THE SUNDAY TIMES
11 NOVEMBER 2017
NADIA AND KATIA NARAIN - SELF-CARE WITH KATE MOSS’S HEALTH GURUS.
Crazy juice fasts, complicated exercise classes, the latest must-do diet – none of these deliver peace like the simple, common-sense advice of taking care of yourself. Here’s how.
Self-care — it’s set to be the buzzword of 2018. Hashtag it on Instagram and you’ll see what I mean — there’s even such a thing as “self-care” month. And there is a veritable glut of self-care “bibles” with the word in the title coming out in the next 12 months, the prettiest and most accessible of which, IMHO, is by the sisters Nadia Narain, 44, and Katia Narain Phillips, 42. Called Self-Care for the Real World and endorsed by the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Kate Moss (who ordered 22 copies to give friends for Christmas), it spreads the simple but crucial message that unless we truly love and look after ourselves, we are unable to look after and love anybody else. “Or, to put it another way,” Nadia says, “think of what the cabin crew always tell you to do at the beginning of a flight — in case of an emergency, always put the oxygen mask on yourself, before you put it on your child.”
It’s a brisk weekday afternoon and the three of us are sitting in Nadia’s cosy flat in Primrose Hill, north London. It is within walking distance of the cult studio Triyoga, where she teaches several classes a week, though many of her loyal clients — who include Jools Oliver, Jimmy Carr and Matthew Freud — prefer private sessions. Laid out on the kitchen counter is lunch from Triyoga’s Nectar Cafe, which Katia founded in 2014: cucumber noodle rolls with peanut dressing, “massaged” kale, quinoa and white miso dressing Buddha bowls and, for afters, beetroot chocolate cake. Above the fireplace burns a Peace candle from Nadia’s organic candle range; she has also just released a box set of her bestselling yoga DVDs. Next to it is a painting given to her as a birthday present by her friend the designer Luella Bartley.
Bartley, the stylist Kim Sion (the partner of Jarvis Cocker), Sadie Frost, Sam Taylor-Johnson and her husband, Aaron, are just some of Nadia’s mates from way back. Then there is Mossy, who she first met in Hong Kong when she was 19. They were both modelling at the time, and met through a friend of a friend at the airport. The two have been friends ever since. In fact, it was Nadia who introduced Kate to Uggs. She says: “I remember, it was some time in the late 1990s when I brought some back from Australia. Nobody had really heard of them. Even my Australian friends thought they looked ugly, but I knew it was the only way I could get through English winters. Kate set eyes on them and said she’d swap them for any pair of shoes she had. Only she could have turned that look into a worldwide trend.”
In their uniform of Isabel Marant check shirts and Comme des Garçons sneakers, with flawless — I mean flawless — skin (Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream helps, apparently), the sisters couldn’t be a better advert for the wellness industry if they tried. Gratitude lists, negligible alcohol, daily yoga and turmeric lattes — on some level, they obviously do work. But it begs the question, is there a need in the world for yet another couple of sassy wellness influencers, what with the Hemsley sisters and Gwyneth and Deliciously Ella already out there?
Maybe, though, the Narain sisters have tapped into something a bit deeper. Think Marie Kondo for the mind, if you will, or the Hemsleys for the soul. Sure, there are beautifully styled pictures of protein balls and the like, but the chapters that are sprinkled in between the recipes — how to hold boundaries, how to get over an ex, how to conquer that “less than” feeling every time you scroll through Instagram, how to be an agent rather than a victim — feel unusually practical, non-patronising and authentic.
“We don’t want to sugar-coat,” Nadia says. “It’s not as simple as, ‘Put on a face mask, drink an organic smoothie and, boom, I’m practising self-care.’ It’s more about how not putting yourself first, not treating yourself as you would a best friend, can actually be quite selfish, especially if, like us, you are in the business of looking after people.
“There is always that self-critical voice holding you back, telling you that you don’t deserve to be nice to yourself. I think it’s very English, that impulse to put yourself down. American women don’t seem to have that level of self-deprecation, unless they’ve learnt it from their English friends.”
‘The first step of self-care is to start paying attention to what your body needs’
Born and bred in Hong Kong, the Narain sisters are the daughters of a South African ballet dancer and a glamorous jeans retailer from Hyderabad, India. Though party animals — their mother was a DJ at the first ever disco in Hong Kong, and their father opened the first Carnaby Street-style boutique in Hong Kong and was great friends with Bruce Lee — their parents were also strict disciplinarians.
Eager for freedom, Nadia left home at 15 and went first to Japan, where she modelled, then to New York where she ended up coat-checking at the famous downtown Manhattan restaurant Indochine. Then, in her early twenties, she went to LA to apprentice with Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, the pioneer of kundalini yoga in America.
Katia also left home in her late teens to travel and, like Nadia, was drawn to an alternative lifestyle (during the 1970s, their mother never allowed white food in the house, and practised yoga daily), but admits to being plagued by “insecurity and low self-esteem” and having the “self-destruct button pressed way down” until her mid-twenties. When she travelled to Hawaii and met people involved in the raw-food movement, she was prompted to “stop drinking, stop everything, in fact”. She eventually started her own raw-food cafe in London in 2004. She is also a trained reiki master and massage therapist.
Fast-forward and Katia is married with two boys, aged 8 and 10. Though definitely the quieter of the two, letting her sister do most of the talking, she comes across as the one who is very grounded, very much herself — “Mama-san” as Nadia sometimes calls her.
Nadia, meanwhile, who is famously hard on herself (just ask any of her friends), is still learning the art of letting go. “I used to be a lot stricter with myself,” she says. “Self-love only came when I stopped those wretched juice fasts I did every year. I mean, if you are ill and you need to, fine, but all those years I spent thinking if I could juice for longer, detox for longer, stay silent for longer, I would purge the bits I don’t like about myself and someone would love me. And then I thought, ‘Wait, I’m fine as I am!’”
They both practise what they preach. A month or so ago, Nadia’s building was burgled and the thieves took her laptop. In stark contrast to her neighbour, who went out and got rip-roaring drunk, she lit candles, burnt some sage and ran a bath, “refusing to be scared out of my home”. She also posted a handwritten letter to the thieves on the front door and on Instagram. “Sadly for you, there’s this bitch called Karma,” it read, “and when you f*** with her moral code, it’s really shitty for you. She doesn’t let anything slip by, so she’s coming for you, if not today, tomorrow or the next, she will get you and you are going to wish you never came by my house or anyone else’s. Have a great day.”