Let's cut straight to the chase: “Face Yoga” is not yoga.
Given the most popular aspect of yoga in the West is physical, plenty of people think they can attach “yoga” to just about anything that involves movement or has some element of yoga asana. Usually it's a stretch at best (harmonica yoga) and misappropriation at worst (beer yoga—really?).
Yoga is a comprehensive practice that encompasses your entire way of being: how you live and think, along with how you approach and react to everything. It is a mode of self-study and provides a path toward change for the better.
The point of “Face Yoga,” according to its proponents, is to make your visage more youthful. Dear reader, the point of actual yoga is not to make you look younger; to the contrary, it helps you accept the inevitability of aging, though following yoga’s precepts could very well result in you looking like you turned back the clock. Sure, certain lineages of yoga include exercises for the face and eyes—but to relieve tension in the face and to strengthen the muscles that move the eyes.
Getting back to the physical: “Face Yoga” has been presented as a way of exercising facial muscles. To be sure, your face has muscles, which you use to create facial expressions. But “exercising” your facial muscles might actually lead to more wrinkles. To wit: “Laugh lines” etched from years of smiling or laughing (and are the marks of a life filled with joy so terrible?).
Instead of buying into the marketing hype for this fad, try these legit exercises in order to relieve strain in your face, neck and eyes:
Help for your face and neck
Sivananda yoga, one of the primary lineages that shaped yoga in the West, incorporates the following practices:
Take a moderate inhale. Then open your mouth wide, and reach your tongue out and down as you look skyward with your eyes only. Exhale from your mouth (it will be audible). Repeat several times.
1. Sit or stand with proper spinal alignment (the natural curves of your spine).
2. Inhale as you lift the crown of your head skyward. Exhale as you drop your chin to your chest. Inhale as you bring your head upright again, reaching through your crown. Exhale as you drop your head back, keeping space in the back of your neck. Inhale to bring your head upright again. Repeat a few times.
3. Inhale as you lift your crown skyward. Exhale as you drop one ear toward its corresponding shoulder. Inhale to lift your crown, and then exhale as your drop your other ear toward its corresponding shoulder. Repeat a few times.
Help for your eyes
Cut back on digital eye strain with the American Optometric Association's 20-20-20 exercise: Every 20 minutes look at something 20 feet from you for 20 seconds. Do this several times an hour. Be sure to settle your eyes on objects at varied distances each time.
We don't usually tone our eye muscles, but it would be better if we did. Vision problems can stem from loss of flexibility or strength in the eyes. The following exercises come from Sivananda yoga, as well.
1. Sit or stand with proper spinal alignment. Keep your head still and use your eyes only as you follow steps 2-5.
2. Look up as high as you can, and then look down as low as you can. Repeat 5-10 times, and then close and relax your eyes for 30 seconds.
3. Open your eyes. Look to the right as far as you can, and then look to the left as far as you can. Repeat 5-10 times, and then close and relax your eyes for 30 seconds.
4. Open your eyes. Look up diagonally to the right and then down diagonally to the left. Repeat 5-10 times. Look up diagonally to the left and then down diagonally to the right. Repeat 5-10 times. Close and relax your eyes for as long as you like.
5. Roll your eyes clockwise in wide circles, slowly. Begin to do so faster, as you reach 5-10 circles. Close your eyes for a few seconds. Repeat in a counter-clockwise pattern. Close and relax your eyes for as long as you like.
Mitra Malek’s reporting and writing have appeared in The Washington Post and USA Today, and she is a contributing editor for Yoga Journal. Connect at mitramalek.com.