Can non-invasive “facial yoga” really turn back the hands of time? Jessica Irvine trials a treatment Meghan Markle swears by.
“Do you like cheekbones?” Fumi Yamamoto, the owner of Zen Facial, asks me. Not in some weird, served-with-a-nice-chianti way but…“Yes, I like cheekbones.” “And what do you want?” I pause. “Everything.”
This isn’t a scene from Extreme Makeover but I’m secretly hoping the result might come close. I’m at Zen Facial in Sydney’s beachside suburb of Bronte for a treatment that, as the establishment’s name suggests, is something of a specialty here. Model Jessica Hart calls the treatments by Yamamoto “life-changing”. Miranda Kerr, Jessica Gomes and Jesinta Franklin are similarly enamoured.
It appears they like cheekbones, too. But Yamamoto kicks off our session by working on my feet. “It starts here,” she explains, her fingers darting between my toes while she simultaneously instructs me to open my mouth wide and curl my tongue back towards my throat. My jaw quickly starts aching from the stretch. After gently prodding my stomach, she rolls me into a lower-back stretch then works her way up to my chest, applying creams and oils.
It all feels great – relaxing, centring – but I’m a little antsy for the face work to begin. According to Yamamoto, it already has.
A former yoga teacher, she takes a holistic approach to delivering treatments that aim to hydrate, sculpt, plump and revitalise skin that’s heading south. Each facial begins with an examination of the stomach and feet to get a reading on what’s happening inside the body. “Your face shows the long-term effects of your life,” she says. “Your stomach is where you are at now.” Yamamoto draws on her knowledge of Eastern therapies, including acupressure, along with myofascial release and craniosacral therapies and lymphatic drainage. The latter is what most of her celebrity clientele favour. Her website promises “a natural face lift for the body and soul”. No needles necessary.
Not that we, as a nation, are backward about coaxing our faces forward. Figures released by the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery in 2015 revealed that we’re spending about $1 billion each year on cosmetic procedures, including more than $350 million on Botox. Anti-wrinkle injectables and fillers rank in the top five.
But where does that leave the filler-phobic among us who still want to look fresh? Earlier this year came hope: news of non-invasive practices that might actually deliver results. A study conducted by Northwestern University in the United States suggested that practising certain facial exercises – or “facial yoga” – over a period of 20 weeks actually left participants looking younger. Three years younger, according to estimates by independent dermatologists.
But maybe I buried the lead: Meghan Markle, the new Duchess of Sussex, does it. The woman whose face easily withstood the beauty world’s version of an extreme sport – being beamed out to millions of people to be scrutinised – revealed in a 2014 interview that she does a set of facial movements, similar to those practised by Yamamoto, that were taught to her by British facialist Nichola Joss. “On the days I do it,” Meghan said, “my cheekbones and jawline are way more sculpted.”
Around a third of the way into my session (it could be sooner or later – I’m on facial time now), Yamamoto’s hands reach my face. I quickly realise this is less facial yoga and more facial physiotherapy. Her movements are swifter than I expect, stronger, as her hands sweep along my jawline and knead their way through muscles to find cheekbones that long ago consciously uncoupled from the fat that gave them life. My face feels as though it is being restructured. Yamamoto pauses to apply more creams and oils (she uses Jessica Gomes’s Equal Beauty products as well as her own blends), a sheet mask and eye masks. She also waves a device over my face that she says emits micro currents. It certainly beeps a lot, like a high-pitched tut-tut for having left my skin to its own, rather depleted devices for so long.
Yamamoto pushes into my nose with firm movements then moves up to the top of my skull; I hear dull clicking sounds as she frees up the tight muscles. She rolls her arm up and down my neck, too – it’s relaxing, although at times it feels almost chiropractic.
Two hours later, she’s done. “I gave you ‘the surgery’,” she says (an initial consultation with a treatment starts at $350; I had the restorative sculptural facial, which is $440). We talk a little about my thoughts on the process but I’m antsy again. I’m keen to see my reflection. When I do, I’m struck by how streamlined my face looks, even my nose. The line between my eyebrows is softer. And my cheeks are sitting higher, their angles dusted off for another spin. I like them.
I share my appraisal with Yamamoto. “I lifted up, up, up from your feet,” she says with a laugh. “Now your face is back where it should be.” ￼
Three anti-ageing facials to try around Australia
Crown Spa Perth
Though the interiors have an almost futuristic bent, Crown Spa Perth draws on Ayurvedic techniques – namely marma point massage – to target stress while revitalising your skin in their Mukha Chikitsa, Holistic Anti-Ageing Facial.
Situated in The Langham hotel, Melbourne, Chuan Spa has a focus on traditional Chinese medicine. There are facials for your lunch hour (30 minutes) or more indulgent offerings (90 minutes) but the 75-minute Chuan Signature Facial, using acupressure and jade stones to lift the skin, is a popular option.
Many of the treatments at this day spa in Brisbane’s Brookfield reflect holistic principles – unsurprising since its founder is trained in yoga. If it’s a youth-enhancing treatment you’re after, try the Better than Botox Facial ($195), a 75-minute treatment that aims to address your expression lines.
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