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Sophia Ha was 28 when she noticed it: a deep wrinkle creeping across her forehead. She had just emerged from an unpleasant breakup and was on a trip through Southeast Asia on a mission to “find herself.” Maybe the stress of the breakup brought it on. Maybe it was from squinting at the sun. Whatever caused the line in her face, Ha was on a mission to get rid of it. She was in Indonesia, scouring the internet for solutions, when she learned about face yoga. It was about to change her face—and her life.
What is face yoga?
Danielle Collins, a leading face yoga expert, defines the practice as “a combination of face exercises, face massage, face acupressure, and face relaxation.” Face yogis spend 15 minutes or more each day moving and manipulating their facial muscles—stretching, tapping, massaging, and making all sorts of funny faces.
A good face yoga session works all 42 facial muscles. Some of these muscles work together to help you chew and talk, but the majority of them are there to help you create facial expressions. The premise behind face yoga is that exercising the face has some of the same benefits as exercising any other part of the body. It increases blood circulation to brighten the complexion, makes the skin more elastic, and strengthens and tones face muscles, according to Gary Sikorski of Happy Face Yoga. Tighter muscles help smooth fine lines and leave you with wider eyes, a lifted mouth, and a firmer jaw.
“I was really skeptical at first,” Ha says. “And then I had an epiphany. If we have muscles in the body and we have muscles in the face, then why wouldn’t we be able to sculpt the face just as we do the body using exercise?”
Look in the mirror
Ha’s first step in diminishing that worrisome wrinkle was developing greater self-awareness. Or should we say face awareness.
Researchers say that the muscles of the face work together to form at least 21 different facial expressions. Years of frowning, squinting, laughing, and smirking develop the muscles we use the most. Just as we have habitual ways of sitting and standing, we tend to hold our faces in certain “positions,” too. Just think of the snarky term resting b*tch face, or RBF, which describes the tendency to wear a sour or irritated expression even when you’re not upset.
We’re often unaware that we’re wrinkling our brow, turning down at the mouth, or pursing our lips, so checking your reflection can help you catch your natural facial “posture.” Then you can “fix your face” the same way you straighten up when you find yourself slouching.
“I was checking in with myself throughout the day every 10–15 minutes just to see what my face was doing,” Ha says.
The face gets physical
At 28, Ha’s face probably wasn’t sagging, but a “falling face” becomes an issue as we age and our skin loses elasticity .
“Fat pads between the muscle and skin become thinner,” explains Marla Paul, senior health sciences editor at Northwestern University. “The fat pads, which fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, give the face much of its shape. As skin becomes saggy, the thinning fat pads atrophy and slide, causing the face to ‘fall down.’” The result may be hooded eyelids, bags under the eyes, or a jowly chin.
Face yoga is designed to strengthen facial muscles to keep the skin lifted. Ha’s program combines facial massage, facial acupressure, and resistance exercises, she says. Within four weeks of practicing forehead exercises, that worrisome line across her forehead had completely disappeared.
She was so impressed that in 2017, Ha became certified face yoga coach and wellness advisor, and founded Face Yoga Renew. Now she is one of the influencers spreading the word about the benefits of face yoga. “It really is the natural facelift,” she says. “You can lift and tone the cheeks, diminish a double chin, and so much more.”
Where’s the science?
A Northwestern University study seems to support her promise. Researchers investigated whether facial exercises helped middle-aged women appear more youthful. Participants did a series of facial exercises for 30-minute each day for 8 weeks, then practiced at home 3 to 4 times a week for the next three months.
The study found that women who kept up the regimen for the entire 20 weeks had more fullness in their cheeks and looked more youthful. Dermatologists who assessed before and after photographs, estimated that the average patient had taken almost three years off her age.
Dr. Suzanne Olbricht, an associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, says face exercises might tone facial muscles and help keep fat properly distributed on the face, but she says the benefits would likely be subtle. There needs to be more research on the benefits of facial yoga, she said in an article published by Harvard Health Publishing.
Deviyani James has all the proof she needs. “I’ve been doing it for 2 months and after the first 4 weeks I was seeing improvements. My smile lines are disappearing and my cheekbones are lifted,” she says. Her regimen consists of 15 minutes of face yoga seven days a week. “I can’t go without it. Like brushing your teeth and washing your face, it’s that important to me now.”
Facial yoga proponents say it has benefits even beyond a more youthful look. Ha says it can help with migraines. Olbricht acknowledges that massage and skin-stretching exercises can make a facial scar become thinner and less noticeable.
See also: The Benefits of Practicing Yoga
But is face yoga actually yoga?
While face yoga has cultural roots throughout Asia, it doesn’t have any concrete roots in traditional yoga of India. The closest you might come to it is the Simha Pranayama, (Lion’s Breath) where you roll your eyes up and open your mouth wide. But Lion’s Breath is considered pranayama not asana—more focused on moving the breath than exercising the face.
Still, Ha considers it a yogic practice. “There is close attention to the relationship with your breath, self awareness, and the meditative and self-care aspects,” she says.
In her book The Yoga Facelift, Marie-Veronique Nadeau offers some traditional asana practices including spine stretches, shoulder stretches, and inversions that she says can help support a healthy face and neck.
Some experts suggest that getting enough rest, eating well, and reducing stress are also important to beautiful skin—and practicing yoga can help with all of that.
While Olbricht remains skeptical of face yoga, she says there are few if any downsides. Participants, experts, and coaches of facial yoga agree that as long as the exercises are done correctly, becoming a face yogi certainly can’t hurt.
A face yoga asana you can try now
Are you ready to stretch and tone your face with yoga? Sophia Ha and Danielle Evans offer some basic positions to get you started:
Double Chin Lift
Benefits: Ha says it tones the neck and jawline and reduces or prevents a double chin
- Tilt your chin up, keeping your shoulders down and relaxed. Feel the stretch in the front of your neck.
- Breathe through your nose and relax your forehead.
- Stick your tongue out and up toward the tip of your nose. Slowly move it to the right and hold for 5 seconds. Now slowly move your tongue to the left, hold and breathe for 5 seconds.
- Repeat 3 times on each side.
Benefits: Another neck and jawline toner, this exercise prevents sagging neck and jowls, Ha says.
- Lift your chin up. Pucker your lips out as far as you can (as if you’re trying to kiss the ceiling). Hold for 5 seconds.
- Keeping the chin up at about 45 degrees, turn your head to one side. Keep the lips puckered and pushing outward. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.
- As a counter exercise to prevent lines across the mouth, smile or make a long O shape with your mouth. Hold for 10 seconds.
- Repeat 3 times for 2 sets in each direction.
Benefits: Danielle Collins recommends this to reduce lines and wrinkles and firm the forehead
- Make a big C shape with your thumbs and index fingers.
- Place your index fingers just above and parallel to your eyebrows and your thumbs along the ridge of your cheeks.
- Start to pull down with the index fingers while trying to raise your eyebrows and widen the eyes. Hold for two seconds, relax and repeat again.
- Repeat 3 times on each side.
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