Before we go any further – freeze right where you are. Notice your posture and the expression on your face. Are you clenching your jaw or squinting your eyes? Does your face feel strained? In other words, do you really have RBF if you’re not actually resting those muscles? What about your shoulders – are they rounded forward over your phone or desk, or scrunched up by your ears? Notice your hips and lower back – how does everything seem to be aligned? Bringing awareness to your chronic holding patterns is key to preventing the signs of aging associated with tense muscles. Check in with your expressions and posture throughout the day and notice what you might be saying to the world through your body language.
Our Bodies Speak Our Minds, So What Is Yours Saying?
In some ways, our bodies and faces tell our stories. Smile lines and crow’s feet show years of laughter and joy; age spots can be signs of memories made in the sunshine; forehead lines are clues of a curious and excited nature. Ultimately, aging should be embraced, not feared like society has led us to believe. That said, there are some aspects of aging that are less than desirable, since it’s in our nature as women to want to appear fresh and youthful.
Over the years, our skin loses elasticity, and our bones and muscles weaken. These processes are inevitable and can be slowed down by proper diet and exercise – which is the topic of a whole host of other articles. But to some extent, our aging process has to do with our chronic holding patterns – the way we consistently sit, stand, lay, or move our body and facial muscles throughout the day. These holding patterns affect how our muscles form around our bone structure, therefore altering our appearance. When our faces and bodies consistently hold expressions of fear, anxiety, or exhaustion, those expressions become the norm and can make us appear older. In a way, there’s some truth to that old wives’ tale – if you hold an expression long enough, your face really will stick like that.
Bringing awareness to your chronic holding patterns is key to preventing the signs of aging associated with tense muscles.
That said, here are some of the more common chronic holding patterns to look out for:
Neck and shoulders: Thought patterns of anxiety and insecurity can lead to poor posture. Picture a self-conscious teenager (maybe yourself at that age). Is she standing up tall with a long spine and her head held high? Or is she rounding her body forward in an effort to protect herself, either consciously or subconsciously? It’s likely the latter. We’re not teenagers anymore, but we can certainly be anxious or self-conscious at times. Eventually, this posture can lead to kyphosis, which is another word for hunchback.
Jaw: Take a moment to massage your jawline. Do you feel (in my technical massage therapist jargon) the crunchies? Most of us hold a lot of tension in our jaws, and we don’t even realize it. This can be caused by anger, good old-fashioned stress, or even from holding back from saying something that’s on our minds (notice your jaw tighten up when you literally “bite your tongue”). In addition to pain that can sometimes come from a tight jaw, constantly tensing up those muscles can lead to saggy cheeks, a downturned smile, and even bags or puffiness around the eyes as the muscles in the face shorten or lengthen over time.
Mouth: Tension here can be associated with the jaw, but in this case, I’m referring more to what’s going on with the lips. When we frown or purse our lips in sadness, bitterness, or contempt, the muscles in our mouth and lips tighten up. Because of this – and because the skin in this area is thin – “marionette lines” and “lipstick lines” (a.k.a. smoker’s lines) can form.
Forehead: The eyes are the windows to the soul, and can therefore be particularly expressive. Wrinkles that form between the eyebrows (often called “11s”) are often the result of consistent anger or worry, and the lines across the forehead can point to expressions of concern or confusion.
Become a Softie
Obviously, none of the aging signs on that list are desirable. But take heart – we can combat some signs of aging simply by shifting our mindset. There will be times when we’re stressed, angry, concerned, and so on, and our bodies and faces will reflect those feelings. But when we have a generally more relaxed and positive outlook, our appearance can also become more rested and radiant. True beauty really does come from within. The key to combating the aging signs mentioned above is to release that stored up tension. In other words, to soften. Here are a few ways to do so:
When we have a generally more relaxed and positive outlook, our appearance can also become more rested and radiant.
Try facial gua sha. This is the practice of gently gliding a flat stone on the face in order to release tension and encourage the flow of lymph and blood. There are plenty of gua sha tutorials online, but keep in mind that the best ones are usually from professionals who have knowledge of bone structure, muscles, and the lymphatic system. Think estheticians, massage therapists, acupuncturists, etc.
Get a massage. Let that stress go. Now that you’ve been paying attention to your chronic holding patterns, you can tell your massage therapist where you tend to hold your stress so that she can focus her attention there.
Stay warm. When we get chilly, we tense up our muscles. Spending time in a sauna, by a fire, or soaking in a warm bath can literally feel like you’re melting away stress and tension. This is especially key as we approach the colder months ahead.
Practice gratitude. According to Harvard Medical School, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Focusing on the positive aspects of your life makes it much harder to feel stressed.
Stretch or do gentle yoga. There’s nothing like a yin yoga class to draw awareness to any tight areas. Focus on relaxing into your poses and breathing deeply. You can also try facial yoga.
The truth is, we’re going to age. Try as we might, we cannot stop it. The key to aging gracefully is to live a beautiful, self-aware life filled with gratitude and grace. Take some time today to shift your mindset and focus on the positive, to soften and relax. Your body, face, mind, and spirit will thank you.
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