In 2014, Meghan Markle told Birchbox, “I practice Nichola Joss’s facial yoga exercises—she basically has you sculpt your face from the inside out. I swear it works, as silly as you may feel. On the days I do it, my cheekbones and jawline are way more sculpted.” Face yoga has only gained steam in the years since, with countless classes and YouTube tutorials popping up.
We’ve long known the positive effects of yoga on the mind and body, but with 57 muscles in the face and neck alone, are we missing a trick by omitting our faces from our routine? While a 2018 study noted some improvements in middle-aged men and women who regularly practiced face yoga, science has yet to prove long-term changes. Still, some people swear by it. "If you are looking for an alternative to Botox, this is a great natural option," says the esthetician Kimberly Keelan. Read on to learn what exactly face yoga entails and the best facial exercises to benefit your skin.
Meet the Expert
- Melissa Murphy is a face yoga instructor and yoga teacher of 15 years
- Kimberly Keelan has been a BABOR Expert Esthetician for 15 years and works at the Skin Deep Salon & Spa in New Jersey
What Is Face Yoga?
In essence, it’s exactly as the name suggests—all the contorting, stretching and relaxation of yoga, but for your face. "The facial movements are like resistance training for the muscles, and as you work them you see a lift and tone to the skin," says Keelan. The first “facial exercise” routine was reported on as far back as 1710. It was documented by Jeanne Sauval, a personal attendant to French courtesan Ninon de l’Enclos. Today, celebs like Meghan Markle and Gwyneth Paltrow are fans of the Botox-like effect it produces.
What Are the Benefits of Face Yoga?
Whilst there are many more benefits than just anti-aging, the exercises do promote healthier-looking skin. The skin naturally sags over time when fatty pads under the skin begin to thin. As the pads age, their connections loosen and gravity draws them downward, leaving cheeks looking hollowed and areas prone to drooping.
In 2018, Northwestern University researchers studied 27 women between the ages of 40 to 65 who performed 30 minutes of facial exercises every day for eight weeks. After the initial eight weeks, the women performed the facial exercises three to four days a week for the remaining 12 weeks. The dermatologists noticed improvements in the fullness of the women’s cheeks and estimated that the women on average looked three years younger in the photographs taken at the end of the study.
To find out more before I headed to a facial exercising class, I talked to Melissa Murphy, who first became interested in face yoga when her dentist told her she was grinding her teeth. She was surprised that, despite being a yoga teacher, she was so tense. “I had been to a face yoga taster session run by Danielle Collins at the Yoga Show in London, 2009, and went on to set up my own class in 2014,” she says.
Murphy says facial exercise can impact our health and bodies. “The head and face contain most of our major sense organs—the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin,” she explains. “They’re inextricably linked to the whole body. Position yourself in front of a mirror so you can see your face and neck. Put your lower jaw forward gently so the teeth show and lightly press the teeth upwards.
“Even with this light pressure, can you see the muscles in the neck tense up? The tension in the face transmits to the whole body, and most of the time, we do nothing about it. We exercise the torso and limbs and we might—if we do yoga—relax them too. But the face and head are sadly neglected, despite them being an area with a fascinating array of possibilities for movement and relaxation,” she says.
In one sense, I’m not only interested in face yoga for the anti-aging benefits. I hope to have the privilege of living a long life, and I think having some evidence of years of smiling and laughter (and of course, some frowning!) is not only inevitable but positive. However, I’m on board with improving the overall look and feel of the skin and adding a healthy glow.
Face yoga exercises work all the skin’s layers—the hypodermis (lower layer), dermis (middle layer) and the epidermis (upper layer). They stimulate collagen and elastin production and can help the muscles in the face and neck look firmer and tighter. Eyebrows and eyelids can look lifted, lines are softened and skin around the neck and jawline can look tighter.
Like regular yoga, most classes also focus on well-being and relaxation techniques for the mind, body, and soul. Face yoga is said to be great for teeth grinders and those with tension headaches (both of which describe me). The massage aspect removes toxins and can reduce dark circles as a result of the increased circulation and lymph flow.
What is a Face Yoga Class Like?
“My classes run once a month and contain an eclectic mix of practices and activities to help relax the face and calm the mind and body,” says Murphy. “There’s a blend of facial exercises, breathing practices, sound work, acupressure and simple massage techniques along with short meditations and affirmations.”
“While the format is similar each time—an introduction, a standing warm-up, seated facial exercises and practices ending with meditation—each session is different,” she adds. “There might be more emphasis on massage/facial exploration one month, sound work the next and expressions another."
“Yoga is awash with practices for neglected areas of the body, and face yoga classes do the same," says Murphy. "As an example, the tongue is connected developmentally to the back of the neck, so when we relax the tongue (it can be astounding how tense this muscle can hold) we help relax the neck.”
To start, we massaged and contoured the face with exercises led by Murphy. It’s certainly different than your regular yoga class, but it still has that calming, relaxing feel you’d expect. Whilst the exercises may seem simple enough, it’s great to have someone leading you through the steps. Murphy notes there’s a real skill to doing the exercises with gentle control and coordination in order to really work the muscles.
After the hourlong class, I felt as if I had gotten an Indian head massage for the face. I didn’t realize how tense some areas were until I moved them in ways I wouldn’t usually. As with everything, I think consistency is key to reap the benefits. That’s where committing to a class is helpful, as I could see myself forgetting the moves or missing the exercises when left to my own devices, even with the best of intentions. Ending the class with meditation was the icing on the cake.
Popular Face Yoga Exercises
- The Heart-Shaped Box: Press the forefinger to the top of the forehead, using the middle finger to push the brow toward the eyes, down and out. Repeat this 50 times. It’s said to help the frown lines in between the eyebrows.
- The Snarl: Hold your thumbs on the sides of your nose and mouth. You gently press the brow muscles with the index fingers and then use the muscles of the upper lip and around the nose to lift the upper lip 100 times, holding for 50 seconds.
- Kissing the Ceiling: Look up and purse your lips to the sky so that you can really feel the stretch under your chin. Hold for 5 to 15 seconds and release, repeating several times. This is said to help with sagging jowls.
How Long Does It Take to See Results?
"As with any new workout it takes time to see the results, but they will definitely happen," says Keelan. "Three to five sessions a week is the ideal goal. You can also give yourself a 30-day challenge if you really want to see results fast. After two weeks you will start to see the toning begin and at the 30 day mark you will really see a difference."
The Final Takeaway
Face yoga might be worth a try if you're looking for anti-aging effects without fillers or pricey treatments. "Movement is the most natural way to increase the blood flow in our skin," says Keelan "By performing these movements and massage techniques over time your skin will become more lifted and toned and will have a radiant healthy glow."
I also loved the positive atmosphere and well-being aspect of the class just as much as the tension-reliving exercises themselves. Melissa Murphy’s face yoga classes promote a sense of self-acceptance: “Meditation and affirmations are a big part of that. Books on facial exercises state that beauty is a state of mind. Self-acceptance gives us an inner beauty and serenity that radiates, no matter how old we are or what we look like.” Now that we can get on board with.
Next up, try these seven ways to get an energy boost.
Alam M, Walter AJ, Geisler A, et al. Association of facial exercise with the appearance of aging. JAMA Dermatol. 2018;154(3):365-367. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.5142