Beauty

Yoga for a Younger Face

“I worked with one woman for six weeks, and her daughter thought she’d gotten a facelift,” says Gary Sikorski, certified facial-exercise instructor and founder of Happy Face Yoga in Providence, Rhode Island. Sikorski’s exceptionally smooth skin and defined jawline belie his sixty years, and he says he’s seen thousands of clients go from jowly and droopy to considerably more lifted and firm in less than two months.

What Sikorski teaches goes beyond making funny faces—it’s resistance training for the muscles in the face. It’s not as far out as it may sound: Moving your limbs against oppositional weight either from your own body (yoga is an excellent example of resistance training), dumbbells, or elastic bands is one of the most strengthening and toning forms of exercise; the same principles are being applied to the muscles of the face.

Sikorski’s exercises target muscles below the facial skin and fatty layer, so that as the skin and fatty layer start to sag, the bulked-up muscles beneath compensate for the age-related volume loss. “People are obsessed with getting rid of wrinkles, but there are other, possibly more pronounced signs of aging—the eyes narrowing, the mouth turning down, pouchy cheeks,” says Sikorski. “My exercises help lift everything up.”

Indeed, they’ve been recently studied scientifically: Dermatologists at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that consistently practicing Sikorski’s facial yoga can make people look up to three years younger. The twenty-seven female subjects between forty and sixty-five years old did the exercises for thirty minutes daily for eight weeks, then thirty minutes every other day for the remaining twelve weeks of the twenty-week study. The before and after photos are utterly convincing; the subjects look like younger, almost photoshopped versions of themselves. Their skin isn’t merely smoother and tighter, it somehow exudes a youthful flush you don’t often see in people past the age of twelve.

“The primary mechanism is growth of the small muscles of the face, but it’s possible that a collagen boost may also occur,” explains Dr. Murad Alam, the vice chair of dermatology at Northwestern University, who led the study. “Any microtrauma—such as the mild irritation to the skin that facial exercise may cause—could result in the body laying down more collagen, making skin look more supple.”

Perhaps most exciting about the premise of facial exercise are its tremendous implications. It could potentially be used in combination with dermatologic procedures to garner even more profound skin-perfecting results: “If facial exercise improves volume and fullness, then less filler may be required, or the effects of injected filler may be more beneficial,” muses Alam. In the same way many derms encourage patients to start with neuromodulators like Botox before lines set in, facial exercise could be used preventatively. The only downside, if it can even be called that, is that face yoga requires some effort. It’s more tiring than one might imagine to hold certain expressions (though dramatically less painful and expensive than filler or injections).

Sikorski is sharing four of his most-crucial face exercises with goop readers (he also sells a collection of DVDs here). Do all four, or focus only on the exercise that relates to the area you’re targeting, for ten to fifteen minutes a day. It’ll likely be six to eight weeks before you see improvements. Be aware that compliance is critical—and that results vary. “How long it takes to see a difference in your skin is sort of a loaded questions,” says Sikorski. “Every face is different, and if you drink and smoke and are in the sun all day, it’s going to take a long time for you.”


THE ADVANCED FACE FIRMER


This exercise is used to help firm the entire face and specifically three major muscle groups—the temporalis (they’re on either side of the head above the ears and used when chewing), the orbicularis occuli (the big muscle surrounding the eyes; its main function is closing the eyelids), and the zygomaticus major (the facial expression muscles that allow us to smile and lift our cheeks). This is easiest to do while lying down.

  1. Form a long “O” with your mouth. Fold both your upper and lower lips over your teeth.

  2. Smile with the corners of your mouth lifting and your cheek muscles drawn up firmly.

  3. Place your palms on your cheeks with your pinkies resting at the corners of your eyes. Then press your fingers across your temples, applying firm pressure. Pull your fingers up, toward the back of your head. This will pull the corners of your eyes up and out.

  4. Close your eyes. Pull your chin forward away from your face. Feel the pressure at the corners of your eyes and feel your cheeks and scalp tighten.

  5. Hold for twenty seconds. Relax.

  6. Repeat three times.


THE HAPPY FACE LIFTER

This exercise is meant to promote circulation in the face muscles, neck, and scalp, as well as help relieve stress and increase youthful vitality. It works best standing up.

  1. Form a long “O” with your mouth. Fold both your upper and lower lips over your teeth.

  2. Smile with the corners of your mouth lifting and your cheek muscles drawn up firmly.

  3. Close your eyes, and roll your eyeballs up toward your scalp. Adjust your mouth to make the “O” as small as possible. Smile again to further tighten your cheek muscles. Slowly tilt your head back.

  4. Now tighten your abdominals and buttocks, and lift your chest, contracting all your facial muscles.

  5. Slowly raise your hands up and over your head as you visualize lifting all fifty-seven facial muscles off your body. Keep smiling and looking up, all fifty-seven muscles lifting up towards the ceiling. Concentrate and focus by taking long, deep breaths.

  6. Hold the position tightly for thirty seconds. Exhale as you let your hands and head drop down toward the floor. Slowly roll your body back up.

Do this exercise two times a day.


THE JAW AND NECK FIRMER

This exercise helps strengthen the group of muscles located on, around, and under your chin (including the triangularis, depressor labii, mentalis, and the platysma). Working them may help tone sagging cheeks and droopy jowls, as well as strengthen your jawline.

  1. Begin by smiling.

  2. Open your mouth and make an “ahh” sound. Fold your lower lip and the corners of your lips into your mouth and hold them tightly. Extend your lower jaw forward.

  3. With your lower jaw, make a scooping-up motion very slowly as you close your mouth. (Imagine using your jaw to scoop up something very heavy.) Pull your chin up about an inch each time you scoop, tilting your head backwards.

  4. Open and close your lower jaw ten times. On the final repetition, your chin should be pointed toward the ceiling. Keep the chin extended and hold this position tightly for twenty seconds, while visualizing the sides of your face lifting.

Repeat twice.


THE CHEEK LIFTER

Gravity pulls our cheeks down, and this exercise is designed to help lift them back up by strengthening all the muscles in that region: the levator labii superioris, caninus, and zygomaticus major and minor. This will also help keep the upper lip defined.

  1. Open your mouth and form a long “O.” Fold your upper lip over your front teeth.

  2. Smile to lift up your cheek muscles.

  3. Place your index fingers lightly on top of the cheek muscles, directly under your eyes. Relax the cheek muscles, allowing them to return to their original, relaxed position.

  4. Smile again to lift the cheek muscles back up. Visualize pushing the muscles up towards your eyes as you smile. You have just completed one “push-up.”

  5. Do ten more “push-ups”.

  6. On the tenth one, hold your cheek muscles up as high as you can. Imagine that your cheeks are moving up from your face towards the ceiling.

  7. Take your index fingers and move them up over the scalp. (This helps as you picture your cheek muscles moving up.)

  8. Hold this position for tweny seconds, while looking up towards your fingers. If you tighten your buttocks during these twenty seconds it will help to push your cheek muscles even harder. Release and relax.

Repeat three times.

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