Netflix and chablis? You're doing self-care all wrong
Less TV and more family dinners should be on the menu, wellness gurus the Narain sisters tell our reporter
If your current concept of 'me time' is a Netflix-and-biscuits binge, or a large glass of Chablis hastily gulped in snatched seconds between bath, book and bed, then think again. Over the last few years, the concept of proper, meaningful 'self-care' - of devoting regular slots of time for activities that bolster emotional health - has become a central pillar of a wider conversation about overall wellbeing.
At any given time, most of us are working off to-do lists as long as our arms, our waking hours given over almost entirely to the things we have to take care of; our careers, our families, our Instagram feeds, an endless and inexorable tide of laundry. Isn't it time we added ourselves to our own high-priority list?
The idea of self-care sounds sensible in principle. But how to make it work in practice? Enter Nadia Narain and Katia Narain Phillips. The London-based sisters and wellness gurus have been in the business of caring for others for decades. They each approach the issue of nourishing body and mind from different disciplines; Nadia (44) is a former model turned-yogi-to-the-stars, who teaches at the Triyoga centre in London (Jools Oliver and Jimmy Carr are devotees.) Katia (42), meanwhile, is focussed on food and massage. She started up one of the British capital's first raw food cafes a decade ago and now runs the Nectar Cafe at Triyoga.
Together they have just published their first book, Self-Care for the Real World. As beautiful to look at as it is practical, it is a compendium of inspiration and tips on how to incorporate self-care into contemporary life. Kate Moss reportedly ordered copies for all her friends for Christmas and other enthusiastic fans include Reese Witherspoon, Daisy Lowe, Lily Cole, Sam Taylor Johnson and Sienna Miller.
"We've been doing this work, each of us, for about 23 years each," says Nadia. "Mine in yoga and Katia with her food and massage. And just from teaching and cooking and serving our clients we realised that people don't know how to look after themselves and they only get to the point where they have us or they search out these techniques when they've hit the bottom." Self-care isn't automatic, even for them. "For years we were looking after other people but noticing too that we weren't necessarily looking after ourselves in the way that we should."
With thick rich-brown hair and radiant skin, The Narain sisters are dressed in jewel-coloured cosy knits and, as you would expect, are glowing testaments to their healthy lifestyles, even (in Nadia's case) while suffering with the flu. They have all the attributes of the supremely insta-fabulous. And yet, they are both acutely aware of how deceptive and demoralising the perfect imagery of social media can be. So despite its glossy appearance, the content of their book is pointedly warts-and-all.
"We really put ourselves out there," says Katia. "And we've said things that we maybe normally wouldn't have said. And people really relate to that. And feel like it just feels so human. It's really nice to be able to relate to people on a human level."
This, you see, is part of their approach to self care.
"We ended up in these fields of helping people because of our own pain, I guess, for lack of a better word," Nadia explains. "We were on our own search to find something to fill us up, and then in that we were like, 'oh my God, this was life changing, we want to do this!' We've been doing this since we were so young. It's not like we had other jobs and then this came to us. It took us years to learn, 'oh hang on, if I don't have a day off, say no, we just don't have anything left for anyone else.' And maybe that also comes with age and just learning that you're also worthy of being taken care of."
Nadia and Katia were born and brought up in Hong Kong, the daughters of a South-African ballet dancer and a fashion retailer from India. But their early lives were not all rosy. "We weren't that tight with our mum and dad and we had to rely on each other a lot," says Katia.
Nadia left home to pursue her modelling career when she was 15, and Katia followed suit not long after. "We always had to look after each other when we were at home. Because of the way the family set up was, we took care of each other." In their years exploring the world, "we actually lived very separate lives for a long time through the nature of travelling and being away from each other."
It was the shared experience of their father's death that brought them back into each others day-to-day lives. "Dad died about 12 or 13 years ago and we were there together through the whole experience and it feels like from that moment we've been completely inseparable and very, very, very close. We were in a different country, we were in India with our dad, in a hospital with no one around us, it was just us dealing with it all. And it was super intense," Nadia explains.
Now, they both live together in London where their lives are deeply entwined. "She calls me about 10 times a day!," says Katia.
Their book is divided into sections - Love, Hope, Peace, Joy and Light - and addresses common lifestyle niggles such as low self-esteem and poor sleep as well as broader life-lessons such as how to hold your boundaries and the importance of finding your tribe. At the heart of it all is their firm belief that "self-care is learning to look after your own self as you would a child or a very dear friend - with love, kindness and patience."
There is a lot of emphasis on how to break down this goal into small manageable daily acts and habits; getting into bed by 10.30pm every night, incorporating rituals into daily life by, for example waking 30 minutes early and using that time to prepare for the day, making a point of sitting down to a meal with family or friends, or even making an occasion out of dining alone. Social media can be obstructive to the goal of self-care so they have compiled a self-care for social media guide, including some simple ground rules such as not to look at social media first thing or after 8pm, and to avoid it completely when you're feeling low because "like drinking, it's not wise to do it when you're sad."
For both women learning, and teaching self-care is an on-going process. They are both emphatic about the importance of the support networks they have built around them - Katia has a life coach and Nadia a therapist - and they are constantly trying out tweaks and improvements in their own lives that might contribute to a sense of connectedness, confidence and wellbeing. Recently, Katia, who is married with two sons, got rid of the TV in the bedroom she shares with her husband, and limiting the family TV to specific times. "We are all coming together now to watch a show. It becomes something special rather than constant watching of TV. We've limited it so much in our house now, it becomes a ritual...." The upshot is that, "I'm watching a lot less and I'm reading a lot more, and you feel better."
"It's almost like you have to strip things back," Katia continues. "Every Friday night we have dinner together as a family. Nadia even gave up her Friday night yoga class so that she has the time to have dinner with us."
Affirmations, positive self-talk, inspirational quotes and mood boards all have their place in the Narain approach to living well. As does adequate sleep, regular exercise and excellent nutrition.
The emphasis is on things that don't cost money and can be easily fitted in and around daily life. You can practice self-care, they insist, even if you've got only five minutes to spare. Instead of using those minutes to scroll through Twitter, why not do a five-minute meditation, grab a short break outdoors, or dance around the room to your favourite song instead?
* Self Care for the Real World (Hutchinson, €23.80)
Health & Living