Gua sha

I had a revelation the other night. We’ve finally (FINALLY!) gotten to a point that I have long-dreamed of: it is now legitimate to cancel or decline making plans for the sole purpose of self-care. We are now finally all so collectively anxious, stressed, wound-up and on the cusp of perpetual burnout that, let’s be honest, every plan is actually just two people hoping the other will cancel to save them having to do it themselves. For someone like me who thrives on being home and being alone, this is exciting shit you guys. After thirty-something years of lame, waffley excuses I can now say it loud and say it proud: “No, I really don’t want to,” or even (this one is better-received, I’ll be honest) “I’m going to yoga.”

That last bit is true. This week I went back to yoga. It’s been a fair few months since I did any, and while my arms and my arse are in pretty okay shape from all the kickboxing and HIIT and that sort of shiz, my head isn’t feeling so great. It’s been a busy work patch, and I’ve had a lot of projects that demanded my attention concurrently, but no amount of meditation really made a dent in this low-level flutter of consistent anxiety I’ve been experiencing in a way that I never have before. Shocking, I don’t love it.

Last evening while poring over my planner and replacing a couple of HIIT classes to pencil in yin yoga instead I thought, isn’t it crazy that we’re now paying people money to essentially go lie in a dark, quiet room for an hour? Crazy, but also essential. I don’t know about you, and there’s nothing that I’m saying here that hasn’t already been dissected in at least twenty other pieces you’ve recently read (probably all before breakfast), but lately life feels sped up beyond recognition, to the point that not doing at least three things in tandem feels like laziness. Academically I know this not to be true. Physically though, I’m writing this, nodding at someone to my right to let them know I’ll be with them in five, listening to a fucking podcast and thinking about what I should eat for lunch all at once. Honestly, if you’re not already anxious you’re probably not trying hard enough. (I’M KIDDING YOU GUYS THAT WAS A JOKE.)

Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up

The truth is, I’ve been spending a lot of time focussed on really achievement-led shaboodles. Work, new projects, winding up old projects, expanding my team… even my workouts have been achievement-led, in pursuit of a great bum / great arms / whatever, and at the end of the day I am goddamn exhausted. It has been, I’ll admit, a very productive three months and I have achieved more than I expected, but I’m also burned out in a way that doesn’t feel great and I’m dialling the get-shit-done way, way down this week. It is also why there’s fresh content on the site. Writing is ritual, and comes from space for me, space in my head to think and process and there’s hasn’t been much of that for me in 2018 so far. The days when I’m willing myself to write are usually the days when I need to give myself a  break and be reminded this is just not how the creative process works.

The ritual of self-care is self-love; both those compound nouns are bandied about with such frequency that they are ripe for parody, but clichés exist for a reason. Feeling anxious, wired, and exhausted? First up, join the club. And second, self-care dudes, and that doesn’t just mean going to bed early one night. It might mean going to bed early for a month until you wake feeling rested. It might mean adding a few yoga classes into your week in place of more cortisol-raising workouts for a bit or it might mean paying someone to come give you a massage in your home so you aren’t worked up about the drive there and the parking… it’s different for everybody, but what it definitely means is taking some time for yourself and your beleaguered body.

Pay attention to what your body’s saying

Honestly, I should’ve known better. I’ve been complaining about feeling run-down, going to bed earlier and earlier each evening and still being tired, and struggling with just being relaxed, ever, but as it often does, it took an assault on my vanity via a particularly nasty eczema flare-up before it really hit home.

Skin (my skin, your skin, everybody’s skin) is a great indicator of things being amiss. If your gut’s a mess you’ll see things like reactivity, sensitivity, cystic spots, or eczema. If your liver’s under duress you’ll see a yellowing of your skin, or congestion. Thyroid troubles are often marked by dryness, while hormonal disruption’s calling card tends to be breakouts along the jawline or on one’s back. Nutritional deficiencies tend to cause a pallor, frequent rashes or reactivity…. There’s so much that the body is constantly trying to tell us, if we’re only willing to listen. I always thought I listened to my body but I’ve been deaf to the little reactive patches that appeared on my arms and legs, writing them off as an allergy to a new product instead of the dramatic uptick in stress that I can now see was clearly the cause of this bout of eczema. Pay attention to your skin, because when you learn to listen to it you learn, also to dial into some of your body’s more subtle communication.

Pay attention to your skin because when you learn to listen to it you learn, also to dial into your body’s more subtle communication.

There are bigger shifts that I’m making (sleeping earlier, reintroducing yoga, swapping out some raw foods for cooked meals), and then there are some little ones, but it’s not only the biggies that yield big results. I recently bought a rose quartz facial gua sha (from Amazon). What is it? It is a traditional Chinese therapeutic practice that was designed to remove stagnation and ‘cold winds’ from the body. Clearly it isn’t new, but like oil pulling, the gua sha is enjoying a little resurgence. Originally used all over the body (don’t Google ‘gua sha’ if you’re squeamish) for muscle pain, the treatment is much less rigorous and intense on the face. Much like cupping, the body treatment leaves the user with an alarming pattern of bruising all over, but blessedly the face one does no such thing.

Pronounced gwa sha, the treatment involves scraping or pulling this flat jade or rose quartz stone (shaped a little like a baby’s foot) along the skin on your face with a little oil and light pressure to release fascial and muscular tension and move sluggish lymph fluid. Why would you use it? It is basically DIY lymphatic drainage and facial massage, but it is also ten minutes lying in bed running a cool crystal over your face and it is soothing, depuffing, and gives a tight and wound-up face (hello, mine) a little much-needed TLC. Plus it is safe to do yourself (as long as you don’t have any clotting or coagulation-linked issues or a skin rash, but that seems obvious). I found it soothing and a fun little wind-down ritual each night (even if Gaurav could not contain his mirth at this preposterous addition to bedtime) and after a week of doing it I can safely say that my skin looks much better. Less puffy in the morning, sure, but also calmer and more even-toned which I’m guessing is the result of the gentle lymphatic drainage and resultant boosted circulation.


A crystal baby's foot

...or face-care miracle?

I’ve been using it either with a bit of Ayca’s aloe gel or with my Aesop camellia nut facial cream. Do this on clean skin, but again, that seems sort of obvious. If you’re going to do this in the morning, consider popping it in the fridge because the cool stone feels great on puffy, morning skin. If you’re doing it at night, do it after you’ve cleansed and applied your cream or serums or oils or whatever and then go to town.

Start with your neck and work up to your forehead. You can Google this if you like to follow along with an instruction, or refer to this piece which has some handy tips. Or, just wing it. The shape of the gua sha actually makes using it fairly intuitive. Place the flat side of the board flush against your skin, use gentle pressure, stroke from the centre of your face outwards and stroke each patch five times (or thereabouts). From your nose out to your ear, from your eyebrows out to your hairline, gently drag it along your jawline outward toward your lymph nodes that sit under your ears, lightly from the inner corner of your eye out to the temple…

There is no right or wrong way to do this, which takes any stress or confusion out of the thing. It should be an indulgence, not an obligation or another thing tacked on to your to-do list. Oh hang on, you do need to keep the damn thing clean. Since it’s going to be hanging out on your face, wash it after each use with warm, soapy water, but bar that, you have permission to just relax and enjoy it.