Beauty, Skin, Hayo’u
Meet the woman teaching us how to do a natural face lift, get rid of cellulite – and stop obsessing – Lisa Armstrong
Feeling – and looking – six or seven out of 10 most days is a state of affairs many of us are used to. So is shoring up chronic fatigue with short term fixes. Flickering energy, patchy sleep, low libido, background aches, thinning hair, dull, saggy skin – they’re all accepted symptoms of getting older.
Yet, according to Katie Brindle, a Chinese medicine practitioner, they’re not inevitable. She’s not knocking Western medicine – it’s delivered her three children. But she fervently believes some simple routines based on Chinese traditions could benefit our health. “If more people knew these techniques, we’d save the NHS a fortune,” she says. She’s equally convinced we could chuck out most of our chemical laden anti-ageing beauty gunk if we learned how to breathe, move, eat and self-massage properly. To this end she’s just written a book: Yang Sheng, its full of ancient wisdoms condensed into practical tips.
Brindle knows all about being stuck at five out of 10. In her early 20s, she was in a serious car accident. The whiplash stayed with her and her voice altered. The opera career she was training for was out the window – she’s still slightly husky sounding 25 years later. But it was the continuous pain and chronic lack of energy that floored her. Even walking became challenging.
At the end of her rope, she found herself stumbling into a Tui Na Chinese massage parlour that gave her a Eureka moment. She got better and began studying Western massage, reflexology and acupuncture. The more she learnt, the more she found herself drawn to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
The beauty restorer, £38, Hayo’u Method
At this point, Brindle, a mile-a-minute born communicator, always finds herself pausing. TCM, with its mysterious pills and subtle, gradual results, can be divisive.
“The problem with TCM is that Mao banned it and much of the collected knowledge was fragmented, which is why people think it’s just acupuncture and herbs.” Brindle has made it her mission to reconnect some of the dots and make the line accessible to as wide an audience as she can.
Hence her facial, scalp and body massage tools that have gone down a storm since their launch last year (I wrote about them on this very page). Brindle’s chief aim was to introduce a wider public to the joys of gua sha, an ancient form of Chinese massage, via an affordable moon-shaped sliver of jade, rose quartz or metal. “People are concerned about their looks and there’s nothing wrong with that. Beauty is an outward manifestation of health. If your hair has lost its lustre or your skin is breaking out, there are usually internal reasons”.
One of her diagnostic aids is facial analysis. Those vertical frown lines may be a sign your liver is out of balance. Open pores, slowness to heal and dryness all signify deficient lung energy. Red, dry eyes are a sign of liver inflammation. According to Chinese medicine, gua sha not only improves symptoms, it can alleviate the causes.
For the uninitiated, use the flat gua sha stones to press and stroke the skin. Do this daily on your face, tummy, thighs, scalp, upper arms and feet for a couple of minutes – in the shower if you’re in a rush – and you’ll see the difference. Jaws tighten, skin looks more radiant, lines soften, cellulite reduces, feet feel less tense than they have for decades.
There’s no scientific study proving it works – only testimonials of thousands who’ve seen their skin transform. Beyond gua sha’s cosmetic benefits sits – as with all medicine – a serious theory. Gua sha is supposed to reduce inflammation, which TCM practitioners and some Western medics believe is a root cause of many ailments. It also stimulates circulation and collagen production, and improves sluggish lymph systems.
Brindle, aged 47, is the best advert for its efficacy. Her skin is radiant, her cellulite has dramatically diminished, even her eyelashes are more luxuriant (she uses the precision tool on her lids). She’s stopped doing Botox … she used to have regular injections. She shakes her head quizzically at this. “Why would you want to eradicate the badges of wisdom and life? You’d be better off spending the time and money doing something you love. A passionate face is a beautiful face,” she says, echoing the philosopher poet Kahlil Gibran who wrote “beauty is not in the face. Beauty is a light in the heart”.
There’s far more to Chinese self-healing than gua sha and this book – with its chapters on breathing, Chinese exercise, emotional equilibrium, massage, sleep and bathing rituals – is only the beginning, she says.
Sleep problems? With three small children she sometimes didn’t know how she’d get to the end of the day. Overweight? She’s been there; after several rounds of IVF and giving birth to twins, she weighed 17 stone. She’s now slim, between 10 and 10 and a half – no thanks, she says, to the years she spent yo-yo dieting “and caning it in the gym. That got me to 13 stone, but then I was stuck. My system drained.”
What finally got the weight off was finding balance. “Ideally it’s three meals a day, same quantity, same time and strengthening your body from the inside – with yoga, Qi Gong (a gentle flow of exercises that unblock the body’s energy). It’s important to build pleasurable experiences into routine.”
As for the eating part – “I eat carbs. I’m imperfect. But I try to make time to eat mindfully and slowly. If there isn’t time, I’ve learned to wait and substitute a rushed meal with breathing techniques.”
This isn’t about intermittent fasting – Chinese medicine believes irregular eating damages the stomach energy – but about pragmatic coping tips. Weight remains an issue, she says candidly, but she’s found the upside, “I also see weight as my benchmark of balance”.
Five one minute self-healing rituals
- Breathing: You can do a simple walking meditation by breathing in for four (right down to your diaphragm) while you take four steps, and breathing out for four while you take four more steps. Continue for as long as you can focus. And then refocus.
- Moving: According to Chinese medicine, the ideal physical state is one of smooth qi (energy) flow with no physical or emotional blockages, which will eventually manifest as disease. To get your circulation moving, simply shake your arms and legs for one minute or, starting at the ankles, tap up and down your legs, arms, lower back and abdomen with a bamboo tapper (hayoumethod.com) or a hairbrush with rounded bristles.
- Massage: Use the flat gua sha stones on your face, tummy, thighs, scalp, upper arms and feet for a couple of minutes.
- Chill: If you can’t stop worrying, loosely hold your thumb in the palm of the other hand so you it’s completely enveloped. Take a few deep breaths.
- Sleep: Try Epsom salt baths at night and get your box sets out of the way by 8pm.