How face yoga can reduce signs of ageing and make you look younger
Facial workouts aim to strengthen your muscles to give your skin a youthful glow. While people have been doing them for years, their popularity has soared thanks to social media and video-sharing platforms
“Just blow 100 kisses, that’s it,” instructs the YouTuber as she demonstrates repeatedly puckering her lips and blowing kisses to the millions following her tutorial. This is one of many facial exercises that come under the growing banner of what is being called “face yoga”.
There are no downward-facing dogs or Lycra tights involved in face yoga, but it is gaining a growing following in Asia. That is thanks to its perceived anti-ageing and health benefits, with the facial workout aiming to strengthen your muscles to give your skin a more youthful glow.
While people have been doing facial yoga for years – especially in Japan and India – it has spiked in popularity in recent times thanks to the likes of social media and video-sharing platforms that allow instructors to post their do-it-at-home tutorials online.
Before you turn your nose up at the idea of face yoga, know that this is no laughing matter. Earlier this year, researchers at Northwestern University in the US state of Illinois found that spending 30 minutes a day doing facial exercises resulted in lifted lower and upper cheeks and firmer skin. Participants in the study also appeared to look three years younger, on average.
The small study saw 16 women aged between 40 and 65 undertake a 20-week facial exercise programme. After two sessions with an instructor, the women did facial exercises for 30 minutes each day for eight weeks, before reducing the workout to every other day for the rest of the period.
Photos of the participants were taken before, during and after the programme, and were shown to two dermatologists who were tasked with assessing the age of each woman in the photos. They found that the average age that participants appeared dropped from 50.8 years to 48.1 years after the programme.
The dermatologists said that the overall cheek fullness of participants had significantly improved over the course of the 20 weeks, but they could not see any other dramatic changes.
Our skin loses elasticity as we age and the fat pads under our skin that create the shape of our face thins, resulting in wrinkles and fine lines.
Dr Murad Alam, lead author of the Northwestern study, says facial exercises “help grow the muscles of the face”.
“If we can grow the muscles that are beneath the skin and fat, then the overall facial contour becomes fuller,” he says. “The growing muscles make up for the loss of volume in the skin and the fat layer under the skin.”
While there are many variations of face yoga – some are DIY programmes and others are therapist-based – the idea behind them all centres on the common goal of lifting and toning facial muscles through exercise, massage and acupressure to improve collagen, elasticity and circulation.
“We are exercising our face muscles like we do with other parts of the body,” says Mariko Hiyama, a Hong Kong-based face yoga instructor who practises the Sorensensistem method pioneered by Danish therapist Lone Sorensen. “Once you start training, the muscle maintains the toned shape.”
Hiyama gave up her career in banking to become a regular yoga instructor seven years ago. Despite practising yoga every day, she found she was not seeing results in her face like she was in the rest of her body. Seeking a more “holistic approach to wellbeing”, she expanded her practice to include face yoga and facial reflexology.
She says that after the first face yoga session the results were immediate – not only in the face but also in her sense of positivity. She found the session helped her blood circulation and improved the appearance of the skin around her eyes.
Originally from Japan, Hiyama travels around the world as a face yoga and facial reflexology therapist (facial reflexology is a healing therapy that aims to balance hormones and emotions). When she is not jet-setting, she is based in Hong Kong where she runs Mari Yoga Face & Soul. This year she is also opening her first private yoga and therapy room in Sheung Wan.
Hiyama says in a busy city like Hong Kong people usually turn to Botox or cosmetics to try and look younger, but they should concentrate on their inner health and wellbeing to improve the look of their skin long-term.
“In Hong Kong people are very tense because of their lifestyle: the speed, the stress. Their facial muscles get stuck and they have poor circulation, so no matter what cosmetics they use, if they don’t take care internally, nothing will improve,” she says. “Once your facial-muscle system and circulation improves, not just your face, but the rest of your body benefits from it.”
Hiyama performs a therapist-based, hands-on version of face yoga called Japanese Cosmo Face Lifting (cosmo is short for cosmetic). It feels like an invigorating facial that involves acupressure, lymph drainage and reflexology to tone the muscles, detoxify and improve circulation.
“That is the big difference from a conventional face massage. What we do is not only the surface, but it works on the inside [using Chinese Meridian lines],” she says.
To ensure long-lasting visible benefits, Hiyama formulates a face yoga sequence that clients can do at home to help continue to stimulate blood flow and strengthen muscles.
While Hiyama is in her early 40s, her skin looks remarkably full and vibrant. She does a 10-minute sequence of face yoga every day to prevent stagnation of her facial muscles and to relax her body and mind before bed – and it’s certainly working.