My Top 5 Face Yoga Exercises
Your face. Your countenance. Your mug. It's your window to the world, which is a good reason to treat it well. Doing yoga with your face may seem strange and best suited for people who have lots of free time on their hands, but there's more to it than you might think.
The face is where most of our sense organs are located. Through the eyes, ears, nose and mouth we receive information to help determine the safety and appeal of a situation. Each object, environment or person we sense has the potential to trigger desire, fear or memory. That's why the face is a portal that's intricately linked to our survival instincts.
The face is also the place where we express and assert ourselves to others through facial gestures and voice. This makes it integral to our individuality and sense of self worth.
The benefits of face yoga
- Reduces tension in the face and jaw
- Releases throat tension
- Calms and clarifies facial expressions
- Reduces wrinkles and enhances appearance
- Relieves vocal tension
Face yoga feels fantastic and also has lasting health benefits. Most famously, it's lauded for reducing wrinkles and improving facial appearance. That's probably why women my age (almost 50) get bombarded by face yoga ads online. While wrinkle prevention is not what brings me to face yoga, if it happens to be a side effect, I'll gladly take it.
Face yoga for the voice
I will admit, for many years I thought face yoga it was a silly concept. Even though I'm a full-time yoga teacher, face yoga seemed gimmicky to me and I never felt inclined to try it.
But that was before I was diagnosed with Muscle Tension Dysphonia (MTD) last year – vocal hoarseness and pain caused by tension in the muscles of the lower face and anterior (front) neck. Basically, it took some serious voice problems to make me realize I had chronic face, jaw and throat tension. In addition to my speech therapy, I've found face yoga to be a delightfully fun and satisfying way to relieve this tension on a daily basis.
Those of us who use our voice in our work are sometimes termed "vocal athletes." As a full-time yoga teacher and also as an occasional performing singer, neck and larynx (voicebox) tension accumulates every day as a result of the demands of my work. Face yoga has become part of my daily maintenance to keep my voice sounding its best while maintaining the health of my vocal tissues and remaining pain-free.
A Face Yoga Routine
In face yoga we stretch and strengthen the facial muscles. We move energy, release chronic tension, and invite healing energy to repair our facial tissues.
Face yoga can feel incredible and can also be delightfully playful. A lot of it just comes down to making funny faces – a weird sort of fun, which is my favorite kind.
Interestingly in my research, the best face yoga exercises are the same whether they're aimed at physical appearance or more functional goals. Here's the sequence I do on a daily basis:
1. Yawn Big
Yawning is a natural reflex that we all have. When we yawn, we engage most of the 57 muscles of the face as we open the jaw wide to take an enormous inhale. This brings tons of oxygen into the brain and has an instant after-effect of relaxation. Yawning is also an amazing vocal tune-up: the siren sound we make is actually a sound journey that tones our entire larynx (voicebox) by moving through our entire vocal range, vibrating the vocal folds at all their juxtapositions while keeping the throat passages wide open. Yawning also opens the sinuses and calibrates the inner ears.
If you only have one minute to spare, yawning could be your entire face yoga practice. But for this sequence, we'll use it warm up.
We'll try it three ways:
- Big Yawn: Just take a big, natural yawn.
- Exaggerated Yawn: Try it a second time, and this time let's exaggerate the yawn. This is your chance to get dramatic about it.
- Siren Yawn: Yawn a third time, this time inviting yourself onto a playful sound journey. At the end, allow your tongue to hang out if it wants to.
Rest after the yawning sequence and notice how your face, jaw, throat and voicebox are feeling.
2. Humming Adventure
Humming stimulates the throat, inner mouth, palate, sinuses and jaw.
Follow these steps to experience the benefits of humming.
- Simple Hum – Inhale a deep breath. Press your lips together to hum gently as you exhale, releasing the breath slowly. Notice how it feels. What parts of your mouth and head are vibrating with the sound?
- Tongue-Levered Hum – Repeat the simple hum, but on the exhale explore different tongue positions inside your mouth. This brings the vibration to different parts of your head, palate and sinuses.
- Humming & Chewing – Explore different mouth shapes by chewing while you hum. You can also try blowing up your cheeks, one side a time, as an added way of changing the shape of your mouth.
3. Face Massage
The best way to massage your face and anterior (front) neck are one side a time. The muscles of the throat and neck are very delicate and sensitive – that's what makes it great to do self-massage in this area rather than relying on someone who may not be able to properly gauge damage to your windpipe and vocal tissues. (Ever wonder why most massage therapists avoid the throat?)
To begin, drop the left ear toward the left shoulder to lengthen and expose the right side of the neck. On this side,
- Jaw Massage: With your left fingertips, massage the right side of your face beginning in front of the ear and travelling down the jaw hinge (aka the masseter muscle) and down over the jawline.
- Anterior Neck Massage: Now place the left fingertips behind the ear and massage the neck muscles that attach here, slowly journeying down the front of the neck all the way to the collarbones. These are your scalenes and sternocleidomastoid muscles (SCM).
- Laryngeal Release (Thyroid cartilage, larynx) - To find your larynx, first locate your thyroid cartilage. It's midway down the front of your throat and it's usually the widest, softest part of your neck. Behind and slightly above this is your larynx. Straighten all 4 fingers of your left hand and use them together to gently pull the larynx down away from the jaw. Repeat 2 more times.
Rest and feel the difference between the right and left sides of your face, neck and throat. Repeat the massage on the other side.
4. Lion Breath
Lion breath is a traditional yoga exercise that stimulates and engages many of the facial muscles while expelling unwanted energy and tightness.
Take a big inhale. Open your mouth side and stick your tongue out, pointing it downward toward your chin. Exhale from your belly with a "Haaah" sound.
Relax and feel the effects on your inner throat and the root of your tongue, and your facial muscles.
5. The Face Savasana
Just as you relax your body at the end of any sequence of yoga postures, we can also relax the face after a face yoga session.
Sit for one minute with a very calm face and a neutral expression. Invite a feeling of doing nothing. The jaw doesn't need to clench, the throat doesn't need to hold anything in or hold anything out, because this is a completely safe moment where the breath can flow effortlessly and all of the many small intricate muscles of the face can simple relax.
To finish, take a deep yawning breath in, and sigh it out.