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Publication Date: Friday, January 11, 2002
@pullquote:Curly teaches others to pay attention not only to their biceps and gluteals, but also to their chins and eyelids, cheeks and throats. The face exercises are strenuous, requiring students to muster power in muscles they may have barely used. Performed to fast music, they promote circulation to the face, bringing it energy and mobility. At the end, most participants feel as if they have run a couple of miles.
Facing the new year
Facing the new year
(January 11, 2002)
By Diana Reynolds Roome
For most people, exercise tops the list of New Year resolutions with tedious regularity.
But exercising the face? Now there's something new to add to the annual aspirations.
Ilona Frey, universally known as Curly, has been attracting people to her face jogging classes for almost two years. The benefits of her technique are clear to anyone who first encounters her warm, expressive smile. Crowned by a dramatically short, blonde haircut, she looks younger than her 52 years. Her face is wonderfully alive and mobile, yet almost unlined, and people respond instantly to the energy they see in it.
"With face jogging you'll never need plastic surgery," she tells beginning students at a Friday afternoon class at her Mountain View home. "Like exercises for the body, you can build muscle, lose fat."
Though she is an aquatic fitness instructor and sports therapist, Curly sees no reason to consider the most visible part of the body less worthy of strenuous exercise than legs, arms and stomach.
"We have 77 muscles in our face _ 44 of them around the mouth alone.
Facial athletics helps prevent sagging, double chin, lines and creases," she said.
It also increases the vitality of a face, something which Curly, who has
worked as a photographer, values highly. "Women over 30 are wonderful," she asserts. "We have young, beautiful models, but their faces don't talk. I teach my students, you are young when you feel young."
An array of exercises
The class settles comfortably on a row of chairs in front of her, sitting tall and breathing deeply. Curly turns on a tape of a pop song, not too loud.
"Watch me, this is Giraffe!" she says, plunging straight in. She juts her chin straight forward with her mouth slightly open, and the class follows. "Now, relax. We hold each position for five seconds," she says counting with her fingers, "then repeat five times on each side."
Many of the exercises have names of animals. "Hippo" is not so pretty. Curly makes a grimace that would frighten a ghost away, pulling down her lower lip and clenching her teeth. "It's a face that says, 'I don't like my soup,'" she jokes.
The students follow suit, producing a terrifying array of faces they hope will ultimately make them more beautiful. They have names like Owl, Dolphin, Duck, Hamster, and _ just to be provocative _ "The O of Marilyn Monroe."
There's no holding back and all are done with unladylike verve as Curly encourages, corrects, or gently prods a muscle to make sure it's tight.
"I could feel it immediately, especially in my chin and neck," says Miranda Hopkinson of Palo Alto, who thinks it would be valuable to start face jogging at a young age to counteract the inevitable effects of gravity. "It felt good _ there was blood moving into my face. We just don't normally think about those muscles, but exercising the face makes perfect sense."
Though some of the exercises are distinctly grotesque, many can be done
while cooking, driving, watching TV or waiting on hold on the telephone. Some, like the Fish, are so subtle you can do them while walking down the street and nobody will stare.
"But don't do the Lion in the car!" warns Curly. The Lion is derived from an ancient yoga exercise that involves opening the eyes wide and sticking the tongue out as far as it will go.
@An alternative to surgery
Curly's own discovery of facial exercises began when she was told by a doctor in Germany that she needed surgery to correct her eyelids. Looking at her wide-awake brown eyes, it's hard to imagine anyone could have judged it necessary, but she insists something needed to be done.
Instead of going under the knife, Curly found a teacher in Munich, where
she was living, and began corresponding with a well-known French proponent of facial exercise.
She never had the surgery. Instead, she started working on a combination
of breathing and exercise, developed her own unique routine and began to teach facial jogging. Certainly, Curly has the benefit of excellent bone structure, but she insists that it's the regular exercise that has given her face its particular tautness.
Student Khanh Tran describes it as "a refreshing and jovial face ... and when she smiles, two high red cheeks that look like apples, make her face look more childlike."
Now Curly teaches others to pay attention not only to their biceps and
gluteals, but also to their chins and eyelids, cheeks and throats. The face exercises are strenuous, requiring students to muster power in muscles they may have barely used. Performed to fast music, they promote circulation to the face, bringing it energy and mobility. At the end, most participants feel as if they have run a couple of miles.
"It's a workout for your face," says Frey, "but it's also for the whole body."
Every week she adds different aerobic components to the class. She emphasizes deep breathing, a strong stomach and back, and lifted chin, all of which immediately transform a person's appearance.
Some face exercises can be felt in other parts of the body. For example, one exercise, which resembles a jaw-breaking grin, effectively lifts the chest muscles. Some have been found to reduce migraines.
The eye exercises bring blood and oxygen to the eye area, and by strengthening the ring muscle and other muscles around the eye, can actually improve focus and peripheral vision..
"My eyes don't get so tired or strained," says Mary Monticello, who often cycles to class from her home in Sunnyvale. "Before I took face jogging, my neck felt sore and my shoulder tight, especially when I played tennis. Now I feel so much more flexible. My stature is better too _ at my last annual checkup I seemed to have gained half an inch in height!"
Students come for the workout from all over the Bay Area. Some are from
a class Curly used to teach at the Grant Road YMCA, others (like Monticello) from a local Square Dancing Club or the Harley-Davidson club she and her husband attend for weekend biking jaunts.
Many others come though word of mouth, because Frey's class seems to do even more than improve physical strength and vitality.
"It doesn't matter how sad or tired I am when I go to take this class,"
says student Martha Parra in a letter, "at the end, the results are always the same. I finish very relaxed and strong, ready to fight another battle in my life."
As a visitor on an extended stay from Germany, Curly offers classes free
because her visa does not allow her to work while in the USA. Her husband Willi, a physicist, was transferred to Mountain View two and a half years ago to work for Bosch Corporation.
Curly's volunteer work extends to the Mountain View Police Department, where she is a member of the Handicapped Patrol, booking parking violators in
spots reserved for the disabled.
But anyone finding themselves ticketed is unlikely to feel upset once
they see Curly's smile. They're more likely to end up joining her class, and putting an altogether different face on their world.
To find out more, contact Ilona Frey at: 650-575-8587 or