While there are various intentions behind practicing yoga, many people come to the mat to release stress and tension while coming closer to their inner selves. Yoga is typically thought of as a whole-body practice, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Yogic practices that target the muscles of your face are an ancient Indian practice with a variety of benefits you will be able to see and feel, but does it actually work?
Facial yoga, or Sukshma, does actually work and does so releasing the tensions that you are carrying in the muscles in your face. By releasing this stress and tension, you have the short-term benefits of a fresh, radiant glow and the long-term benefits of healthier, younger-looking skin.
When you feel the stress melt away from tension points in your face, you may not need any more evidence that there is something to this ancient tradition. However, if you’re still a skeptic, Western medicine has begun to study these practices scientifically, empirically measuring how they can help us look younger. The rest of this article will look at the wide range of benefits, from both the Eastern and Western point of view, that facial yoga can provide for its practitioners.
What Happens When You Practice Facial Yoga
With some simple daily practices, you will feel the benefits immediately and begin to see the positive effects over time. Facial yoga works from inside out, getting to the root of the stress and tension contributing to aging your skin and dulling your complexion. By doing these practices, you are approaching your skincare in a holistic way. That’s something that products like masks and other external treatments cannot provide.
You may be wondering by now, what is actually happening then that is so beneficial to my skin? Your body responds in a variety of ways as you engage in these exercises. Let’s take a look at the physiological components of what facial yoga is doing underneath the skin.
Increased Blood Circulation
As you engage in these exercises, you will naturally increase the blood flow to different parts of your face. As the blood is flowing more freely, it will trigger the natural production of new skin cells, collagen, and elastin in your skin.
Collagen is a buzzword in the beauty industry these days since it is responsible for keeping your skin hydrated, healthy, and elastic. Collagen supplements and products are popular among those trying to improve their complexion. By stimulating this production naturally, you can boost your complexion without spending a dime on beauty products.
If you are suffering from various skin problems, from general dullness to patches of dry skin or even acne, poor blood circulation may be a contributing factor. Increasing the blood flow to your face will help let oxygen and much-needed nutrients reach their destination and give you the best natural glow your body has to offer.
Toned Facial Muscles
Like any other muscle in your body, when you exercise your facial muscles, they will get stronger and gently become more toned. This can result in a more youthful look for two reasons.
First, the toned muscles will be more noticeable in different, desirable ways. You may notice the evidence of your facial workout in the form of plumper cheeks or perkier corners of the mouth. Your neck may become more elongated, or the natural lines in your face may become less accentuated. This is simply due to your facial muscles following their natural design; these exercises help maximize their strength and potential.
Second, more toned muscles will reduce the appearance of wrinkles on the skin. As a muscle becomes toned and slightly bigger, the skin over it becomes tauter as it hugs the muscles more tightly. This will smooth out existing wrinkles, making them less deep and noticeable.
Release of Accumulated Tension
The stress that we feel day after day can accumulate and become stored in our face, resulting in us looking worn out and lacking vitality. By moving our face in ways that release this tension, our vibrancy can naturally come back to us. By building a regular habit of facial yoga, we can manage the tension that regularly calls our facial muscles home.
By building this practice, we go beyond just releasing face-related tightness. Daily stress release practices will help with overall mood and well-being by allowing us to go through each day with less tension and aggravation. With an uplifted mood and facial muscles that are relaxed and cared for, you are taking preventative steps against the development of new wrinkles.
An Eastern Perspective: Philosophy Behind Sukshma
When approaching the topic of skin health through the lens of Eastern Philosophy and Medicine, it is necessary to take a more holistic approach than we typically do in the West. Ayurveda, an ancient Indian approach to healing and health dating back over 5,000 years, requires a holistic approach to any facet of health. Instead of treating individual symptoms, it is necessary to find and treat the root of the problem.
Ancient practices approach complexion troubles by requiring treatment that would target the internal issue causing the problem, not by just treating the skin externally. This type of healing believes that the body can heal itself, and the goal is to stop us from interfering with the body’s natural healing processes.
For example, if stress and tension are not released in this positive, productive way through facial exercises, it will find another less-appealing way to come out. When people are grinding their teeth or yanking out their hair through stress, it is a way of releasing the stressful emotions that are overloading the body.
Instead of waiting for the stress and tensions to become this extreme and burst out of us in a way we cannot control, Sukshma practices give the body a chance to release stress naturally and allow the body to come back to its balanced state. Not only does this feel much better than letting the stress overtake you, but it will make you look better, too, with the physiological reasons we have discussed above.
Sukshma comes from the ancient Sanskrit language and can be translated to “subtle” or “dormant.” This type of yoga takes its name since the exercises are gentle and subtle but can produce profound effects on the body.
According to ancient yogic philosophy, these practices are designed to cleanse and activate your pranic channels. Prana is also understood as the flow of breath that gives you life and is central to traditional yoga asanas as well as the facial yoga we are currently discussing. As yoga legend B.K.S. Iyengar once said, “Prana neutralizes the fluctuations of the mind and acts as a springboard towards emancipation.”
By cleansing and fully utilizing your natural pranic flow, you are not only releasing stress and tension physically from your face but the deeper layers of your mind as well. By going to the root source, you are freeing yourself not only of mental agitation in the moment but learning how to release it regularly. And when there is no stress in mind, the stress will not show itself in the body, particularly in the face.
A Western Take On Facial Yoga
For people raised in the Western world, it can be difficult to accept the promise of more open pranic channels as a sufficient reason to try something new. Without being raised in these traditions, it is easy to be unsure of them. In order to be more appealing or convincing to those of us who have been raised in the Western world, it is beneficial if there is something empirical to prove that these yogic practices are doing the body good.
Luckily, a study specifically examining the effects of facial yoga has been done by Northwestern University. A group of dermatologists at the Feinberg School of Medicine became interested in the topic of facial yoga and its effect on youthfulness and conducted an experiment.
Let’s take a look at what was studied. The group of participants was all women between the ages of 40 and 65 years old. These middle-aged participants were enrolled in a 20-week program that required them to practice 30 minutes of facial exercises daily. After several weeks of daily practice, they were instructed to perform their routine every other day.
After this five-month test period, before and after photos of the women were examined by the dermatologists. The results were generally positive across the study’s participants. They were able to conclude that, on average, the women appeared to look three years younger by following the exercise routine. This study and its conclusion offer the first scientific proof that practicing facial yoga does, in fact, work and will give its practitioner desirable, youthful results.
Try It Out: Facial Yoga Practices
The great news about this type of yoga is that you don’t need a mat, yoga pants, or any special physical ability. You can do these practices anywhere, anytime, with whatever you are wearing or doing. Perhaps even before an interview or a place you will go to make a first impression, you can try out these exercises to give yourself a natural glow and radiance. Here are some exercises you can try right now as you’re reading:
Facial Yoga As Taught by Art of Living
To learn some of these exercises for ourselves, we will look at some of the best practices shared by the world-famous well-being organization, Art of Living, based in Bangalore, India. Art of Living’s founder, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, is known throughout the world as a humanitarian and teacher of breathing and meditation practices designed to bring health to mind and body for all.
These practices can be especially useful to loosen up and relax before moving on to move asana practice or sitting quietly for meditation.
This exercise will let you massage your eyes to release tension stored around them. First, you’ll need to close your eyes. Next, place the thumb of each hand on each corresponding eyelid. It works best if you make two fists with the thumbs pointing up.
Now, starting gently, move your thumb in a circle on your eyelid. Only apply as much pressure as it is relaxing and de-stressing. You can do this for anywhere between 1 and 3 minutes.
Now it’s time to strengthen the muscles around your eyes and in your forehead. For this exercise, we are essentially blinking in an exaggerated way.
Start with your eyes open as much as they can be, feeling like you are exposing the maximum amount of white in your eyes. Then, quickly squeeze them shut. You can repeat this until you feel like your eyes are about to water. Rest for a moment and repeat. You can continue like this for a few minutes.
Here, you will be puffing your cheeks out as much as possible, targeting and strengthening their muscles. Take a deep breath and puff your cheeks out as much as you can. Stay like this for several seconds and then breathe out. Repeat several times, feeling the gentle burn inside your cheeks as you continue.
Now it’s time for both the muscles in the cheeks and around the mouth. Start by smiling as much as you can, showing your teeth as widely as you can. Then, quickly, pucker up, making a pouty kissing face. Continue going from a wide smile to a kiss 20 to 25 times.
It may start as a forced smile, but after a few repetitions, you will undoubtedly be smiling for real!
Now it’s time to release facial tension by tugging at your ears! Start by holding ear lobes between your thumb and index finger. Slowly, for about 30 seconds, pull them down. Then hold them again, this time pulling them out to the side. You can rotate them as well, going both clockwise and counter-clockwise.
Facial Yoga As Taught by Happy Face Yoga
Now let’s have a look at some exercises taught by Gary Sikorski of Happy Face Yoga. The exercises taught by Happy Face Yoga, an American company, were the exercises used in the Northwestern study of facial yoga. Let’s look at these exercises that Northwestern Magazine has shared with us that have been scientifically proven to help us look younger.
As Sirkorski instructed the participants of the study, each exercise can be performed for about a minute. They learned 32 different exercises to fill a 30-minute exercise routine and strengthen muscles throughout the face. Here are a few to get you started.
To strengthen all the muscles of the cheeks that tend to get pulled down by gravity, you can practice the Cheek Lifter. First, open your mouth into a smile, and keep opening it into a large “O.” Then, take your lips and fold them over your teeth while lifting your cheeks as much as possible.
Slowly, move between pushing your cheek muscles up and letting them relax. You can think of each one as a “cheek push up,” repeating for several repetitions.
Happy Cheeks Sculpting
This exercise is also targeting your cheeks as well as the muscles that surround the mouth. Begin here by smiling with your mouth closed, making sure not to show your teeth. Squeeze your cheek muscles up as much as you can.
Then, place your fingers on the corner of your mouth. Slowly slide them up over your cheeks, and repeat. Each repetition should take about 20 seconds. Continue like this for about a minute.
The Eyebrow Lifter
Now it’s time to target the muscles in your forehead, around your brows. Begin this exercise by placing three fingers below the hair of your eyebrows, pushing the skin upwards. Begin to smile while pushing your brow down against your fingers. Your eyes can start to close as you scrunch your face in this way, allowing your eyes to roll back in your head.
Hold this position for 20 seconds, then relax. Continue to repeat for about a minute.
A Few Bonus Exercises
If you’re enjoying the exercises presented by Art of Living and Happy Face Yoga, here are a few bonus exercises you can try. For a visual explanation, you can check out expert Danielle Collins teaching the exercises below and more in her Marie Curie UK video:
Now it’s time to focus on the muscles holding up our neck and jaw. Standing up straight or sitting straight, elongate your neck and gently tilt your head back. Place both hands where your jaw meets your neckline. Slowly, applying pressure, move your hands down your neck. When your fingers reach your collar bone, stop and press your fingers into the bone. With your head still titled back, pout your lips and hold this position.
You should feel a gentle burn in the front of your neck, where the muscle is currently being toned and strengthened, after holding for about 20 seconds, release and relax your head back to its natural position. Feel free to repeat this process a few times to really focus on your neck and jaw muscles.
For this one, we will be making contact with an acupressure point. By applying pressure to these points, you are stimulating blood flow and circulation to that particular spot. So, to perform this exercise, take your pointer finger and press it between your two eyebrows. Simply hold it there, breathing deeply in and out.
Without losing track of your breath, begin to rotate your finger in small circles on that point. You can move clockwise for a few rotations, then try counter-clockwise. You should feel a wave of relaxation as stress melts away from this point in your brow. This is a simple exercise you can do anywhere and anytime to help keep stress in check during your day.
Other Holistic Tips for a Youthful Complexion
As with traditional yoga practice, you doing the physical activity alone will only give you a portion of the possible benefits. Diet and lifestyle are also a large component of maximizing the healthy body and mind you are aiming for on the mat. This is no different when maximizing the benefits that facial yoga can offer.
Eating for Healthy Skin
Consuming fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors is always an ideal way to boost your overall health. It is no different for your skin. Eating leafy greens, fresh oranges, or avocados will be much more beneficial for your skin than eating processed or refined foods.
By now, we know that junk food isn’t good for us or our skin. But sometimes our idea of junk food can be limited. Remember, any processed food or “dead” food, as it is called in Ayurveda, can contain hidden ingredients that are harmful to your skin and health. To avoid refined sugar, excess salt, harmful additives and fats, stay away from pre-made or packaged food. Choose fresh, real food every chance you get.
Eliminate Unhealthy Habits
Drinking, smoking, and drug use are not good habits for our health and certainly are not good for our skin. Regular use of any of these substances can speed up the aging process and contribute to the wrinkles and dullness you are working to counteract with the facial exercises. This is because they break down blood vessels and make it difficult for oxygen and nutrients to be delivered accurately to the skin on our faces.
As you start your daily practice of facial yoga, it is an excellent time to reconsider your relationship with harmful substances that exacerbate the appearance of wrinkles and age on your face. Let’s look at some healthier habits you can start to build as you cut back on your unhealthy ones.
Establish an Exercise Routine
Giving you the opposite effect of drinking or smoking is exercise. When you exercise, you are improving the blood flow throughout your body, making sure the needed nutrients are reaching every place they are needed.
The more active your workout is, the more you will get the blood flowing and the nutrients circulating. However, more importantly, is that you find something you enjoy. Think of a type of movement that brings your joy and start there. It might be as simple as dancing to your favorite song or going for a walk around the block.
Once you start with small amounts of exercise, generally you will feel more energized and can move on to something more vigorous. Avoid exercise that makes you feel like you are punishing yourself. Instead, choose something that gives you joy and that you are excited to participate in each day.
Organic Skin Care
While we are thinking about skincare in a holistic way, we should also touch on what you are applying to your skin externally. If you are taking care not to ingest chemicals into your body internally through processed food, it is also worth looking at what you are applying to your skin.
By switching from chemical scrubs and lotions to natural options, you are doing your best to not interfere with the body’s natural process of caring for one of its most vital organs: the skin. You can purchase organic skincare products or consider some extremely natural options, like the Caveman Regimen, where you apply nothing to your face, allowing your skin to self-regulate.
While this one sounds simple, perhaps it is more difficult to put into practice than something concrete like dietary changes. As you begin to change your habits, it is a wonderful moment to examine your internal self-talk to see if you can improve the messages you send to yourself. By becoming aware of the things we tell ourselves on a daily basis, we are able to see if we are talking to ourselves with the same love and respect we would talk to a close friend.
To create more positive self-talk, try incorporating some daily positive affirmations. By messaging yourself positive, loving thoughts, you are creating a lighter, happier mental state. When you are feeling good on the inside, you will naturally glow more brightly on the outside.
As we have seen through both Eastern and Western perspectives, facial yoga is sure to benefit you and your complexion. It will be working on the inside and the outside, both releasing stress you will be happy to get rid of and improving the physical condition of your face and skin.
The practice of spending a few minutes every day caring for yourself and releasing unneeded tension will lift your mood. In a happier, lighter mood, you are more likely to smile, laugh, and engage in life in a meaningful way. You will move through your day shining with radiance, each day improving the quality of your facial muscles and skin. It’s one of the few ways actually to grow younger as opposed to older each day!
- Art of Living: Facial Yoga Exercises for a Smiling You
- The Ayurvedic Institute: A Brief Introduction and Guide
- Calm With Yoga: How to Increase Prana Energy with Breathwork
- Happy Face Yoga: How Face Exercises Work
- Healthline: Top 6 Benefits of Taking Collagen Supplements
- Huffpost: How Sukshma Asana, or Yoga For the Face, Allows You to Destress Anywhere
- The Love Vitamin: How to Do The Caveman Regimen
- Northwestern Magazine: Facial Exercises Fight Appearance of Aging
- ReFa: How You Can Improve Blood Circulation to Give Your Face A Natural Glow
- Yogapedia: What is Sukshma?
- Youtube: Face Yoga: 6 Easy Exercises To Do At Home
- Youtube: Look Younger With Happy Face Yoga Exercises
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