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The “You Look Stressed” Meditation

Visibly reduce wrinkles with this short meditation

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
“You look stressed.”

Is there a less empathetic way to show you care?

The concerned friend who makes this statement means well. She says it as an invitation to vent. But when she tells me I look stressed, I hear, “The bags under your eyes exceed most carry-on restrictions,” and “The deep furrow between your brows might accept small coins.”

Challenge: Holding Tension in The Face

All this would be comic if my friend weren’t right. I have a tendency to hold tension in my face. My bad days, weeks, and months are obvious to anyone who sees me. On several occasions, I’ve caught my reflection in the mirror and confused it for a kabuki demon: When I’m stressed, my nostrils flare and my mouth twists shut at the corners. It’s not an attractive look.

Photo from the BBC

What’s worse is I usually don’t realize I’m grimacing. I don’t go through my day thinking about the the muscles around my mouth. They tense reflexively when the bus is late. It’s only when I meditate, when I take the time to pause and check in with myself, that I notice how knotted up my face has become.

Meditation: The “You Look Stressed” Meditation

It’s also only when I meditate, and when I consciously relax the muscles in my face, that I start to calm down. Over time, I’ve come to realize that the tension I hold in my face is both a symptom and a cause of my stress. Walking around with a face full of nervous energy begets more nervous energy. I’ve learned that, if I want to relax, I need to look relaxed — and vice versa.

I haven’t found any short meditations specific to relieving facial tension, so I borrowed techniques from Tara Brach and Mark Coleman to create my own. This meditation takes you through three focal points to relax the muscles in your face. It works best if you’re in a seated, comfortable position. I like to keep my eyes closed and mouth slightly ajar, but those are personal preferences — do whatever feels comfortable.

  • Smooth the skin on the forehead. Inhale and visualize the forehead as a soft, smooth surface. Exhale, relax the brows, and imagine smoothing out the skin on the forehead so that there are no folds or crease. Repeat 3–5 times.
  • Soften and melt the cheeks. Inhale and bring the attention to the apples of the cheeks, just below the eyes. Exhale and imagine your cheeks softening, going slack, or melting ever so slightly toward the corners of your mouth. Imagine your face looking as peaceful as if you were asleep, with your face fully relaxed. Repeat 3–5 times.
  • Drop the tongue from the roof of the mouth. Inhale and bring the attention to the tongue. Exhale and unstick the tongue from the roof of the mouth, letting it relax behind the bottom teeth. Inhale, exhale, and soften the base of the tongue so it melts across the bottom palate. Inhale, exhale, and soften the tip of the tongue so it melts across the bottom palate.

You should feel and look rather serene at the end of this meditation. Of course, it’s not our goal to have friends say we look serene, but if it happens, we’ll graciously accept the compliment (and double-up on our meditation practice the next day).

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