Over the past few years, and thanks in no small part to TikTok, face yoga has become one of the most discussed above-the-neck sculpting techniques. While #faceyoga has now clocked over 500 million views, celebs from Meghan Markle to Gwyneth Paltrow have already touted the powers of facial fitness designed to lift and tone muscles naturally. There are even instructors teaching lessons IRL (we talked to them), with sessions popping up on ClassPass and apps like Luvly creating personalized face yoga routines. But what is face yoga and what are the real benefits?
What Is Face Yoga?
“Face yoga is a description for exercises performed to tone and stretch facial muscles,” explains Dr. Amy B. Lewis, a dermatologist and certified yoga instructor based in New York. A more holistic approach to face sculpting than fillers and injectables, “face yoga has become extremely popular among existing yogis and newcomers,” she says. Annelise Hagen, the author of The Yoga Face, is a certified yoga therapist who’s been teaching and studying face yoga since 2005 (and traditional yoga since the early ’90s). “Muscles lose mass and volume with age, so target-exercising face muscles as one would the body will sculpt, firm, and plump,” Hagen says, noting that anyone can practice its methods “with caution and, hopefully, supervision” in the same way they would traditional workouts. “An older person can still drive benefit from practicing yoga techniques that promote facial rejuvenation, and a younger person can cultivate habits that will last a lifetime—plus prevent sags that could happen with atrophy and lack of exercise.”
How Face Yoga Works
Face yoga is a gentle form of strength training for your face and neck that typically concentrates on one of the 57 facial muscles (or groups of muscles) at a time. “The more you repeat certain face yoga exercises, the more you may notice that the muscles and skin start to tighten,” Lewis says. She mentions three main ways that face yoga may work for you: First, by stimulating muscles to improve their tone and tightness. Next, by increasing circulation and blood flow, “which helps skin heal and appear healthier,” and finally, by reducing strain and tension in facial muscles “that are being contracted constantly during stress.” And while there are myriad versions to try, “the key to all of them is not to scrunch your face or squint a lot while doing these exercises,” Lewis says. “The focus should be on lifting and expanding instead.” She suggests practicing for at least 20 minutes a day for six weeks to see the benefits.
The Benefits of Face Yoga
Face yoga exercises aim to tone and lift features, soften fine lines, and even reduce facial asymmetry. Alice York, a yoga and meditation instructor at Chicago’s wellness club Biân, came to the practice in 2015 through an internet search for how to fix asymmetry “after seeing a photo of myself where my mouth looked more than a little unbalanced,” she says. Now, York combines it with facial massage (a French pharmacist favorite) and NuFace microcurrent sessions. “When I’m being diligent, I can see a little more lift and more tone after a few weeks,” she says. Similarly, in a study that dermatologists at Northwestern University published in 2018, women who practiced face yoga exercises for 20 weeks were perceived to look up to three years younger. Lewis also likes face yoga’s potential to ease tension, which can be good for headaches, and says tightening the neck and jawline is “a possible perk.” That’s something Hagen has seen firsthand: “People really can sculpt their neck and have a carved profile,” she says, adding that relaxing tensed muscles can create a “calmer, happier” resting expression she calls “vacation face.”
When to Start Face Yoga
To start your own face yoga practice, York recommends @faceyogamethod for short instructional videos and incorporating exercises “as an extension to your wash-and-moisturize regimen” in the morning or at night. After applying a face oil or moisturizer for a bit of slip, “you can kick off your face yoga practice by doing a little warm-up and treating yourself to tapping and self-massage,” she says. “Rather than using fingers, tap with your finger pads and flat hands,” she says, emphasizing that the movement should be delicate and “not a slap.” Begin at the clavicles, move out to the shoulders, up to the jaw, sides of the neck, and continue tapping down the back of the neck. “Go to the hairline and tap down to the brows, then you’ll very, very lightly tap the under eye area.” She notes that this, along with gentle facial massage, helps with lymphatic drainage “and makes the skin more pliable for movement.”
A Beginner’s Guide to Face Yoga Poses
Here, Hagen and Lewis share tips for improving posture, stretching muscles, and releasing tension to guide beginners through a few basic poses.
Hagen developed this pose to encourage holding the head over the spine and shoulders in a “neutral position,” since many common facial issues are “symptoms of bad posture.” For the pose, she suggests that you actually “wear a crown or put a book on your head and practice an excellent, regal posture,” and practice cultivating a “mysterious smile” that gently flexes the mouth without squinting the eyes. “This will elongate the neck, drop the shoulders, and lift the chin.” She suggests this for anyone spending a lot of time leaning over tech devices.
The Lion Face
One of the most well-known face yoga exercises, Hagen likes this one as an “overall facial stretch that also helps tone the eye area.” To start, “breath in and scrunch all your muscles” from head to toe, including “face, fists, and buttocks,” then “exhale and stick out your tongue and widen your eyes, and repeat three times.”
This brow workout and tension reliever starts with creating a C shape with your hands and placing them over your eyes “as though you were holding binoculars.” Next, gently position index fingers above eyes “so that they are parallel to your eyebrows, and rest your thumbs under your eyes just above the cheeks,” Lewis says. Next, “Pull down on your eyebrows with your index fingers while you try to raise your forehead, making your eyes wide and hold for two seconds, relax, and repeat five times.”
This article was originally published on Vogue US.