Chapter 9: Compressing Facial Muscles for Composure and Well-being
The tension in our faces drives sympathetic upregulation, influencing us to feel anxious, and breathe shallowly. The damage it does to the muscles makes our faces appear languid, exhausted and weak. The muscles feel tender when compressed firmly, but deep tissue compression is the only way to counteract the excessive tone. Compression and percussion will reinvigorate the muscle, increase the blood supply, reverse the muscle shortening, remove the trigger points, decrease inflammation, and permit the muscle to grow and thereby eat up the fat that surrounds it. The continual strain of facial musculature is probably the leading cause of facial aging and lack of facial composure. These two issues are probably among the biggest sources of human insecurity. Both are not only preventable but reversible. If you want your face to look healthy and feel amazing, invest some time and effort in the facial compression regimen described here.
If you take your knuckles or a baseball and press them into your brow, your cheeks or your jaw with between 5 and 15 pounds of pressure, you will feel a dull but intensely aching pain. This pain may be so intense that it makes your breathing shallow and the pit of your stomach tight. The first day I tried compressing my facial muscles, it hurt so much that I questioned whether I could ever make any progress. In fact, you can often feel and see the progress day to day. If you spend 20 minutes a day compressing your facial muscles and pairing this with diaphragmatic breathing, six months from now you will be washing your face and it will feel completely different. The contours will feel lean and smooth. The sagging, the puffiness and the excessive deposits of fat will be gone. You will glance at yourself in a mirror or window and won’t recognize this leaner, chiseled, more heavily muscled face. You will feel healthier because you look healthier. Most importantly your baseline level of stress will be vastly reduced.
Below are some before and after pictures of me. Look at my facial tension at age 29. How can that guy expect to make sustained eye contact with anyone? He couldn’t. The photos have not been altered and I have not had any cosmetic procedure, so any aesthetic differences are attributable to compression alone.
Facial massage and acupressure are actually very old arts. However, existing methods are not scientifically informed, and are intended to temporarily pacify the face, not to permanently relieve the trigger points. I think that the method presented here targets the most insidious myofascial restrictions in the face and guides you to eliminate them systematically. You will be able to relax facial muscles that you couldn’t before, and you will have more precise motor control over them. Your new ability to relax your face will become so complete that you can transition back and forth between expressionlessness and expressionfulness gracefully.
To release your muscles I recommend using the three techniques from chapter 6: percussion, compression, and vibration. Percuss your muscles with a semi-soft object, compress them with a knuckle or a hard implement, and then use a vibrating massager on them. I think that the percussion relaxes the last few days of accumulated tension so that you can permeate deeply with compression. The compression expels months of tension, and the vibration soothes the muscles into their new state of relaxation. I recommend compressing the muscles before bedtime in order to ensure that you sleep with them relaxed.
The remainder of this section is dedicated to compression of the face. Please revisit the compression protocol from Chapter 6. If the area that you compressed feels slightly sore to the touch the next day, then you performed it properly. The muscles should never be sore when contracted or when not touched, and you don’t want them to ever become swollen, bruised or discolored. Don’t skip a day just because the area is sore, gently work through the soreness day after day to keep the hypertonia from resurfacing. A few notes about advisability. If you have injected filler or any cosmetic substances into your skin compression may not be safe. Definitely consult your doctor. There are probably a wide variety of dermatological conditions that contraindicate compression. I have compressed tissues on nearly every corner of my face, and have not experienced any injury or accident whatsoever.
3 sizes of eye bolts (1’’ x 8’’; .75’’ x 12’’; .5’’ x 6’’), jacknobber TM, index knobber TM, bonger TM
Each of the exercises below are to be performed for a few minutes, 4 days a week, while engaging in paced, diaphragmatic breathing. After just one week of any of the following activities you should notice visible results. The extent of the results is highly dependent on proper breathing. If you have retrained your diaphragm to breathe around 5 to 8 breaths per minute naturally, and you breathe between 3 and 6 breaths per minute while performing the exercises, the results will be dramatic. If you normally breathe more than 12 breaths per minute you may find that compressing the facial muscles is very painful, that the muscles are resistant to compression, and that hard compression injures them rather than releases them.
There are many layers to the tension, and it will take months to years for complete relief. Expect the gains you experience to be long-lasting and to increase with each session. Most of the exercises can be performed from a standing or seated position, but the exercises that use a tool, especially the eye bolt, are best performed by placing the base of the tool on the ground or a flat surface, and pressing the area of the face to be compressed into the top of the tool using the weight of the head. The diagrams below illustrate how this can be done with an eye bolt seated, kneeling or lying down.
A., B., & C. Comfortable positions for facial compression. Caution: ensure that the tool does not slip and bump into your eyeball.
Around the Eyes: Orbicularis Oculi
Most people have bags under the eyes in some shape or form. Some have circles, others have a crease that runs from the inside corner of the eye down diagonally away from the nose. It is often darker in color, and sometimes black and blue. This is due to tension in the lower portion of the orbicularis oculi muscle caused from perpetual squinting. The more you squint the more likely you are to have a prominent crease here. Tension here potentiates blushing and crying. Before compressing this area I would often be on the verge of crying, and I would blush every time I exercised. After the compression I have done, I rarely feel tearful and never blush. You will also find that you squint much less in sunlight.
The Brow: Frontalis, Procerus, Corrugator Supercilli
The forehead and eyebrows are very tense in most people. They become tense because we raise our eyebrows (frontalis muscle) when trying to make friends, and furrow our eyebrows (procerus and corrugator supercilli) when we become angry. These expressions become plastered on our face, making the brow painful by our mid-twenties. As mentioned in Chapter 6 the corrugator supercilli is regarded by scientists as the principle muscle in the expression of suffering. Why wouldn’t we all compress it until it is painless?
For me, the brow directly above the eyes and the muscles under the actual eyebrows hurt the most, but now they are painless. It took me six months massaging about 5 minutes per day but I have absolutely no pain in my brow any longer. Sizeable knots and considerable scar tissue are now completely gone. These knots would tremble with provocation. They also kept my brow in a permanently raised state. When you can release these, the muscle shortening reverses, and the eyebrows descend, taking on a fearless look. Your eyebrows will keep still when you talk, and only raise when you want them to.
The Cheeks: Zygomaticus Minor, Zygomaticus Major, Levator Anguli Oris, Levator Labii Superioris
We have a large bony protrusion from each cheek called the zygoma. A number of muscles meet and overlap here and create an intersection of tension. Tension here buries the cheekbones under inflammation and fat. The medical term for skin swelling in the upper cheek area is “festoon” or “malar mound.” Compressing the muscles will uncover your cheek bones making it look like they have risen. It will also end chronic blushing and cheek tightness, making you feel less tearful and more cheerful. Just below the zygoma lie the muscles that pull the corners of the mouth upwards (zygomaticus minor), pull the corners of the mouth up and out diagonally (zygomaticus major), raise the angle of the mouth (levator anguli oris), and raise the upper lip (levator labii superioris). These muscles anchor on the zygoma on one end and on the corner of the mouth (or lips) on the other. When these muscles contract they form the smile.
The area where the zygomatic muscles anchor into the zygoma hurts because we use these muscles repetitively and nervously. Most smiling is nervous smiling, because when we laugh or smile socially, our hearts are beating quickly and our breathing is shallow and tense. Any muscles that are coactivated routinely with distressed breathing will hold excessive tension. This causes the strained zygomatic muscles to pull on their own tendons, causing deep pain. The tendons that attach the muscles to the cheekbone becomes so strained that the area accumulates scar tissue and undergoes a host of degenerative cellular processes. This made my smile rotten and mangled. You should be able to feel this point of insertion in the cheek. It will be painful. After a few months of compressing this your smile will be bigger, unfaltering and will feel good.
The Nose: Levator Labii Superioris
In most mammals the sneer occurs more conspicuously on one side of the mouth, usually the left. You may have observed this in a snarling dog. Accordingly, I had a much larger knot in my left levator labii superioris than in my right. It was probably the tightest muscle in my face. The knot was circular and about the size of five sticks of chewed gum. Releasing this muscle was empowering for me. Only after releasing the muscle, I realized that I used to walk around with a permanent sneer on my face and the sneer would grow as I became uncomfortable making me look sour. It was stuck in partial contraction with very little range of motion. Now that the muscles are at rest, I feel less defensive, and less susceptible to provocation.
Also, the area to each side of the nose is deeper and leaner now, making me appear more friendly and secure. Releasing these muscles frees up your grin by allowing you to smile without sneering, and by keeping a sneer from lingering after you smile. As the photographs of me above demonstrate, I used to have a prominent crease lateral to each nostril that wrinkled when I smiled. These are completely gone now, and I think that this crease is indicative of tense, inflamed sneering muscles. I urge you to release them. It feels like blood-sucking leeches have been removed from the sides of my nose. In fact I used to wake up every morning with an intense ache on the sides of my nose. Never again.
In addition, put a towel down on carpet and press your nose into it, resting the weight of your head on it. Press the tip of the nose downwards, rock back and forth to massage and compress tissues throughout the nose. Also compress the nostrils (the alar portion of the nasalis) and the muscle under the nose (depressor septi) with a knuckle or tool.
We all have a low grade perpetual sneer burned into our facial musculature. All of our lips are slightly curled due to this tension. Most people have the ability and coordination to relax them, but they usually don’t because they feel uglier when the muscles are relaxed. I remember feeling like I looked like some kind of disgusting zombie-pig when I relaxed mine. When most people relax it they are aware of how bad they look. By tensing the muscles, we apologize for and cover up the look of strained, dormant muscle in this area. But over time this only makes it worse. It is likely that the only time you relax these muscles is when you are really angry. Start relaxing your sneer as soon as possible. Disregard any reservations you have about the way you look while doing this and work on resting them throughout the day. Compressing the levator labii will remove the knots and actually making you look better when resting them.
The Mouth and Lips: Orbicularis Oris
The mouth and lips are actually the point of attachment for muscles throughout the face. Muscles extending from the nose, cheeks, jaw and chin all anchor into the corners of the mouth. The bracing of our mouths and lips (orbicularis oris) is almost imperceptible. It is a subtle pouting that over years, makes your lips thinner and mouth appear shriveled. As you age, continuous pursing of the lips causes vertical wrinkles.
The Jaw: Masseter
In my teens I noticed that some guys had muscular, square jaws. I wanted the look for myself and tried chewing gum a couple hours a day for a month. By the end of the month there was no noticeable difference in my jaw. I chalked it up to genetics. Genes can certainly code for more muscular jaws, and more relaxed jaws, but some of the variation in the conspicuousness of the human masseter must also be accounted for by learned differences in bracing. I also had considerable temporomandibular joint pain before I started compressing this area. Since performing myofascial release here, the motion is no longer restricted, there is no pain, and there is some muscular definition when before there was none. My jaw muscles also grow now in response to gum chewing.
There is a superficial masseter and a deep masseter, focus on both but importantly, don’t press too hard. Pressing too hard can be harmful, and it could damage the salivary glands there that lay on top of the muscles. Releasing the masseter muscles of the jaw is not easy, because they are likely very hard from cumulative tension. Think of releasing the jaw as a long- term goal.
Under the Jaw: Platysma
Poor neck posture, and failing to contract the muscles under the jaw makes these muscles weak and tight. I believe that speaking in a high, tense voice may also contribute to the atrophy of these muscles. Because these muscles atrophy, rather large deposits of fat accumulate under the jaw. If you can release these muscles you will find that your “double chin” or “jowls” disappear and your jawline will become highly defined, lending an athletic and aesthetically pleasing look to your whole face. These muscles release and improve in appearance very rapidly.
The Chin: Mentalis, Depressor Anguli Oris, Depressor Labii Inferioris
Compressing the muscles of the chin will make your chin appear lean and muscular. However, be advised that it will also reduce the overall size of the chin as these muscles metabolize the surrounding fat. I had a painful knot of hard muscle in the depressor labii inferioris the size of a tootsie roll. Weekly compression made it smaller and smaller until it was unnoticeable. Again, this muscle is responsible for the cry-face seen in apes and humans. There is practically no scientific study on this aspect of the cry-face, so I won’t even speculate on what removing these painful knots has done for my psyche, but I imagine that it is overwhelmingly positive.
Keep at It
The exercises above may seem time consuming, but focus on the ones you find most interesting or potentially helpful. After a little practice you will find that you can perform these exercises without thinking while engaging in unrelated activities such as watching TV, enjoying a movie, or reading. Just make sure that you are calm. The more diaphragmatic your breathing is the more pliant your muscles will be, and the easier it will be to release them. Given the easy, rapid results I experienced, I am amazed that facial release regimens are not widespread. I have concluded that without diaphragmatic breathing, tense muscles are too recalcitrant and recidivistic to make such regimens feasible. After you have tried the compression exercises here return to percussion, but instead of using the bonger as in exercise 1, this time use a harder implement:
Botox injection shares some benefits with compression. Botox paralyzes muscle, decreasing tone and metabolic activity, thereby temporarily decreasing the strain in the muscle. It is very popular because it makes the face appear relaxed and reduces the appearance of wrinkles. It also seems to have positive emotional affects as people taking botox report blunting of negative emotions and reduced susceptibility to crying. However, botox does not bring more blood, oxygen, or nutrients to the muscle. Thus, the muscle does not have a chance to increase in strength or size. This also means that it doesn’t metabolize the fat deposits surrounding it. Botox, like cosmetic surgery, creates an artificial look that many people can recognize. Also, persistently tense muscle around the orbits of the eyes contributes heavily to looking and feeling tired. However, botox cannot be injected near the eyes, because there is a risk that it could leak into and paralyze the ocular muscles that control eye movements. Compression has none of these downsides, and it costs nothing. It does take longer, and it can be uncomfortable, but it has much more dramatic, authentic, and long-lasting effects. Also Botox paralyzes facial expressions whereas compression unlocks them. Compression will give you better motor control of your muscles and increase their range of motion. My chin and cheeks moved sluggishly before and now they are surprisingly brisk and nimble. See for yourself!
Your most beautiful face is not the face that a cosmetic surgeon can give you. The plastic surgeon attempts to create a face that looks muscular, lean and without tension, without actually giving you any of these things. Plastic surgery traumatizes soft tissues, and reduces blood flow, causing muscles to atrophy, and fat to accumulate, while doing nothing to reduce strain. Even the most skilled surgeon cannot come close to creating the all-natural look that comes from the release and strengthening of your own muscles. Today I smile much bigger and much more frequently than I ever have, but my facial wrinkles are less pronounced than they have ever been. That and numerous other observations have suggested to me that wrinkles in the skin don’t come from using the muscles. Rather, wrinkles form over dormant muscles that have been strained repetitively.
Scientists have long questioned what it is that constitutes physical beauty. The consensus now seems to be that aside from youth, smooth skin, and well-proportioned features, that symmetry and averageness are very important. The right and left sides of a beautiful face are usually fairly symmetrical. Also, when images of human faces are averaged together by a computer to form a composite image they are nearly always perceived as more attractive than the faces that were summed together (Valentine et al., 2004). More than these other criteria, I think that the absence of muscular strain is the primary determinate of attractiveness. In fact, the extent of facial tension can probably be seen as a marker of status hierarchy that we wear on our faces. If your face, head, neck, and throat were completely free of muscular tension, you would likely be among the most beautiful people in the world. If they had been free of tension throughout your life, you would likely be the most beautiful person in the world. Charles Dickens said the following about Ebenezer Scrooge: “The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.”
Social Fatigue and Resting Face
When our face is uncommonly tense others take it as a clear sign of self-perceived inferiority. My face was so tense before that, whether someone was making a joke at my expense or giving me a compliment, I could not help but to respond in a bashful, embarrassed way. This sheepish grimace would betray me constantly by showing others that it is easy to make me uncomfortable. It undermined my ability to stay composed and made me a favored target. Facial compression obliterates this submissiveness. If you never look uncomfortable people learn quickly that they are the ones that will look bad if they try to bully you. Moreover, you will be able to keep a fantastic poker face. The person who can keep a straighter face almost always controls the situation. I only smile when I want to now and I can even tell the punchline to a joke with a straight face. People finally laugh at my attempts at humor. Even after a long day of gregariousness I can easily assume a calm, expressionless demeanor.
Social fatigue occurs when prolonged social encounters become stressful, overwhelming, and cause a person to seek rest from social interaction. Much of social fatigue derives from the fatigue of facial muscles. When these muscles tire, or when their latent trigger points become active, they become debilitating. They are draining to use, and diminish our ability to express, and be friendly. Studies show that the amount that a person smiles and makes socially engaging facial expressions is one of the best predictors of likeability. Using your face makes people want to be around you. But if your facial muscles are in perpetual fatigue you can’t emote and you become dejected and depressed. When you are experiencing social fatigue people can usually see it in your face.
Bitchy resting face (or resting bitch face) is a popular term for a facial expression (or lack of expression) which unintentionally appears angry, or irritated. When we allow our face to relax more than usual, the tense muscles that we are not capable of relaxing become readily apparent and belie our attempt to appear calm. One of my favorite rappers and music producers, Kanye West, has been called a poster child for bitchy resting face. This is probably attributable to the car accident which broke his jaw and introduced extensive trauma into his face. I believe this because I can see what breaking my nose did to me. Before I started this regimen no one ever saw my bitchy resting face because I never allowed my face to rest, even when alone. I was so self-aware of how bad my face looked at rest that I always sported a compensatory grimace. Our goal should be to let the face rest as much as possible and rehabilitate the face until a complete resting face is no longer bitchy. We want to shoot for a wide-eyed, peaceful resting face. Unbracing and compressing your face will make it so that you rarely experience social fatigue and so that your resting face is inviting and receptive rather than contemptuous.
All of us are constantly making microexpressions with our facial muscles. A microexpression is a brief, involuntary expression that is evoked by emotion. They are very brief and last between 1/25th and 1/15th of a second. It is thought to be very difficult if not impossible to completely suppress microexpression reactions (Ekman, 2003). These genuine reflexes are usually helpful and largely dictate our emotional reactions to our life’s events. Sometimes they turn out to be premature, or socially unacceptable, and in these cases we inhibit them and replace them with something else. If you find yourself compulsively thinking negative thoughts during the day, this suggests that many of the automatic microexpressions that you make are negative. Most mammals, that are not primates, only wince when they experience pain. Primates take the innate facial reflex of wincing to physical pain and generalize it to social pain. Humans take it another step further. We wince when someone chastises us, but many of us learn to over generalize our facial analogies, and wince even when someone congratulates us. Maladaptive microexpressive habits like this are caused by facial strain. Compressing the muscles in the activities above will remove the frown, the cry face, the squint, the blush, and the sneer from the involuntary microexpressions that flicker across your face.
Stretch the Skin for Better Tone
People try to achieve the look of even skin tone with tans, creams, lasers, and all sorts of applications and contraptions. Our skin is expectant of heavy use but stagnates due to lack of physical stimulation. When the face is not handled, tugged, or pulled for many years the vasculature, or system of blood vessels, diminishes giving it a pale, sallow look, and accentuating the prominence of moles, freckles, and wrinkles. By lightly stretching your skin you can incite small blood vessel creation (angiogenesis). It will make your skin darker, healthier, appear younger and more evenly toned. The stretching acts as very light damage to cutaneous and subcutaneous tissues that prompts the rebuilding and revitalization of countless dermal structures.
Be Dominant but not Domineering
As you become less tense you will become more dominant. As your composure improves people in your life, as well as people on the street, will be more respectful. Because of this you will notice that you inadvertently start to demand respect, and even demand submissive displays from others. It is inevitable that you will start to dominate people, whether deliberately or not. This is not good or just. You might hold your head high, looking above the eyeline, with a perfectly calm face until the other person feels compelled to look down and speak in a high voice. You might stare at a stranger on the street until he looks away. Keeping a stolid composure is fine, but once you attempt to elicit subordination displays from others, you will generate animosity. If you combine your reprogrammed displays with rude comments, and insulting behavior there will be a backlash. This could result in you losing your best friend, or you literally being mauled in the street by strangers. This is a very serious point. Be more humble than you were before. If you are going to walk around like a king or a queen, retaining humility is imperative. The person that carries a big stick and speaks loudly, must choose their words carefully. Happily, as your displays become less inferior you will find that you have fewer frustrated thoughts, your ego will lessen its grip on you, and in turn, you will offend people less.
Once your facial muscles lose their tension your face will have much more expressive range and your default facial expression will no longer be chosen for you. Today my face belongs to me, before it belonged to everyone else. They knew this, and they toyed with it. What should you do with your face now that you have a choice in the matter? I think it is important to make the faces that you normally avoid. Embrace looking like a doe in the headlights, looking like you are imploring someone, looking forlorn, or looking naïve. The most powerful countenance in my opinion is that of a fun-loving child. We usually try not to come across in these ways, and take on excess tension in an effort to avoid them. Breathe into them and make them additional facets of your multifaceted physiognomy.
My cat got into a bad habit of showing me with his face how hungry he was. His cries would be accompanied by the most pitiful facial wincing. His eyes would be tight, and his whole face would crinkle up. When I saw it, my face would sympathetically do the same thing. It pulled at my heartstrings. Here is a species, removed from humans by 85 million years of evolution, that uses very similar facial signaling for distress. I started feeding him more regularly, but I also started massaging his face. Before his dinner, I hold him in my lap and use my thumbs to gently press into his orbits, his cheeks, his nose, and his jaw line. It was uncomfortable for him at first. It was most uncomfortable when I used my thumbs to raise and press into his upper lips. Now it all appears painless. He never makes those deplorable faces anymore and people regularly comment on his poise and beauty. He showed dramatic aesthetic facial improvements despite the fact that I began this routine with him at age 8. I recommend that people consider releasing the facial muscles, not only of their pets, but also of their spouses and children. As in the pruning of a bonsai, the sooner you can begin your manipulations, the more dramatic the effects will be. Whether you are a child or an elderly person, I recommend that you compress all of the pain out of your face.
The exercises above act as a guide, but you really want to compress every square inch of your face. When you have found an area of your face or neck that is tender and sore to gentle pressure, you have uncovered a gold mine. You have found an area that, when rehabilitated, will allow personal and spiritual growth. You will experience decreased chronic stress, improved sleep, release of emotional tension, and better autonomic balance.
Chapter 9 Bullet Points
- Deep tissue compression will reduce bracing and hypertonia in the facial muscles
- Pressing firmly into the aching muscles while breathing diaphragmatically will reverse this making you more attractive and better composed
- You want to compress each muscle for a few minutes a day until none of the facial muscles are sore, stiff or hard when compressed.
- Your facial muscles will become stronger, more prominent and have increased range of motion