Practicing pranayama can lower stress levels and improve your complexion. (Photo: ACP/Trunk Archive)
Your face is the first thing you present to others, and the condition of your skin can reveal a lot—from a late night of drinking to your inner emotions. Stress heightens free radical activity, and free radicals attack and damage cells and collagen. While your instinct might be to splurge on a $500 face cream or drink a charcoal smoothie, there is a much more effective and economical way to get glowing skin—and the only muscle you need to move is your diaphragm.
As it turns out, exercising the main muscle we use to inhale and exhale by practicing pranayama (which means “the expansion of vital energy”) is part of the secret to keeping those free radicals at bay. Pranayama is an Eastern practice of breath regulation, mostly known for its powerful ability to calm your nervous system and increase cognitive function, but research has shown that there may be other benefits such as keeping your skin radiant and healthy.
In Ayurvedic medicine, doctors believe that the most important reflection of health is what we can see in the mirror. Our skin is our largest organ of elimination that removes waste and toxins, so it’s integral to our overall health. For our skin to stay healthy it needs a sufficient supply of blood, and the body needs to be well oxygenated; focused breathing and exercising the diaphragm helps oxygenate the blood and improves circulation.
You may have noticed the not-so-subtle glow of those blissfully floating out of their vinyasa class, but it’s not just yogis who believe in the power of pranayama. Cybele Fishman, MD, an integrative dermatologist in New York City, recommends it to those seeking their skin of years past. “I always tell my patients that in order to have beautiful skin, you need to ‘be the least inflamed person you can be,’” says Fishman. “And stress is one of the key triggers of inflammation; the good news is that pranayama helps control stress.”
“The reason Pranayama is so valuable is that it switches your nervous system from an excitatory, pro-inflammatory sympathetic state, to a calming, anti-inflammatory parasympathetic state,” says Fishman. “This reduces stress hormones, which can majorly benefit your skin, whether you suffer from diseases like acne or eczema, or whether you are just trying to fight aging.”
Whether your skin gets inflamed from the summer heat, improper digestion, or stress, these two pranayama methods can help you feel confident when you leave the house, even with a foundation-free face.
Kapal means forehead, and bhati means glowing, and this aptly named practice delivers through detoxifying the respiratory tracts, boosting oxygen supply to your entire system, purifying the blood, and improving digestion—all which result in radiant skin.
“Kapilbhati helps release toxins and deposits from the lungs, mucous linings, blood vessels, and other cells, which helps keep skin clear and bright, says Elena Brower, author of Art of Attention: Yoga and Meditation. “It also strengthens the nervous system to resist stress, which helps keep us positive - and glowing!”
This one takes a bit of tongue contortion, but it works to release excess inner heat, which can cause inflammation in the skin. Often referred to as “the cooling breath,” due to the method of sipping air into the mouth, sitali breathing has a cooling and calming effect on the nervous system, which in turn quiets inflammation in the skin.
A few helpful hints when practicing pranayama:
- It’s best to practice in the morning when the mind is alert.
- Practice after exercise, but before meditation if possible.
- Wait two hours after eating and 30 minutes after drinking.
- Keep the entire body relaxed and seated in a comfortable, upright position.
- Rest your hands on top of your thighs.
- Breathe through your nose only.
- Empty your bladder before practicing.