A Brush With Balance
By Araxe Hajian
Hair Rituals for Self-Care
Just over a month ago, I took a long look at the mess of tresses flowing (somewhat wildly over the last two years) out of my head. I decided to visit Miraval Berkshires and meet with Bridget Desrosiers, master stylist and trichologist at the Life in Balance Spa. For those who have never heard of trichology, it is the study of the hair and scalp, including treatment for anything that ails your scalp.
Bridget’s warm, effusive manner and chatty style made me feel like we had been besties since grade school. We began with the basics.
“How often,” she asked me, “do you brush your hair?”
I bit my lip, fidgeted, and said, “Not often.”
What I meant was almost never. On good days, I run a comb with conditioner through my hair in the shower. Most days, it’s my fingers, then up it goes into a messy bun until the next washing.
“Maybe,” she suggested, “that’s a good place to start.”
I confessed that I could not remember the last time I used a real hairbrush regularly. A silly part of me resists the hairbrush because of the horrific number of strands it collects. If I can’t see it accumulate, maybe it won’t fall out
It turns out, all that hair gathering in the brush is not necessarily a bad thing. Bridget tells me that we lose an average of 100 hairs on a normal day, and brushing helps those hairs come out as they should.
The Root of the Matter
Historically, people began brushing their hair for practical reasons.
- Hair health and appearance: Brushing helps distribute natural, healthy oils from the roots of your hairs to the ends, giving them a natural shine by flattening the cuticles (the outer layer of the hair shaft) and making hair more reflective.
- Scalp stimulation: Gently brushing your hair is like a scalp-stimulating mini massage that encourages blood flow and hair growth.
- Loose hair removal: When you brush your hair daily, you help remove loose hair. At Miraval Resorts, we’re all about connection, but one kind we don’t want to encourage is the connection of loose hair to healthy hair.
“Hair is attracted to hair,” explains Bridget, “so when you lose one naturally, it doesn’t want to just fall out—it finds a healthy one next door and sticks to it. If you don’t brush and encourage the loose hairs to leave, you lose both and double the departing numbers.”
A hair follicle produces hair for a few years, rests for a bit, and the hair naturally falls out. There are around 100,000 follicles on the scalp, but hair loss is usually inconspicuous because each follicle rests or produces hairs at different times. If the typical pattern of human hair growing, resting, shedding, and regrowing gets out of balance, hair does not grow back as quickly as it falls out, and we start to notice. We can nudge it to grow faster with the simple act of brushing our hair.
Keep in mind that brushing cannot regrow hair that is already lost due to damaged follicles.
Brush up on Self-Care
If brushing our hair removes built-up product, dry skin, and impurities from our scalps, it can also symbolically move negative thoughts and feelings in our minds. We can work through some of our mental blocks just by brushing out our locks. It’s easy to visualize trapping and wrapping them up with all the stray strands, lint, and goo your brush pulls out. Think of it as a reflective moment to shed the physical elements from your hair and scalp that no longer serve you along with the emotional build-up.
“When we create a hair brushing ritual,” says Bridget, “we make space for mindfulness and centering. We give ourselves permission for self-care.”
The repetitive motion and soothing sounds of bristles combing silky strands can offer a moving meditation that helps us untangle jumbled thoughts. The whispery sound is mesmerizing, especially for people who respond to soothing soundtracks and sensory stimulation.
It also gives us a few precious moments that we might spend taking care of others to take care of ourselves
“I brush my daughter’s and husband’s hair every day. It’s a way of showing someone you love them,” Bridget comments. “You can give yourself that same love as well.”
The Bonds of Beauty
Some cultures believe that hair is an extension of spirit or soul, grounding us with its downward growth. When cut, the spirit lives on inside the strands as a protector and source of power. Ancient heroes in epic stories from Gilgamesh to the Bible carried their strength in their hair.
Traditionally, giving a lock of hair to someone was a sign of love and devotion, especially before an impending separation. Some people keep a clipping from a baby’s first haircut for good luck.
“My mom,” shares Bridget, “still has my first lock of baby hair.”
In Victorian times, it was common for bereaved family members to keep locks of hair from lost children or family members in lockets or boxes as mementos that brought comfort.
Our idioms show how our hair reflects our internal states. We use hyperbolic language to express how something shocking can make our hair curl, stand on end, or turn white overnight. Our hair holds so many hidden things, thoughts, and feelings that we imbue it with the power to change texture or color according to them.
Historically, hair has been a vehicle for amplifying or altering how the world sees us. Long hair symbolized health, social status, and wealth in ancient times.
“A hundred years ago, getting a pixie cut was a rebellious act,” notes Bridget. “Women created an avenue for self-expression and self-acceptance through their hairstyles.”
In 2022, my teenage sons and all their buddies (after two years of dodging haircuts) wear their floppy mops of long hair like a badge, showcasing the locks that made it through lockdown.
Bridget and I share memories of our mothers’ and grandmothers’ antique mirrors, perfume bottles, and vanities. I tell her how I kept my grandmother’s crystal atomizer and silver brush, and we muse about the stories and secrets those brushes hold. They cradled the heads that created our first families and homes.
“When we are buried,” Bridget reminds me, “our hair stays with us. Everything else diminishes and falls away, but our hair remains. Its bonds are powerful—they’re hydrophobic (tending to repel or fail to mix with water). Unless it’s by a chemical or scissor, your hair will not break down.”
Hair is more than just an ornamental extension on our heads or a frame for our faces. Our hair is the keeper of our deepest mysteries, both physical and emotional. It carries our history. Its locks hide the keys to our genetic codes and hold our nutritional and mineral vaults.
It also records our physical experiences—what we ingest and absorb into our bodies. After a lock of Beethoven’s hair (cut from his head in 1827) was auctioned in 1994, analysis of it showed that the composer’s lifelong illness was caused by lead poisoning.
We use our hair to remember and forget. Perhaps after a breakup, we chop off our hair to release memories of the relationship it crowned. Or, after we lose a loved one, we keep a hairstyle we wore when they were alive longer than we might—to tether us to the departed, to keep their tactile memory close.
Hair’s roots begin where our largest organ, the skin, ends. And at the end, it endures—a flowing record of love and life.
After a month of dutifully brushing twice each day, here are some things I’ve noticed about myself and my hair:
- My hairbrush picks up an amazing amount of dust and lint, making me more mindful of how much gunk and product I’m willing to pile on top of my head.
- I no longer have chunks of matted tangles that I must snip out or lose to breakage.
- It’s shinier!
- I get five minutes to myself every morning and night without kids, phone, work, or distractions.
- I tune into my senses more. Brushing my hair makes me, in general, more aware.
- My beauty sit-spot is at the dresser I inherited from my grandmother, and I get to sit with her memory every day. I now realize why, at 102, she never missed a hair appointment, even when it became difficult for her to walk to the salon chair.
- No matter what the day throws at me, I can unload some of its unpleasant parts into the brush and then the trash bin.
- My hair is becoming a bouncier and softer version of itself, its wild style settling into a tamer natural wave. It’s a look that helps me calibrate my feelings, even when the day’s events are full of tangles and knots.
Stay tuned for Bridget’s tips for maintaining a healthy scalp with natural ingredients you can source straight from your kitchen or local farmer’s market. If you are planning to visit Miraval Berkshires (or have an existing reservation), check out Bridget’s offerings, including Hair Aware. Also, visit the Life in Balance Spa boutique to pick up Bridget’s recommended hairbrush to start your mindful brushing ritual.
Araxe Hajian is a senior writer who covers wellness stories and specialist offerings at Miraval Resorts & Spas.
Source material from Miraval Berkshires’ Master Stylist and Trichologist Bridget Desrosiers.