There are a number of asanas that can help stimulate the face and neck, increasing blood flow and exercising the muscles.
Perhaps the simplest way to bring energy into the facial muscles is to replicate our emotions. Pretend you are an actor and you are going to express all the major emotions just using your face – no speech, no gestures, just the muscles in your face. First, warm up your face and neck. Screw up your face, nose, eyes and lips.
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Then smile and open your eyes as wide as you can and stretch your face wide. Now screw up the right side, and then the left. Finally, scream silently opening the eyes and mouth as wide as you can. Now relax all the facial muscles. Take this down into your neck. Relax your shoulders and lift your head – imagine you are balancing a tray on top of your head. Turn your head to look over your right shoulder, then your left. Repeat three times. Now bring your right ear down to your right shoulder, then the left. Repeat three times. Bring your head forward towards your chest and slowly draw half circles from your right shoulder to your left and back.
This posture is often ignored as many people feel self-conscious when asked to use their face. Try to develop an acceptance of the face as part of the body – the neck as part of the spine. Enjoy the feeling of opening the eyes and the mouth and connecting into the length of the tongue. This pose can be used as an emotional release and results in a wonderful feeling of relaxation and release of tension.
By bringing an awareness of the face and neck into other poses we can gain additional benefits. Use Bridge to lengthen the neck and relax the face. By tucking the chin into the neck, opening fully into the upper rib cage and trying to relax the muscles in the face and neck we can draw an awareness right through the body that includes the face.
The emphasis of plough is usually in the upper back and a stretch through the lower body The seal that is created by pressure into the neck may lead to a belief that the head and face is not ‘involved' in this pose. Remember that the breath is still passing through the neck and the nostrils. Try and keep this feeling of connection and feel the connection of the back of the head on the mat and a feeling of softening through the face, the eyes and the mouth. An awareness of the face, neck and body working together will enhance your practice.
The ability to relax the muscles in the face and neck is essential to relaxation. Tension in the face, jaw and neck are responsible for headaches, eyestrain and anxiety. Learning how to recognise areas where tension lies helps relieve these debilitating conditions. Be aware of the weight of the head and its position.
Ensure your head is correctly aligned between the shoulders. Lengthen the back of the neck, and if your chin is pointing upwards use a cushion or support under your neck. Pay attention to all the muscles in the face – smoothing the brow and easing the muscles around the eyes and mouth. Relax the jaw, the back of the throat and the tongue. Be aware of all the senses with their routes in the face – the nostrils, the eyes, the ears, the feeling of the air on the face. Visualise your mind and try to connect to it in the same way as other parts of the body. Send messages to your mind with instructions to relax. Allow this feeling to move into the neck as you connect and travel through the rest of the body.
THE POWER OF MASSAGE
Ayurvedic treatments pay attention to the face and neck. An Ayurvedic face and neck massage is not merely a cosmetic treatment aimed at removing blackheads or wrinkles, but a remedial therapy that restores balance to the mind and body.
The restorative nature of these treatments also acts as a ‘natural facelift' which explains the youthful glow that is the result of regular treatments. Ayurveda facial massage is particularly beneficial for those suffering from sinus problems, nasal congestion, eyestrain and tension headaches. The energy points in the face, marmas, respond to gentle pressure and soothing massage. Steam therapy is another Ayurvedic therapy that can help with detoxification and create a sense of clarity. These steam therapies (swedana) involve inhaling steam, suffused with aromatic herbs chosen for their beneficial qualities. Eucalyptus, ginger, mint and other herbs help clear the sinuses and are wonderfully relaxing to mind and body A towel wrung out in hot water with a few drops of essential oil. Followed by slow massage of the face, is a relaxing way to experience this at home. Use a little oil and concentrate on the sides of the nose, the muscles around the mouth and eyes and using long smooth movements, take this down the front and back of the neck to connect into the body.
Wendy Jacob is a writer and yoga teacher based in Yorkshire, England.
What styles of yoga do you practise, and do you manage to practise every day?
I practise Kundalini. Hatha, Jnana and Laya yoga, and I make time to practise everyday for at least half an hour to an hour. Some days my schedule is really hectic, but 1 still aim to fit in 20-minutes practice. If I have more time, I’ll practise for at least two hours -it really depends on what I'm doing.
Hi Yogi Dr Malik, I've been practising yoga at home for the last months and haven't attended a proper class. I have injured my rib after slipping on ice recently and have been unable to practise. Will I lose my flexibility while I am healing.