The picture at the top of this blog post is not edited in any way. I sat in the same spot, with the camera the same distance away, at the same time of day, with the same lighting.
In the photo on the right, my head is thinner, both at the temporal bone area (around my temples) and at the jaw. The set of my eyes has changed, with them shifting down and in, more so on my right eye. My nose bridge is less wide and even the nostrils have reduced in size. My neck muscles have visibly reduced tension. And while I wouldn’t say my face was ‘puffy’ on the left photo, it is most certainly less puffy in the right photo as compared to the left one.
As I said in the title, I did this with no facial procedures or products. So how’d I do it? Let’s dive in…
I Wanted To Breathe Better
If you don’t know my backstory, I’ve struggled to breathe since I was a child. They thought it was asthma back then, but that was not a correct diagnosis, and my breathing troubles persisted. It felt like I could never get a full or fresh breath of air, even when sitting at rest. I yawned and sighed a lot. I always felt ‘gasp-y’ when doing cardiovascular exercise.
Imagine an elephant sitting on your chest and a pair of hands choking you around the neck all day every day. As you can imagine, this eventually started seriously weighing on my mood and caused my anxiety to rise.
I tried to motor along as best I could, but after trying every breathing technique under the sun and realizing none of them actually improved my ability to breathe, I decided to explore into working with a clinician who specifically worked on that – the ability to breathe, not just the type of breathing.
But wait, isn’t this supposed to be about your face changing shape? Yes, this relates to that.
The Upper Airway – Face, Skull, Tongue, Jaw, Neck, & More!
To have good ability to breathe means the right body parts and tissues move in the right directions, at the right times, the right amounts, and in the right order. When you breathe, a lot of things in your body move (or they should) – from your skull bones to your pelvic floor, and much more!
When they don’t, you’ll have to compensate with some sort of altered respiratory strategy. And whenever you have to compensate, you tend to start accumulating downstream effects you don’t enjoy. Here are a few examples: back pain, shoulder pain, pelvic floor issues, anxiety, trouble sleeping.
To start improving how I breathed, I first did work to get my pelvis and ribcage, and all of the attached muscles, into better position and function. You can read more about what improved from doing that here.
Then I shifted to working in my upper airway. Think of the upper airway as everything from the neck up: vocal folds, the neck muscles, the jaw and its’ muscles, the tongue, teeth, facial muscles, and the rest of the muscles and soft tissues of the skull.
Just like elsewhere in the body, your body may create compensations and your cranial bones and muscles/tissues can change shape and position because of it. This was my situation and I didn’t even know it. I just thought “that’s my face.” But as you can see from the photos above, my face has most certainly changed from the face I’ve had for quite some time as a result of addressing my upper airway.
There’s too many possible compensations in the upper airway to list here so I’ll just share a few of my personal compensations that we worked to correct.
- Tongue position and strength; my tongue was weak and did not sit up on the roof of the mouth where it should be. People often think of the front of their tongue as the part they are trying to get to rest on the roof of the mouth. And that is one part of it. But it’s more important that you get the back of your tongue, down by your throat, to sit up against the back of the roof of the mouth.
- Sphenoid bone and its associated muscles; the sphenoid is a bone that sits in the middle of your skull, “it helps form the base and lateral sides of the skull in combination with the orbital floor”, so if you do things that move the bone – which you can indeed make it move – it can alter the shape of your skull and your eye sockets. “It has an attachment site for many of the muscles of mastication”, ie, chewing, and as such, plays a role in jaw movement. “Also, several fissures and foramina exist in the sphenoid, which transports several blood vessels and nerves of the skull to the head and neck. The body of the sphenoid has a cavity with a sinus that communicates with the nasal cavity.” (source) The sphenoid moves because muscles and ligaments are attached to it, most of which were weak for me.
- Facial muscles; They work together to control the parts of your face, and are essential to chewing and making facial expressions. In the past, I always had a stronger side of my face, but never considered how that could be affecting me. It was comical and enlightening to discover how weak the left side of my face was, and more importantly, how I had developed a compensation where many of the muscles of my left side of my face only moved if I also moved my neck muscles. Think about how often you move your face muscles during a day as you make facial expressions and chew. Now imagine the neck being put to work that many times a day for something it’s not intended to do. This is one part of why my neck muscles had become more developed (and since then have become less developed as I learned to separate facial muscle activity from neck muscle activity.)
How To Get Started
I can’t say if your face will change shape if you start working on your upper airway, though I assume it would, at least to some degree. What I can say for certain is that your health, fitness, and overall well-being will improve if you work to improve your upper airway.
To help you get started, I want to share this exercise with you. It’s simple and can be done anywhere. It strengthens the tongue, especially the further back part of it. And fyi, if you have someone in your life who snores, show them this exercise. Part of why snoring occurs is because the tongue is not positioned properly inside the airway while asleep.