faces while raving about the benefits of toning. But it was the before-and-after pictures that got me: Their faces showed a near-miraculous transformation, without surgical (and presumably Photoshop) intervention. I smelled bullsh*t.
The face exercise rabbit hole turned out to be long and winding, and supposedly lengthy enough to include both Gwenyth Paltrow and Cleopatra. It seems that this 2,000-year history wasn’t catalogued, however, until 1710, when the first face routine was published by Jeanne Sauval, a personal attendant to Ninon de L’Enclos (the French courtesan who supported both a young Molière and Voltaire). Today there are hundreds of books and videos available on the topic.
There has been no empirical study of facial exercise. While toning facial muscles is often part of the treatment for people who have had strokes or Bell’s palsy, dermatologists don’t agree as to whether or not it’s effective. Then there’s Dr. Oz, who writes in his book You: Being Beautiful (co-written in 2008 with Dr. Michael F. Roizen), "Exercising the facial muscles is a sure way to increase wrinkles." Yet in an episode of his show, that same Dr. Oz advises a person in his audience that exercising the muscles of the face will bolster the skin. "It’s a very rational thing to do," he says. But it’s Dr. Oz, so… I’ll take both pieces of advice with a grain of salt.
All this got me wondering if I could change heredity. My raven-haired mother, a heavy smoker throughout my childhood, had beautiful, unlined olive skin, even in her casket. She didn’t have an ounce of cellulite either, despite not working out a day in her life. I teach yoga and can’t get rid of those lumpy fat deposits. Would a face workout be any different? There was only one way to get to the bottom of this, and that was to try it myself. Here’s what I learned.
There is no definitive guide.
The overriding principle at work across the techniques I discovered is that the exercises should be done without wrinkling the face. If you can’t do a pose without furrows, don’t do it. As a yoga teacher, I took that advice as a cue to look for modifications (a search that took hours off my life, but that also turned up this Jack LaLanne gem, which led to the further discovery that he was considered nuts just for suggesting women could lift weights). The routine at the end of the article includes the poses I altered to work for my face.
Get a face muscle chart.
Looking at the muscles of the face helped me isolate specific areas I was trying to work on, and was also useful for relaxation and massage. Facial toning also can happen when you’re not doing the exercises, simply by being aware of the sensations made by wrinkling your mug and cutting that out. It’s the ultimate DIY Botox. The muscles between my brows are noticeably less rigid than when I started.
Face yoga is hard.
There are exercises in my routine that left me feeling completely spent. And just like yoga-yoga, each person has their own individual needs. What causes my face to wrinkle is different than what causes another person’s face to crease. That’s where the modifications come in.
This sh*t actually works.
At the end of 10 days, a crease in my left cheek was markedly fuller. I think my neck looks better too, but I’m not sure. Ten days isn’t much time, so to see results was a complete surprise.
That said, I don’t see myself doing this face yoga routine with any regularity. I liked the massage part the best, and often rushed through tensing muscles to get to it faster. But that caused my face to wrinkle in other ways. On the ninth day, my workout was interrupted and I forgot to finish. In general, yoga has been the only form of exercise that’s held my interest over the years… except when it comes to my face, apparently. Much as I want those results, my house was never cleaner. Even my laundry basket was empty. On another level, I don’t think focusing on the "problem areas" of my face is healthy. But let’s be real. If I could find a class, I’d be there in a heartbeat.*
*Though it’s easy to find teacher training for wannabe facial exercise instructors, I couldn’t find a regular class anywhere. Entrepreneurs, take note.
My Face Yoga Routine
This takes about 25 minutes. Yes, I made up the names.
Press the index and middle finger to the eye corners and squint, but don’t wrinkle or crease. You’ll feel the slight pull. Squint 50 times.
Cup the forefinger and thumb around the brow, cheek, and across the face, like binoculars. Lift eyebrows without wrinkling the forehead 50 times. Now squint 50 times.
For eliminating those 11’s between the eyes, press the forefinger to the top of the forehead, with the middle finger pushing the brow toward the eyes, down and out. The thumbs can rest on the cheeks. Lift and concentrate on the muscle, 50 times. Hold for 50 seconds.
Interlace the fingers over the forehead and apply pressure while trying to lift the forehead. Lift 50 times, then hold for 50 seconds.
Open your mouth wide, cover your teeth with your lips (hence the name), then lift the cheeks, taking care not to wrinkle the eyes. Like you’re dead inside. 50 times.
Neck and Jawline
Kiss the Sky/TMJ SPECIAL
Press the fingertips gently on the collarbones. Tilt the face upward slightly, then thrust the chin forward at a 45 degree angle, lifting over one shoulder, then center, then the other shoulder, 10 times in each direction, repeating for a total of five times. Then hold at each angle for 50 seconds. This was very hard for me, so I changed the name about halfway through.
Place one pointer finger on the trachea and other over the lips. Inflate the cheeks, then pulse side-to-side, taking care not to wrinkle the face. This should make the neck muscles visible in the neck, like strings leading up to the jawline. My sides were totally uneven, and I could see that in my face. Also, I had to really work to keep my face from wrinkling up, and could only do about three puffs per side before I had to stop and take a breath. Pulse 10 times each side and at the center.
Kiss Me, You Fool
Pucker your lips without creating smoker’s lines and tap middle and index finger on your mouth 50 times (25 times with the left hand, then 25 times with the right). I’m not convinced this doesn’t have more than a temporary effect, but I do know that jumping is good for bone density, so maybe tapping can help build collagen too).
Press on the nasolabial fold with the middle and index fingers, then smile without wrinkling your eyes. Smile 50 times, then hold for 50 seconds.
This was the least smokers’-lines-inducing nasolabial action I could find. It differs from The Hummer because the focus is on the muscles beside the mouth as opposed to in the cheeks.
Hold thumbs on the nasolabial lines while gently pressing the brow muscles (procerus) with the index fingers. Use only the muscles on the upper lip and around the nose to lift the upper lip 100 times, then hold for 50 seconds.
I had a hard time not involving my eyebrows, but would do it as much as I could without using my index fingers to press on the muscles, believing this would help me deactivate the muscles when I wasn’t exercising.
Hot Towel + Oil
Scrub the face with hot tap water, using coconut oil on the fingertips to massage the muscles. I pretty much just approximated massages I’d experiences with spa facials. There are loads of video demos online.
Third Eye Massage
Finally, press the index finger between the brows, hold for 10 seconds. Circle in one direction for 20 seconds, then the other for 20 more. Bliss.
The views expressed herein are those of the author.
Lisa L. Kirchner is the author of the critically-acclaimed Hello American Lady Creature: What I Learned as a Woman in Qatar. She was once simultaneously the dating columnist for an alt weekly, bridal editor for a society rag, and the religion reporter for a gay and lesbian newspaper. More at LisaLKirchner.com, or find her on Twitter @lisakirchner.