We all want to look younger. Not all of us want to pay for it and even fewer of us want to go under a surgeon’s scalpel or inject toxic chemicals, but there’s a free and easy way to make our faces appear years younger without seeing a doctor or spending a dime: face yoga. 

Yes, you heard that correctly.  

Some may have already heard of it at a local spa, gym, or yoga studio. It’s a growing movement, but many still have yet to learn of its benefits. Since today marks the UN’s International Day of Yoga, it’s time to change that.

Facial yoga exercises include a range of poses focused on everything from smoothing smile lines and tightening sagging cheeks to combatting the appearance of crow’s feet and other wrinkles. 

These asanas seek to strengthen and enlarge the more than two dozen individual muscles on either side of our faces. As those muscles grow, firm, and tone, they help counteract the effects of age-related skin loosening and fat thinning and can make the shape of our faces appear fuller — and look younger. 

According to a study from Northwestern Medicine, a 30-minute daily or alternate-day facial exercise program sustained over 20 weeks improved the facial appearance of middle-aged women. The result was fuller cheeks and a more youthful appearance overall; in fact, evaluators observed a nearly 3-year decrease in age appearance.

This may sound too good to be true, but it has scientific grounding.

The benefits of face yoga are like the positive muscular effects of other yoga poses. When you enter into an extended high lunge, for instance, you are helping to build and strengthen the muscles in your quads, hamstrings and glutes. Over time, this makes for a firmer and more toned appearance. The same principle applies here. 

In his book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, James Nestor argues that the prevalence of processed foods in our current diets has led to a weakening of jaw muscles for many in the western world; we have all forgotten how to chew properly. “The more we gnaw, the more stem cells release, the more bone density and growth we’ll trigger,” Nestor writes, “[and] the younger we’ll look.” 

Unsurprisingly, part of the power of face yoga lies in the fact that many of its exercises simulate chewing.  This is worth keeping in mind if you’re unable to follow the expert guidance of adhering to a half-hour regimen of face yoga every day. 

There is no shortage of ways to strengthen your facial muscles from trying out yogic exercises during a conference call to being more intentional when we eat. Another obvious assist here is chewing gum. 

Gum, especially sugar-free, is a fantastic choice because of the surprising range of other benefits it offers, from oral health to stress reduction. 

But of course, chewing alone won’t solve all our skin ageing problems. Some of the most important contributors to the radiance of our skin are the things we commonly overlook; eating healthy food, getting enough sleep and — critically — reducing stress. 

High amounts of the stress hormone cortisol can have negative effects on skin ageing and cause wrinkles by breaking down collagen and elastin; stress causes inflammation and impairs the body’s ability to repair itself.

This brings us right back to yoga. 

We all know how important yoga — any yoga —is to reducing stress levels. Just look into the face of a long-practising yogi. You’re likely to see a sense of inner joy and radiance, and I’ll bet you’re going to see that radiance reflected in their skin and face too. 

That’s why I recommend incorporating face yoga into a broader and more holistic practice: eat better, sleep more, and try out other forms of yoga too. Make the goal to become a healthier person overall. In other words, come to face yoga for its amazing ageing benefits, stay for the joy of the practice itself.

Even for those who cannot commit to 30 minutes each day, the principles behind this powerful practice can be applied in a range of different everyday activities to improve our health. Smile more. Chew more. Pop a stick of gum. 

Whatever it takes, the more ways we can find to incorporate the power of simple relaxation techniques into our lives, the happier and younger we’ll feel — and look. 

 Ellie Raptakis MD is a paediatrician focusing on children and young people’s emotional and behavioural development and wellness.