The face can sometimes be neglected during our yoga practice. Concentrating on the body, it is easy to ignore the face. Living in a culture that discourages the expression of emotion the face may become a‘mask’. Wendy Jacob looks at ways to integrate the face into our yoga practice and how we can connect with this sensitive part of our body.
Yoga is well known for its physical benefits, for improving strength and flexibility and making adjustments in structural alignment. It is also increasingly recommended for helping the body and mind cope with the stresses of the 21st century. Learning how to change the body’s physical reaction to stress helps prevent heart disease and numerous other conditions. It also helps many people discover an ‘inner resource’ that they can
access during times of emotional stress.
As we discuss the relationship between that magic triangle – the mind, body and breathe, we emphasise their separation. We talk about the mind and body being controlled through the medium of the breath. During relaxation we try to release tension and draw inwards seeking release from these three influences, moving into a deeper connection with our spirituality. An indescribable ‘deep nothingness’ that releases us from all that
connects and ties us in this world.
What is sometimes missing is an awareness of the face and head in its physical form. It is easy to let the face become a mask and the head to become a shell. We may spend many hours developing our practice, working on our arms, legs, knees, centre, and neglect this important area. The face is a complicated structure, housing all our senses and the precious brain. It is also the key to our identity and in a world that is fixated on image and appearance, it is not surprising that we walk around most of the day wearing a mask that conceals our true identity and a wealth or emotions.. For most of us crying, and even laughter, are physical reactions that we feel should be expressed in private. We are often embarrassed and confused by displays of emotion. We see it as inappropriate and childish to cry, scream or giggle. These emotions should be private and, especially for men, condemned.
Other cultures are more open to visible emotional reactions. Death, dying and disaster are times of communal grieving. Times of joy are celebrated.
Expressing emotion is not only an emotional release, but exercise for the facial muscles. Smiling and laughter are wonderful ways to ease the muscles in the face and relax the mind.
The growth of cosmetic surgery has also encouraged our society to move further into a faceless future.The ability to manipulate our looks and deceive others and ourselves is a further escape from reality. Some of this is fear, some a natural inclination to use whatever is available to make our way in a competitive world. Marketing often relies on an emotional need, claiming that intervention will make you feel good. Note – feel good, not look good. The results are what you believe, not what they have achieved…
Yoga helps you accept your emotions and become aware of how the body and mind provide emotional ‘storage’. New research into how the brain reacts is proving that there are two distinct areas. In layman’s terms, these are the cognitive, thinking part and the emotional area. Psychology and especially, ognitive behavioural therapy have proved beneficial in helping people improve their lives and make life-changing adjustments. But for those affected by trauma and emotions that cannot be accessed by talking and the logical mind, there have been other breakthroughs in treatment. This suggests that we
should give our emotions greater attention and provide them with a means of expression.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) both rely on accessing the emotions through the
senses. They work by the power of sight, or touch to break through the barriers that prevent emotional healing. Science is starting to understand the reasons why logic is not always the best healing process. How often have we heard, or perhaps said, ‘I know it doesn’t make sense, but I can’t stop this
Yoga is a great tool in this healing process. Yoga does not rely on an intellectual process. Mindfulness is more of an emotional commitment than a demand or intellectual challenge. It permits emotional responses and accepts the body and mind in its natural state. By encouraging the body and mind to work
together there is no surprise when we discover that our emotions affect our body through tension, pain and other reactions. Equally, we learn that the body can affect how we emotionally feel - breathing, changes in heart rate and increases in adrenaline. Shallow breathing can make you feel stressed and panicky, and fast movement will soon have you alert and stimulated.
Life can sometimes feel like acting on a stage. We start the day, go out into the world and start to perform various roles. This may mean passing through the day with our ‘mask’ in place. Eventually we become that mask. Days, months or even years may pass without any physical or emotional outlet. The facial muscles weaken and we become used to our developed expression. Yoga can strengthen and stimulate the muscular structure of the face. It will help protect against aging and help us use our facial expression to express our emotions.
The face can be compared to a curtain that protects the outside world from discovering what is happening inside. By using the face as a tool for
emotional expression we are restoring it to its intended purpose. We can rediscover the joy of laughter, the release of tears and the relief of stillness. Integrating the face into yoga practice gives us the opportunity to become more aware of the connection between our emotions and our physical
There are a number of asana 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,
and eyes lips. 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 should, 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 should 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 e 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 o softening through the face, the eyes and the mouth.
An awareness of the face, neck and body working together will enhance your practise.
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 regula 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 rung 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.