You know that feeling when you add something to your wellness repertoire, and it just clicks? Maybe for you it was meditation, daily walks, blue-light blocking glasses, or a particular supplement. For me, it was face yoga.
Face yoga is billed as a safe and effective anti-aging tool—a facelift without surgery or botox. That’s not why I like it, though. I use face and eye yoga to relieve stress and counteract the effects of looking at screens all day.
I don’t blame you if you’re feeling skeptical. My initial reaction was to roll my eyes, too, which is ironic since eye rolling is an eye yoga exercise. My friends look at me incredulously when I mention it. Reserve your judgment until you try it, though.
It only takes a few minutes a day and to reap the benefits. Even then, you might be thinking, “Seriously?! I don’t have the time or energy to add anything else into my daily routine, and you want me to try face and eye yoga?” Never fear. I’ve worked out a strategy that lets me check some self-care boxes and reduce stress levels at the same time. Read to the bottom of the post for details.
What Are Face and Eye Yoga?
People flock to face yoga mainly for its supposed anti-aging benefits. According to practitioners, it increases muscle tone, circulation, lymphatic drainage, and collagen production. With consistent practice, skin appears plumper and smoother, facial symmetry increases, and you end up looking noticeably younger, or so they claim. Eye yoga is supposed to promote eye health and good vision.
Face and eye yoga practices combine movement exercises, massage, and acupressure. There are dozens and dozens of techniques or poses you might try depending on your specific goals. Some exercises are designed to relieve tension throughout the face and neck. Others specifically target the forehead, eye area, cheeks, mouth, nose, or jawline. Want to tighten up the skin under your chin or reduce the appearance of forehead creases? There’s an exercise for that.
Does Face Yoga Really Work?
So far, the evidence to back up these claims is mostly anecdotal. There are lots of impressive before-and-after photos online, but only a handful of small studies and case reports to back them up.1 The largest one included 16 middle-aged women who did 30 minutes of face yoga every day or every other day for 20 weeks.2 Independent judges thought the women looked younger at the end of the program than when they started, and the women themselves noted significant improvements on 18 of 20 dimensions of facial aging.
A larger body of evidence supports the efficacy of orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT). OMT is a form of physiotherapy designed to correct functional disorders of the face and mouth. Doctors and dentists use it to treat a wide variety of issues, from sleep apnea to speech problems to teeth grinding. OMT is more concerned with function than aesthetics, but there is considerable overlap between the techniques used in face yoga and OMT. Both aim to strengthen specific muscles and improve head, neck, and tongue posture (yes, that’s a thing).
Eye Yoga Benefits
From what I can tell, the main benefit of eye yoga is to help reduce eye strain. I certainly feel the difference if I spend all day looking at screens with no break versus taking regular breaks and doing some of the eye yoga exercises below.
A few studies corroborate my experience:
Researchers had 20 undergraduate students do one hour of eye yoga exercises twice a week for eight weeks.3 Compared to a control group that didn’t do the exercises, these students ended up with fewer symptoms of eye fatigue, such as tired eyes, dry eyes, and blurred vision.
Sixty-two employees of a software company completed an hour of yoga each day for sixty days.4 The yoga included 10 minutes of trataka exercises, which is a yoga practice specifically for the eyes. Participants experienced significantly less visual comfort after the intervention, similar to the previous study. A control group that did not do the daily yoga experienced more discomfort over this time period.
In a similar study, 16 optometry students did 30 minutes of eye exercises five days a week for six weeks.5 They also reported less eye fatigue at the end of the study, while a control group reported more.
We can’t rule out the placebo effect with these findings, but they’re promising nonetheless. Frankly, I’m fine with a placebo effect if it helps me feel better. It’s also worth noting that these researchers required a substantial time commitment from participants. I couldn’t find any rationale for the methodologies, nor any studies comparing shorter versus longer bouts of eye yoga. You might not need to do as much as the participants in these studies did in order to reap similar benefits.
Some folks also claim that eye yoga, specifically trataka exercises, can improve eyesight and treat various eye diseases. Fun fact: the Beatles’ Paul McCartney is a vocal proponent of eye yoga, attributing his good eyesight to eye yoga exercises. Unfortunately for Sir Paul and the rest of us, the evidence to support these claims is thin at best. Doctors do use specific exercises to help strengthen the eyes and repair vision after eye injuries, concussions, and TBI. However, multiple studies have found no benefit of trataka practices for improving vision.67
Vagus Nerve Connection?
Personally, I’m more interested in face and eye yoga for stress relief than for cosmetic reasons, though I’m happy to have a chiseled jawline or whatever. There’s good reason to think that face and eye yoga should stimulate the vagus nerve and upregulate the parasympathetic (“rest-and-digest”) nervous system.
Branches of the vagus nerve travel throughout the face, mouth, and neck. Some of the massage techniques associated with face yoga could potentially improve vagal tone. Furthermore, when you practice face and eye yoga, you’re also supposed to breathe slowly and prioritize nasal breathing, both of which also increase vagal tone. Trataka practices are apparently associated with higher HRV8 and lower heart rate9 and blood pressure10, which all indicate higher vagal tone.
Also, some of the purported anti-aging benefits of face and eye yoga probably arise because you become more aware of your facial muscles. If you carry a lot of tension in your face—clenching your jaw, squinting, furrowing your brow—you’ll start to notice and naturally relax those muscles. Not only will this reduce creasing and wrinkles, it could theoretically provide biofeedback and tell your brain (via your vagus nerve) that you aren’t so stressed after all.
Face and Eye Yoga Exercises to Try
As I said, the catalog of face and eye yoga exercises is pretty extensive. If you’re interested in focusing on a specific area, I suggest you get thee to YouTube and start searching. Remember that the evidence for any particular outcome is purely anecdotal at this point, but there’s no harm in trying.
Always start by taking a couple slow deep breaths to center yourself. For any of the exercises that involve touching your face, wash your hands first.
Six Face Yoga Exercises
Make fists with your hands. Rest your fists against the center of your forehead so the middle joints of your fingers (the ones you’d use to knock on a door) are against your skin. Apply gentle pressure as you pull your hands apart and massage from the center of your forehead to your temples. Next, use the middle knuckle on your index finger to stroke upward between your eyebrows.
Do about 10 repetitions of each exercise. Use a face oil or serum to provide slip so you aren’t pulling too hard on the skin.
Use the tips of your fingers to tap rapidly all over your face. Then use your middle fingers or ring fingers to gently tap circles around your eyes, following the ridge of your brows and the line of your eye socket in both directions.
Tapping is supposed to increase circulation and reduce under-eye puffiness. Be careful not to tap too hard or pull the delicate skin beneath your eyes. Use an extremely light touch in the undereye area.
Relax all the muscles in your face and allow your mouth to open wide. Keep breathing through your nose. Keeping your forehead and neck still, look up at the ceiling with your eyes and hold for 10 seconds. If you feel your forehead wrinkling, place your hand on your forehead to help keep it smooth.
Stand in front of a mirror, looking straight ahead. Open your eyes as wide as you can, but keep your forehead perfectly smooth. This is key! Place a hand on your forehead if needed. Hold your eyes wide for a few seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times.
Blowfish Face with Variations
Keep your mouth closed. Relax the muscles of your face, then inflate your cheeks with air and hold for up to a minute.
Alternate cheeks. Imagine you are swishing the air back and forth in your mouth like mouthwash.
Finally, try using your fingers to gently tap your cheeks while they are inflated.
Whichever variation you do, make sure you aren’t scrunching up your eyes. Check yourself in a mirror. If you see vertical lines forming on your upper lip, place your fingertips on the lip to smooth them out.
Kiss the Sky
Sit with your back straight. Tilt your head and look up until you feel a comfortable stretch through the front of your throat. Pucker your mouth like you’re trying to kiss the ceiling. Hold for a few seconds, then relax your face. Repeat for up to a minute, then slowly lower your head. You can also try switching back and forth between puckering your lips and sticking your tongue out.
Six Easy Eye Yoga Exercises
Vigorously rub the palms of your hands together to warm them up. Gently close your eyes. Cup your hands over them with the heels of your hands resting on your cheekbones and fingertips near your hairline. Hold for several breaths, then blink your eyes open and remove your hands. Take this opportunity to practice extended exhale breathing through your nose.
Shifting Your Gaze, or Eye Flexing
Sit with good posture, looking straight ahead. Without tilting your neck or scrunching your forehead, slowly alternate looking up and down 10 times, then left and right 10 times. All the movement comes from your eyeballs.
You can also gaze diagonally: up and to the left, down and to the right, then up and to the right, down and to the left.
Slowly roll your eyes clockwise, looking left, up, right, down. Do this 5 to 10 times, then switch directions and go counterclockwise.
You can do eye rolling and eye flexing with eyes open or closed. Rolling your eyes with eyes closed feels fantastic if you’ve been doing a lot of computer work.
I like to pair eye rolling with box breathing:
Inhale for a count of four while you look left.
Look up and hold for four counts.
Look right and exhale for four counts.
Look down and hold for four counts.
Do this a few times, then switch directions.
Extend your arm in front of you and put your thumb up like you’re hitchhiking. Focus your gaze on the tip of your thumb. Start to draw a figure-8 with your hand. Follow the tip of your thumb with your eyes, but keep your head still. Vary the size and direction of the figure-8.
Distance Gazing and Focus Shifting
Pick a point in the distance and focus on it for about 10 seconds, then shift your gaze to something else and focus on that. Switch between nearer and farther objects.
For a variation on this exercise, focus on a point in the distance. Extend your arm with your thumb up, like in the figure-8 exercise. Shift your focus back and forth between the distant object and the tip of your thumb 10 times.
How to Incorporate Face and Eye Yoga into Your Day
Making time for self-care is hard. Even for me, a staunch self-care advocate, stress-relief exercises are the first things to go when my time is stretched thin. What I like about face and eye yoga is that they’re quick and easy to work into my day. Many poses can be done anytime, anywhere. I’ve started doing blowfish face in the car, for example, which I’m sure has earned me some funny looks from fellow drivers.
Here’s how I’m incorporating them:
First, I make face yoga a part of my morning and evening skincare routine. As I apply my various lotions and potions, I do a few minutes of facial massage and tapping. This forces—or rather, allows—me to slow down a little and take a few minutes at the beginning and end of my day to breathe.
During the workday, I use the Pomodoro technique. If you’re not familiar, Pomodoro is a system where you do focused work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. Use an app or web-based timer to keep you honest, and adjust the intervals to suit your needs. When the break timer goes off, I do some combination of the following:
Palming exercise. I consistently start with this one because it feels amazing.
One or two eye yoga exercises. I particularly like to go out on my front porch and practice distance gazing, but if my eyes feel very fatigued, I’ll close my eyes and do slow eye rolls instead.
A quick microworkout, like a set of air squats, kettlebell swings, mountain climbers, or a couple of these functional exercises (2, 4, and 10 are my favorites).
I can get this all done and still have time to grab a quick drink before it’s time to get back to work. My productivity is much higher when I adhere to this routine, and my body feels noticeably better.
So what do you say—have I piqued your interest? Pick a couple exercises to do consistently for at least a few weeks. See if you notice any benefits either in your appearance or in how you feel. Then come back here and leave a comment. Let me know how it goes!
Lindsay Taylor, Ph.D., is a senior writer and community manager for Primal Nutrition, a certified Primal Health Coach, and the co-author of three keto cookbooks.
As a writer for Mark’s Daily Apple and the leader of the thriving Keto Reset and Primal Endurance communities, Lindsay’s job is to help people learn the whats, whys, and hows of leading a health-focused life. Before joining the Primal team, she earned her master’s and Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, where she also worked as a researcher and instructor.
Lindsay lives in Northern California with her husband and two sports-obsessed sons. In her free time, she enjoys ultra running, triathlon, camping, and game nights. Follow along on Instagram @theusefuldish as Lindsay attempts to juggle work, family, and endurance training, all while maintaining a healthy balance and, most of all, having fun in life. For more info, visit lindsaytaylor.co.