In ‘the Yoga Face,’ Exercises Take Aim Against Wrinkles - But Are They Effective?

Anti-aging creams, peels, injections and lifts are among the costly steps many of us consider while dancing the tumultuous tango of aging. But what if we could take care of our faces the way we take care of our bodies, toning through exercise and relieving tension through meditation -- without injections or chemicals?

Annelise Hagen, a New York yoga instructor, turned that question into an experiment, developing a program of facial muscle isolations and testing them on her students in a series of classes. The benefits were immediate, she says.

“Tension is one of the major culprits in facial wrinkling. If you release tension, you’ll see results,” explains Hagen, who notes that students who were committed to the exercises and practiced saw better results faster. “Friends would say, ‘Did you get work done?’ ”

She compiled her techniques in “The Yoga Face,” the latest in a long line of attempts to popularize exercises for the face. Such exercises have been around for decades. Senta Maria Rungé wrote an article for Vogue describing them in 1959. In the late ‘70s, Deborah Crowley introduced Facialbuilding, resistance training for the face to increase muscle without losing facial fat.

Hagen takes a more holistic approach, focusing not only on toning but also on relieving the tension that’s so often expressed on the face. Dr. Ava Shamban, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA, agrees that furrowed brows and clenched jaws, often in response to stress, can age the face tremendously. Although she says there are more effective ways to combat aging, she notes that quieting your frown through yoga and meditation can be beneficial.

Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Andre Aboolian concurs -- to a point. “These exercises help with tightening up the muscles underneath,” he says. “But does it prevent the skin from aging? Probably not, because the skin is independent to the muscle.” Still, learning to control movement in the face, he adds, can slow down the effects of aging caused by repetitive habits.

“Muscles in the face have one purpose -- facial expression,” says Aboolian. “When those muscles tighten, you get creases on the forehead, around the eyes and lips.” Botox works by paralyzing those muscles so you can’t use them. And if you can mentally relax your face and avoid bad facial habits, you can help prevent lines from appearing; it just takes more work.

Hagen demonstrates five of her favorite facial yoga exercises while Aboolian and Shamban weigh in on their effectiveness.

Drosu is a freelance writer.