In an era of Botox and dramatic interventions often leading to frozen expressions, interest in lessening signs of aging on the face through non-invasive yoga has grown. Long Islanders have long flocked to yoga classes, drawn by the health benefits to both their minds and their bodies, but now a growing number of yogis are applying the same principles above the neck.
Annelise Hagen is a New York City-based yoga instructor who has a special interest in the mind and body connection. She sees yoga as therapeutic for women’s health issues like fertility, hormones and beauty. It occurred to her that the face should respond just like the body to yoga’s methods of strengthening muscles, increasing blood flow and balancing energy. She developed a system she calls “Yoga Face,” which she has been teaching in classes, individual consultations and with a book and dvds.
Long Islanders can head to the Upper East Side to attend an in-person face yoga session, but it’s a practice that easily lends itself to a do-it-yourself routine. Annelise recommends getting professional instruction once to learn the poses and basics before continuing at home. Her clients—half of whom are male—can also consult her via Skype for specific tips and troubleshooting. Her basic offering is a one hour private lesson, a combination of breathing and facial exercise instruction that targets individual clients’ specific problem areas. Annelise revealed that she herself is a face frowner, someone who holds tension between the brows and can develop so-called “11 lines,” those vertical lines between the eyebrows that can make a face look angry. She advises frowners to stay aware of how they hold their face, even when relaxed or at rest.
“The jaw line and neck are two areas that respond really well. But there are immediate results anyone will see. You will instantly look better because of the effects on the skin and over time you can lift sagging cheeks and jaw lines,” Annelise claimed. But the scientific jury is still out: No clinical trials of face yoga have been done. Still, for believers of inside-out beauty, it makes a lot of sense.
Annelise’s recommended routine is 20 minutes, 2 to 3 times per week, with more dramatic results possible after several weeks. She was inspired by research on the tangible effects of body language on emotions and sees those theories in action when observing her clients’ demeanor change after face yoga instruction.
“Women, especially, are used to going around feeling bad about themselves,” she said. “We have a fear of looking old, or silly, but the moves force you to lighten up. We feel better when we smile.”
Some of the poses are firmly part of traditional yoga, like the lion face—scrunching the face up tight, then letting it out with a giant exhalation—while others are her invention. One is the “Marilyn,” a Marilyn Monroe-esque kiss and wave intended to tighten the small puckering muscles around the mouth. Exaggerated smiles and eyebrow relaxations target expression lines like those between-brow furrows and “marionette lines” next to the mouth, bags under the eyes and overall skin quality. Working the lower eyelids up and down is supposed to tone the crow’s feet area. Annelise shows clients how to use their fingers to create added pressure for toning and lifting and tightening the whole face.
“We think of the facial muscles as involuntary, but we can train them like any other muscle. The breathing and diaphragmatic pumping is detoxifying and good for the skin. And helps improve circulation and tone,” she claimed. Fans of face yoga also believe the increased oxygen can promote cell regeneration and even stimulate collagen production, helping to fill in lines and keep skin supple.
“It’s empowering. As the mind goes, so does the man,” pointed out Annelise, who said face yoga offers an alternative to drastic surgical interventions. “It’s about noticing habitual expressions. You can smile in a way that won’t lead to wrinkles. The sooner you start, the sooner you can do damage control by being mindful… and the more in touch we are with our inner beauty, the more it shines through as outer beauty.”