[Ed. Note: While this is the writer's personal recount of her experience with myofascial release, fitness expert Christine Bullock notes that there is no specific scientific evidence published at this time to support claims that a stretch in the body can translate to medical or cosmetic benefits for the face. This claim is not generally supported by the medical or fitness community.]
I damaged my coccyx as a child, which means I can't sit on certain chairs or do certain exercise moves, and I have a standing desk in the office. It's painful and annoying. And while I find a permanent fix, I've been going to see Suzanne Wylde, creator of Moving Stretch. Her treatment, a mix of walking massage and active stretching, also known as myofascial release, helps alleviate my pain. It's also incredibly stress-relieving—she cracks my back and stretches tight muscles, and I come out feeling as though I'm walking on air.
The aim of the treatment is to stretch and release the fascia that surrounds and runs through my muscles. "Fascia is like a big net or cobweb," says Wylde. "It's a bit like scaffolding for your muscles. In younger people, the fibers in fascia are neat, but in old or sedentary people, it gets into a big tangle."
So how can a body stretch affect your face? "Fascia runs through the whole body and connects the muscles in the face to the muscles in your body. Although in Moving Stretch we do not directly stretch the face, the stretches release the fascia that can pull on the face, making it look older and tired. By stretching the fascia, we can make the face more lifted, youthful, toned, and even make it glow. And although there is a couple of leg stretches in here, bear with us! They are great for faces," explains Wylde.
So while I go to Wylde to alleviate my coccyx pain, a welcome side effect of all that stretching is that my face looks brighter after a 60-minute session. I asked Wylde to share her favorite body stretches that give your face a lift.
Keep scrolling for her favorite moves.
To ensure you are releasing your fascia correctly, follow these simple guidelines: "The muscles should move continuously throughout the movement. We do not hold the stretches at the end, and we never push through pain," says Wylde. "Also, rather than tensing as much as we physically can, we do around 50% to 70% of our maximum, so we get a pleasant sensation, just as we do when we yawn and stretch."
Quad and Hip Stretch for Sagging
"The quads and hips link to the face in quite a specific way. I have one client who every time we stretch her quads, her sinuses open. It affects the shape of the face. The quads are a large area of muscle and massively pull down on the front of the face, which can make it look slightly saggy," says Wylde.
How to: Stand with a chair or step behind you and your foot on it. Keeping your knee as straight as you can, pull your foot down into the chair to tense your muscles while you smoothly bend your standing leg to stretch. Come back up easily and do seven to 10 reps.
Hamstring Stretch for Radiance
“By releasing your hamstrings, you release the fascia up the back of the body and scalp, which has a good effect on the face. [In some cultures and beliefs], the spine is linked to energy levels—the more energy you have the more radiant and less drawn you will appear,” explains Wylde.
[Ed. Note: There is no evidence to confirm that the spine is linked to energy levels, although this concept is accepted and practiced by certain cultures and religious groups.]
How to: Stand with one foot out in front of you on a table, step, or another secure surface. Bend the upper leg’s knee as much as possible, and while you continuously pull that foot down and back into the table with the toes pointing up as much as is comfortable, smoothly lengthen your leg by sticking your bottom out behind you. Return to the starting position easily and do seven to 10 reps on each side.
Overhead Shoulder Stretch to Boost Circulation
“This works in a similar way to the previous stretch but targets the fascia on the sides of the body and the sides of the face. It helps the face to appear more relaxed, and you get more blood circulation into the area too,” says Wylde.
How to: Grip a yoga strap, belt, or towel above your head firmly in both hands. Your arms should form a "V," so try to make sure you are holding the strap in the correct position. With your hands pulling continuously apart from each other to create tension, move your hands backward, keeping your elbows straight. When you have gone as far back as you can comfortably reach, return easily to the starting position to complete one rep, and do six to nine reps in total.
Chest-Opener for Tension Release
“All the fascia across your chest connects up into the jaw and mouth. When you open up the chest it releases the fascia in the throat, which can relieve pain, discomfort, and tension in some cases."
How to: With your hands clasped behind your head and your elbows forward and close to one another, tense your chest continuously and move your elbows back. Do not pull on your head with your hands, but pull your hands outward against each other, keeping your neck relaxed. Do seven to 10 reps.
Check out Wylde's book, Moving Stretch: Work Your Fascia to Free Your Body ($22).