There was an article in last week’s New York Times about a new kind of yoga class: facelift yoga. Apparently, some studios have started offering classes that promise the kind of tightening and lifting you can get under the knife, through yoga practice. One studio even got a threatening letter from the Botox people for naming a class “Yo-tox” (I’m not sure I understand wanting to equate your practice to a chemical you inject to paralyze facial muscles—kind of an oxymoron, don’t you think?).
A few doctors quoted in the article pointed out that, while the asana might improve muscles tone, the wrinkles that come (are earned!) with age, are due more to the loss of elasticity in the skin. The article did note that the students seemed much more relaxed and happy after class, even if their faces looked about the same. I suppose if a few lion poses make you feel better, why not?
I can’t promise to improve the quality of your skin, but here are a few stretches that are a lovely at the end of the day, especially if you store your stress in your neck and shoulders. Who knows, you may even smooth a few lines as you go (if you do, let me know and I’ll try and get a patent on the routine—I’ll even give you a cut—it can’t possibly be any worse than cow botulism!)
Neck and Shoulder Openers
Sukhasana (Easy Pose) Sit in a comfortable, cross-legged position with the sitbones on a folded blanket. Increase the height of the blanket if you can’t sit without rounding the lower back. Take a few minutes to really concentrate on balancing the pelvis and lengthening the spine.
Neck and Shoulder stretch Place your right palm on top of your head and gentle pull the head towards the right shoulder. Keep the body aligned in Easy Pose, and just move from the neck up. Rest your left hand on the floor and slightly walk your fingers away from your body to create a counterweight to the hand on your head. Feel the stretch from below the ear and over the top of the shoulder. Release the head and repeat on the left side. Then, with the same hand arrangement, drop the head towards the center right, so the stretch moves into the back of the neck and down towards the shoulder blades. Repeat on the left.
Dandasana + Hastasana (Staff Pose + Overhead Arm Stretch) Extend the legs out in front of you, pressing the soles of the feet away evenly and engaging the thigh muscles. Raise your arms to the side and keep the shoulders away from the ears as you lift your arms overhead. Interlock the fingers and turn the palms towards the ceiling. After your initial stretch, bend the elbows slightly and let your palms come further back to deepen the rotation in the shoulder joints. Try to straighten the arms.Virasana + Namaste (Hero Pose with Namaste hands in back) Lower your hips between your ankles (or onto a block), trying to keep the knees together. Keep the lower spine long and make sure the tailbone points down. Try to hold the pose for a while and, if you can, lower your hips closer to the floor to deepen the stretch. This may work better with a folded blanket than a block under the hips. Bring the hands behind the back and either cross the arms at the lower back or bring the hands to the prayer position.
Cat Stretch-Come to your hands and knees and start by lifting the tailbone towards the sky and let the arch move down through the spine until you are lifting the head. Then point the tailbone down and open the back of the spine to the sky until the head drops forward. Repeat, slowly, a few more times.
Shoulder Opener at the Wall Come to standing. Make a tripod with your hands and arms, so that the fingers are interlocked and the elbows are shoulder distance apart. Press the forearms to the wall at chest-height and step the feet back, so you fold at the hips. Drop the head between the forearms and feel the stretch around the shoulder blades and arm pits. Deepen the stretch by stepping farther away from the wall.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing Dog) Begin in Balasana (Child’s Pose) with the arms stretched in front of you and then lift up to your hands and knees. Your outstretched arms should now be placed with the heels of the hands beneath the shoulders. Lift the hips up and back, with the knees bent to get the upper body aligned and then press the thighs back to begin straightening the legs. Don’t worry about pressing the heels to the floor, as you lengthen the backs of the legs the heels will start to sink. Try to recreate the stretch you felt in the shoulders and armpits at the wall, but keep the arms straight and ground evenly through the palms. Hold for as long as you like and then return to Child’s Pose.
Lion’s Pose If you want to stretch out the face, come back to Easy Pose and rest the hands, palms up, on the knees. Then open the eyes as wide as possible, open the mouth as wide a possible and stick your tongue out as far as you can. Cross the eyes for an extra stretch of your eyeball muscle. Rooar! (You can do this pose earlier in the sequence, if you are doing this practice before bed and don’t want to get too riled up before sleep). ©Brenda K. Plakans. All Rights Reserved.