Thursday, March 29, 2007

Skin Deep
Got Crow’s-Feet? Call the Downward Dog
FOR a Friday evening, the small, intimate workout room at the New York Health & Racquet Club on East 57th Street was comfortably full. A dozen people sat, their chins pointed toward the ceiling, their lips puckered as if preparing for a kiss.

Later, they took their index and middle fingers and tapped their mouths five times, with the hope of increasing lip fullness and color. If done each day, they were told, it would be just as if they had been injected with collagen.

“The resistance is what firms the muscles,” Annelise Hagen, the teacher, said of Revita-Yoga, which combines yoga and facial exercises and is billed as a way to combat frown lines, wrinkles and sagging. “Each pose, stretch or exercise is designed to relax the muscles and release the patterns people unconsciously etch into their skin.”

Want to sculpture and narrow your nose? Alternate breathing out of each nostril, Revita-Yoga teaches. Have crow’s-feet? Open the eyes wide to smooth the lines. As pale as the winter sky? A dose of downward dog can add color to the complexion while oxygenating the skin.

In an era when aging is treated as a disease and yoga is often touted as a cure-all, it is hardly surprising to see people combining the two. Classes are sprouting up all over the United States and so are books, marketed to the portion of the population that wants the benefits of the knife and the needle without the costs or the risks.

That it works is unlikely, say doctors who specialize in skin or facial physiology. But it does relax practitioners while playing into their desire to do something about perceived flaws in their skin.

“People want a healthy alternative to looking good without artificial substance,” said Ms. Hagen, a former actress whose book, “The Yoga Face,” is to be published this August by Avery, the health and wellness division of Penguin. “And they want to be in control of their appearance rather than relegating it to an authority. I’m teaching my students to consciously release muscles rather than paralyzing them, which is what Botox does.”

The idea of merging exercise and beauty is not new. Beauty magazines have long carried how-to articles on firming up the face. But the concept seems to have become imbued with new energy in the last year.

Frownies and jowlies are under attack at the Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas, where guests are led through a series of 23 facial movements meant to release facial tension, lift droopy mouth corners and iron forehead wrinkles.

The Kapiolani Health Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, has six two-hour sessions designed to create “balanced facial symmetry” while revitalizing and rejuvenating skin.

Gary Sikorski, who is certified in yoga facial toning, gives his Happy Face workshop in the Atlanta area. In a phone interview, Mr. Sikorski sounded, well, quite happy. He had just seen a graduate of his course, and, he said, “she had been practicing a lot on her own, and she looked amazing! The corners of her mouth were turned up, she looked younger and was absolutely glowing.”

The latest six-session series, he said, drew 25 seekers of his guidance for stimulating 57 muscles in the face, neck and scalp. Mr. Sikorski sent them home with a 33-page booklet, a CD and fact sheets on nutrition and vitamins. “Folks are realizing the face has muscles and that there’s a substitute to plastic surgery that costs less and can achieve similar results,” he said.

Much less: At $250, his class is a bargain when compared with a laser peel, which runs around $600.

The publishing industry has been quick to sit up straight, breathe deeply and take notice. Besides Ms. Hagen’s book, there is “The Yoga Facelift,” by Marie-VĂ©ronique Nadeau, coming out next month. Published by Red Wheel Weiser/Conari Presso, it will have a first printing of 15,000 — large for a small publisher in San Francisco.

“Plastic surgery can leave people looking like waxed fruit and doesn’t address long-term sagging,” said Ms. Nadeau, 59, whose workshops at Elephant Pharmacy, an alternative pharmacy chain in the Bay Area of Northern California, draw a standing-room-only crowd. “For some reason we exercise every part of our body but ignore everything from the collarbone up.”

Maryann Donner, the group fitness director at New York Health & Racquet, said Ms. Hagen’s Revita-Yoga class is part of another trend she has observed while organizing the 600 classes the chain’s 10 gyms offer each week. “Right now the trend in classes is fusion, the bringing of two worlds together,” Ms. Donner said.

For Revita-Yoga, “Annelise took her knowledge of facial exercises from her acting background and fused it with her yoga teachings,” Ms. Donner said. “When she came to me last year with the idea, I fell in love with it immediately.”

The class was called Yo-Tox until the folks from Botox had other thoughts. The club soon changed the name.

But is there any merit to these exercises, and will there ever be a substitute for freezing a muscle?

“Nothing is going to have a lasting benefit like Botox or filler or collagen injections,” said Dr. Dennis Gross, a Midtown Manhattan dermatologist, the author of “Your Future Face” and the creator of a skin-care line. But there are short-term improvements, he said.

“Facial stretches and yoga temporarily reduce the neurological impulses associated with stress and the grimaces that lead to the lines in your forehead,” he said. “The plumping of your lips is more a massage and only adds color for a few minutes.”

And once the foot hits the pavement during rush hour, or the BlackBerry is back in hand, the face automatically tenses up, and the benefits of deep breaths and relaxation wear off.

“If you already have a wrinkle or a frown line, relaxation isn’t going to erase that,” said Dr. Richard Elias, an oral and maxillo-facial surgeon on the Upper East Side.

On the other hand, Dr. Elias said, there is no physical downside to facial workouts. And, he added, the exercises might help with prevention.

“Jowls, sagging under the neck, creases at the mouth, are all signs of aging that most probably will not be helped by a yoga class,” he said. “If you make the muscles in your face bigger it will not make sagging skin tougher or tighter, nor will it help remove fatty deposits. Only a face-lift can do that. When you do a face-lift, you’re removing fat and loose skin, and pulling some skin back.”

Some yoga gurus are skeptical, too.

“We’ve not discovered the fountain of youth, though people are always trying to obtain it,” said Rodney Yee of East Hampton, N.Y., a well-known yoga instructor, who was unaware these programs existed. “Yoga will add radiance to your face and relax you, which will make you look younger, but to just focus on the face is too specific and sounds more like a marketing ploy.”

Marketing ploy or not, devotees don’t seem to care. This is, after all, a face-conscious nation.

“I know I’d see better results if I practiced the exercises at home,” said Anne Starr, a banker who has taken the Revita-Yoga class for more than a year. “The title intrigued me, and I love the anti-aging qualities the class offers. The fact that I’m working muscles I’m not conscious of, paired with the yoga techniques, makes me feel I’m doing something really beneficial for my face and body.”

As the Friday class ended and members were putting away their mats, smiles were on their faces, a bounce was in their step and their cheeks were flushed with color.

“When we smile in a relaxed, natural way without crinkling our eyes, we tone and eliminate wrinkles,” Ms. Hagen said as she waved goodbye to several students. “I don’t teach a smiling exercise since it happens naturally when the session ends.”

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


1. Grab a calculator. (you won't be able to do this one in your head)
2. Key in the first three digits of your phone number (NOT the area code)
3. Multiply by 80
4. Add 1
5. Multiply by 250
6. Add the last 4 digits of your phone number
7. Add the last 4 digits of your phone number again.
8. Subtract 250
9. Divide number by 2

Do you recognize the answer?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Oprah's 'Secret' Could Be Your Downfall
By Courtney E. Martin, AlterNet
Posted on March 26, 2007,
Through wildly successful viral marketing and a faithful fan base spreading the word, The Secret, a documentary film explaining the "law of attraction" tops Amazon's bestselling DVD list. The companion book of the same name -- and as far as I can tell, an almost word-for-word transcript of the film -- just had the largest reorder in Simon & Schuster history (2 million copies) and is #1 on the New York Times Self Help Bestseller list.

If you are one of like three people left who haven't heard about The Secret -- come on, it was even on Oprah -- let me explain. Australian talk show producer Rhonda Byrne read The Science of Getting Rich, a book written in 1910 by Wallace D. Wattles, in her darkest hour and discovered what she believes is the essential truth -- that "your current thoughts are creating your future life. Your thoughts become things." Translation: if you are thinking about how bad your life is, bad things will continue to happen; if you start thinking about great things, they will inevitably manifest.

Byrne went around with a camera and manifested her own motley crew of entrepreneurs, financial gurus, and pop psychologists -- including the king of the Chicken Soup for the Soul dynasty, Jack Canfield -- to attest to the truth of this claim. I have no qualms with the power of positive thinking. There is sound research that confirms that envisioning yourself succeeding has a real impact on your performance, sports being the most prescient example. At a time when a violent, morally-messy war is going on four years and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, who doesn't need a good dose of wide-eyed idealism?

But idealism is not all the fast-talking "experts" behind The Secret are dishing out. They are also articulating a dangerous message about conspicuous consumption and distracting people from crippling systemic problems.

Both the film and the book are filled with promises about the secret's capacity to attract wealth and "things" -- fancy cars, huge mansions, Rolex watches -- into your life. For example, the book reads: "Make it your intention to look at everything you like and say to yourself, 'I can afford that. I can buy that.'" In a country where the average household consumer debt is $8,000, it appears most of us need no encouragement in pretending we have more money than we do.

John Assarof, founder of a company called One Coach, stars in a hokey reenactment sequence in the film in which he realizes that he has miraculously attracted his new, unconscionably large home into his life. As he is unpacking boxes beside his five year old son, Assarof pulls out his "vision board" -- on which he had pasted images of things he wanted to attract into his life years earlier -- and finds the exact picture of the mansion he newly owns. He explains, "I looked at that house and started to cry, because I was just blown away." His son asked, "Why are you crying?" and he answered, "I finally understand how the law of attraction works."

What is the message to this five year old? What is the message to us all? That the secret to life is the capacity to desire "things" without regard to the environmental or spiritual consequences? That these "things" will somehow satisfy that deep and most universal of desires -- to matter in the world?

I cringe when I think about copies of both the DVD and books flying off the shelves and into debt-ridden, exhausted, and hopeless folks' hands. It is not just the exploitation of their dissatisfaction with their lives that offends me, but the distraction that promoters of The Secret are creating from the very real, systemic issues undergirding poverty.

The book boldly and ignorantly states, "The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts." Tell that to the 36 million Americans living in poverty. Even worse, tell that to the 3 billion people worldwide who live on less that $2 a day.

If The Secret's logic is to be believed, then those who are hungry are not envisioning food hard enough, those without running water aren't imagining the feeling of satiation with enough enthusiasm. It doesn't matter if you are born in the Sudan or San Francisco, according to The Secret's catch-all claim; you can always fantasize your way into "massive wealth."

This point of view neglects the effects of government policy, class, race, gender, geography, and a host of other systemic influences on the kind of wealth -- and life -- one is able to create. It is the good ol' American Dream delusion supersized into ridiculousness. Now you don't even have to work for your wealth, you just have to sit back and dream it into existence. No matter if you are from a poor family, living in a war zone, or a thousand miles from the nearest medical clinic.

In another particularly offensive sequence, Bill Harris, a teacher and founder of Counterpointe Research Institute talks about a gay student who was harassed about his sexual orientation by coworkers and strangers on the streets. Harris explained the law of attraction to the frustrated young man: "He started taking this thing about focusing on what you want to heart...what happened within the next six to eight weeks was an absolute miracle." All the harassment, reportedly, ceased.

Sure, those who look scared are sometimes picked out as easy targets by homophobic jerks with some self-hating steam to blow off, but that doesn't take the responsibility for harassment off of the harasser. This argument is tantamount to saying that those women who fear rape are asking for it.

The idea that people invite abuse or oppression with their thoughts is insulting. The Secret crew only acknowledges this interpretation briefly: "Often when people first hear this...they recall events in history where masses of lives were lost, and they find it incomprehensible that so many people could have attracted themselves to the event. If people believe they can be in the wrong place at the wrong time...those thoughts of fear, separation, and powerlessness, if persistent, can attract them to being in the wrong place at the wrong time." I can't begin to imagine how offensive this claim must be to those who have lost family members under horrific circumstances, like the massacres in Rwanda or the events of September 11th.

If the creators of The Secret wanted to truly empower people, they would focus more on the part of their message that invites people to dream about their best, most joyful lives. This invitation is mentioned in the work, but feels sullied by all of the talk of covetous accumulation and innocent people essentially "asking for it."

The promise of future money is a surefire way to get people to spend money now. Perhaps the purveyors of The Secret see the money message as the sugar that makes the medicine go down, but it seems hypocritical for a group of people purportedly committed to enlightenment to dwell in the material.

I would never claim to know the secret to life, but I have a hunch it has something to do with love, community, joy, and purpose -- not the size of your mansion or the brand of your watch. Further, I think it probably has something to do with alleviating suffering and inequality, encouraging people to think about changing the systems which keep them poor or in danger, not internalizing their failures -- financial or otherwise -- as proof of their own anemic imaginations.

Courtney E. Martin is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body, will be published by Simon & Schuster's Free Press next month. Read more about her work at
The current around Winnipeg is talk about the new book "the Secret". While the secret is no secret,as people of faith has been practising the techniques for ages to bring about positive changes in their lives, the new branding of the idea appears to bring out the wolves. People want to fulfil their dreams at little cost. It is just another burst of our consumerism and materialism. I am sure most people are trying to manifest riches and wealth and stuff like that. I think that when we dream of being better humans and work towards that, we find ourselves naturally ourselves happier, healthy and feeling surround by abundance.
This too shall pass until the next fad comes along. In the meantime Rhonda R. is manifesting her riches with the best selling performance of her book and Oprah's endorsement. Manifesting away.