Use restorative facial yoga to release stress and tension and restore your youthful glow.
Whether we smile or frown, laugh or scowl, approach our lives with wide-eyed wonderment, or bitter tears, our faces are almost always active. Day in and day out, our facial expressions can have a powerful effect on our lives. It doesn’t matter if we’re communicating feelings such as happiness or anger, reacting to the facial expressions of others, or responding to stimuli in our environment, our face is a gateway for emotional energy. With a relaxation practice that directs our attention toward this part of our body we can experience relief from the demands of life and restore a sense of peace and well-being that will be felt on the inside – and be visible on the outside.
The stress reaction of muscular tension in the face and its consequences is not unlike the stress reaction in other parts of the body. A primitive and natural response to danger, fear triggers the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system modifying our blood chemistry, affecting distribution of blood, and potentially saving us from harm’s way. This life saving function is rarely needed in the modern world because its purpose is to help us during actual physical threats in the wild. We frequently use fear unintentionally to combat psychological attacks instead of physical ones. Evidently, it is difficult for our body/nervous system to make out the difference between a predatory beast and a job interview, or other psychological stressor.
The first steps in letting go of tension are to accept that there is nothing to fear and that it’s more helpful for us to be calm in any given situation. This might be easy in theory, but changing a primitive response designed to keep us alive requires a diligent practice in awareness. Just remember — the practice of reducing tension is cumulative and builds on itself to gently coax our nervous system into more frequent states of safety and homeostasis, or balance.
Studies show that we tend to wait until we are suffering from the effects of stress before we take action. The practices of Downward Face (see below) are recommended not only for recuperating from the adverse effects of stress, they can also serve as preventative medicine by helping to better manage the unconscious emotional reactions that create tension in the first place. By repeatedly catching ourselves when the stress response is activated in the face, we begin to accept that it’s not always necessary to be afraid of something that only threatens us psychologically. Additionally, knowing that we have the power to choose healthy responses to life’s challenges could even inspire us to use our facial muscles to smile more often, which research has shown can have a positive influence on others and improve our experience of life.
Regardless of how you feel right now, try taking a few minutes to practice Downward Face. Mindfully follow these simple steps and remind yourself that awareness without judgment is key.
The first part of the practice delivers more blood flow into your face to stimulate the muscles. The second part of the practice focuses on relaxing the face through the use of focused attention.
Practice Downward Face: Restorative Facial Yoga
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and take a long deep breath.
While you take three more slow, deep breaths, use the tip of your tongue to massage the inside of your mouth and push the skin outward all the way around in front of your teeth, behind your cheeks, and even along roof of your mouth. Include the soft tissue in the massage below your tongue and behind your front teeth, as well. After your third breath, simply relax the face and tongue and notice what you feel.
As you continue to consciously take slow, deep breaths, open your mouth and eyes as wide as possible. Keeping your eyes stretched wide open, very slowly lower and raise just your eyelids a few times.
Let the breath settle, but continue to be aware of it and close your eyes again. Use your fingertips to softly and lightly tap all over your face and forehead repeatedly, like a spider scampering over your skin.
Keeping your eyes closed, rest your awareness at the center of the top of your head. Be aware of your breath, allowing it to move naturally and with ease.
At a snail’s pace, move your attention down the front of your face, beginning at the forehead and temples, then to the middle of the forehead over the eyebrows, then finally rest your awareness at the third eye between your eyebrows. Linger there for three to five breaths with the intention for your face to be passive, neutral, and inactive.
Continue to move your attention around the eye sockets, repeating the suggestion silently in your mind for your face to be passive, neutral, and inactive, while relaxing the eye muscles.
Slowly move your awareness around your nose and cheek muscles, relaxing the jaw, tongue, and top and bottom of your lips, inside and out, still maintaining the attitude of being passive, neutral, and inactive.
Take your time, as you move your awareness around the chin, dropping down to the throat, allowing it to be passive, neutral and inactive.
Conclude your practice with a nice long, comfortable breath and notice how relaxed your face feels. Turn your attention to the feeling in the rest of the body. Enjoy the experience of simply being.
Practice the restorative yoga of Downward Face as often as you’d like to release the habitual tension that builds up in your face to promote balance, peace, and harmony. You might find yourself frowning less and smiling more.
Photo: David Young-Wolfe (originally published in LA Yoga Magazine