If there’s one thing seasoned yoga practitioners are known for (other than the impressive and slightly alarming ability to bend their bodies in all manner of directions), it’s great skin. Think of instructors you’ve encountered or enthusiasts you know in real life?it’s likely they all have similarly youthful, radiant skin. Is it the deep, restorative breaths and meditative state that keep wrinkles at bay, or is it the focused flows of movement that challenge the body and increase circulation?
As it turns out, the answer is a little of both. Practicing yoga does wonders for the mind and body. As skin guru Dr. Nicholas Perricone wrote in The Clear Skin Prescription, “It is the perfect exercise for people who lead busy, stress-filled lives who want to look and feel their best.” Yoga in general improves skin health by reducing stress (a common catalyst to breakouts and fine lines) and removing toxins from the body. In fact, there are certain asanas (poses) that are especially good at this, and therefore especially good for the skin. I spoke with two Los Angeles?based yoga instructors, Lisa Paskel and Mary Fanto, to find out the best ways to get a yogic glow.
The Best Asanas for Your Skin
Before going into skin-advantageous poses, it’s important to note that these shouldn’t be performed without warming up the body first. “I would never tell anyone who’s not warmed up to go into a spinal twist or an inversion,” warns Lisa Paskel, co-founder of Yoga Shelter. That could cause injury, especially for beginners unfamiliar with the poses in the first place. Even the simpler ones should be done slowly and carefully.
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
This easy standing pose allows you to focus on deep, rhythmic breathing?an essential element of healthy skin. “Most adult humans barely breathe into their throats,” Paskel explains, “[but] getting oxygen in the body is the number one thing.” Yogis and yoginis believe that drawing oxygen into, through, and out of the body releases harmful toxins and keeps vital systems running optimally.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
This one is difficult if your hamstrings are especially tight (hence the importance of warming up first), but luckily, you don’t have to touch the ground or keep your legs pin-straight to get the pose’s skin benefits. “Even if you just bend over at the waist, close your eyes, and let your head hang ? you’re clearing everything out and your blood is switching directions,” says Mary Fanto, an instructor at U Studio Yoga. She suggests trying that for one minute a day and working up to five.
Because forward-bending poses fight against gravity by turning the head toward the ground instead of toward the sky, Fanto refers to them as fountains of youth. Blood flows into the face faster, bringing with it oxygen and other helpful nutrients that fight free radicals, encourage skin cell renewal, and give the visage a rosy glow. Uttanasana is the easiest of the forward bends; those who practice yoga regularly can also try Downward-Facing Dog and the hip-opening Child’s Pose.
Bharadvaja’s Twist (Seated Twist)
Both Fanto and Paskel say that twisting positions are great for digestive health, which is important for moving toxic properties out of the organs. “Anytime you’re clearing your body of waste, it’s better for your skin,” Fanto says. However, simply twisting isn’t enough?deep, cleansing breaths are a necessary component to the pose. “If you don’t follow up with really good breath and water, then the toxins get released, but then they get trapped,” Paskel points out.
Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
Challenging poses like Chair make the heart beat faster, increasing the circulation of blood flow throughout the body and prompting the skin to sweat out impurities. Chair pose lengthens and strengthens the thigh muscles. Warrior I and Half Moon Pose are more advanced poses that also work the legs.
Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose)
Inversion poses include some of the hardest, most advanced postures in yoga and shouldn’t be attempted by anyone who hasn’t been practicing for some time (or any female menstruating, for that matter). Inversions such as Headstand and Shoulderstand (known as the king and queen of asanas, respectively) increase blood flow to the face. They also require clear focus, regular breathing, and a great deal of endurance?all of which help to clean out the body. Viparita Karani is a less challenging version of Shoulderstand that supposedly aids everything from digestion to insomnia.
Doing a forward bend or seated twist once in a while can’t hurt (as long as you’re warmed up and aligning yourself properly, that is), but both Paskel and Fanto emphasize deep breathing, lots of water, and a healthful diet as equally key to youthful, radiant skin as well. And while they agree that certain poses are especially beneficial for the skin, both maintain that regular yoga practice or at least regular exercise of some sort is what it takes to get that coveted glow. A forward bend alone won’t achieve yogic skin?but it’s a good place to start.