The Quiet Healing Power of Hair Braiding in Times of Stress
While many of the hobbies we’ve picked up during the pandemic have functioned as welcome diversions, there are some seemingly simple pursuits that are far more than a mere distraction—they're humble activities that can serve as eye-opening ways to find joy and even heal emotional wounds. Hair braiding, for instance, one of the most common worldwide beauty and self-care practices, also happens to be deeply therapeutic. The manual, repetitive pattern—over and under, up and down—in itself is a sort of tactile mantra focused on bringing something together rather than taking it apart.
“It’s the fact of creating oneness,” says Miami-based journalist, multimedia artist, and hair-braiding virtuoso, Danié Gómez-Ortigoza. “In Mexico, the indigenous tribes say that you should always tie your hair so that your thoughts are not scattered.”
A Mexico native, Gómez-Ortigoza is known for her ornate braids decorated with ribbon and canvas textiles for added visual effect (follow her mesmerizing artistry on Instagram @journeyofabraid). For her, braiding is so much more than a style statement; it’s a daily form of meditation. Fashioning a braid is her equivalent to getting ready to face the world, no matter what's happening. Whether there’s a pandemic or a major societal change, for Gómez-Ortigoza, the intimate act of braiding signifies a sense of normalcy and habit, even on the toughest days.
The history of braiding can be traced back thousands of years. Ancient stone paintings in North Africa, dating back to 3500 BCE, depict a woman wearing cornrows, and evidence of elaborate box braids and hair extensions was found on the remains of a woman buried in Egypt around the 1300s BCE. Across Africa, braids of varying styles, sizes, and levels of intricacy and embellishment were worn not only for cosmetic beauty but to convey one's age, social status, marital status, wealth, tribe affiliation, religion, and power. Over hundreds of centuries, the braid has appeared in societies and cultures across the entire globe, spanning from Russia, where braids were a sign of chastity; to China, when men wore the queue braid as a sign of submission to Qing rule; to Scandinavia, where distinct variants denote different religious expressions; to Native American tribes and many indigenous Latin American peoples.
Many cultures believe the crown of the head has a sacred connection to their ancestors or gods; in others it’s the gateway to a particular chakra. And there is perhaps something special in the simple act of taking care of our heads, and what’s on it, that offers a certain solace. Today, wearing a braid can be a sign of just about anything you please, or simply a way to calm your mind and body. We often take hair for granted—cutting, coloring, and transforming it—but there is much more to it. Gómez-Ortigoza believes everyone should try to braid their hair at least once. Here, she makes her case for the healing powers of hair braiding that she appreciates daily.