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Making Hair a Means of Connection, Not Competition

Journey of a Braid founder Danié Gómez-Ortigoza turned a timeless hairstyle into a calling.
| |As told to Kathy Wise
Journey of a Braid performance
Gómez-Ortigoza (top) often starts workshops and performances with a guided meditation and concludes with a symbolic joining of the knots. Courtesy Journey of a Braid

“I didn’t grow up with my mother. My mother left when I was about 7 years old, so I grew up with my dad. But my point of contact with the feminine was through an indigenous nanny from Mexico, who used to live right under the volcano, Popocatépetl, which is a beautiful place in Mexico. She was the daughter of a shaman, an energy man. So whenever she braided my hair, she did it in a very ritualistic way. She was all about cleaning your energy. It was all about many different ways to try and help us heal, especially because we had been through a lot with my mother to help her with her depression. So she braided my hair, and as she did she would tell me incredible stories about her town, the legends and myths of Mexico, which made me really fall in love with my country in a way that most of my friends didn’t. Because, as you know, Mexico is very divided between socioeconomic levels, and usually the higher the level, the less connected they are to all these traditions and all this understanding.

“Because of the lack of my mother, my relationship with [my nanny] was really, really close. She would braid my hair every time I had something special at school, and it became an element of power. It became my shield. It became a way to show up in the world. I kept braiding my hair in different ways until one day I got asked to help put together a group of 50 top women from Mexico and take them to Deauville, France, for this conference called the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society. There was a Mexican delegation headed by Salma Hayek. It was politicians, journalists, entrepreneurs—really an incredible group of women. And I took them to Deauville.

“On the last day, all of these women were like, ‘Can you please braid our hair, because you always braid your hair so beautifully.’ And when I touched the hair of these women, everything changed for me. There is nothing more powerful than having the chance to touch someone’s hair. You enter into their field—it’s crazy. That’s why the wellness braiding circles that I do are very impactful, because you always braid one side of the head of a total stranger, and you realize how you connect immediately. It’s like this magnet.

Noted: “my braids became an element of power, my shield. it became a way to show up in the world.”

“The guy that I organized the event for synchronously gave me a gift a mascara [hair scarf]. And so I decided to add it to my hair and then set a daily intention to help another woman out in some way. The feminine was really damaged on me at the time, and so seeing these women work together and be together in a non-competitive way—in a constructive, let’s empower each other way—was extremely healing, because obviously I had issues connecting with women at the time. 

“I was working for Condé Nast; I was working for Glamour and for Vogue Mexico & Latin America. So every daily intention would be about shedding light on things that were happening. And through those intentions, the ripple effects extended in such a spectacular way for me. I realized that when you’re living every single day of your life with at least one little thing that is not about you and your nuclear family but is about helping someone else in a totally disinterested way—not wanting, not expecting anything in return—there’s some energetic field that is touched, and it just comes back seven times stronger for you. It’s beautiful. And so that’s the message with which Journey of a Braid was launched.

“A braiding circle is a space where three elements are united in an effort to trace the invisible thread that brings them together. So it’s all about making visible the invisible. I think that one of the biggest struggles that we have right now as a society is that the most important things are the ones that we cannot see and that we cannot Google. It’s like love, fear, anger—all of these things—you cannot see them. So for me, the most important thing is to be able to materialize the one thing that can save us from ourselves, which is understanding the things that unite us. 

“If it’s in an art setting, I do the ritual in private first. The private ritual is all about letting go from the hair, releasing emotions, because again, you’re talking about all this live matter that is connected to every one of your thoughts. It starts from this ritual of letting go, and then it’s a guided meditation in the process of breathing. And through this guided meditation, it’s all about bringing the elements of power that you need at the moment. It’s about the elements of power that you as a person require in this moment in order to succeed in your vision, in your purpose, in the things that you want to accomplish in this lifetime. 

“And then the last part of the meditation, it’s all about joining together. It’s bringing these knots that unite one braid to the other, and then creating this way of channeling the energy of past, present, and future. Those are the three strands that I consider the most valuable, because in our present selves we are always touching upon the past, and we’re always touching upon the future.

Journey of a Braid workshop
Courtesy Journey of a Braid

“All the stories that we’re living are just a completion of someone that was there before. Regardless of wherever you are in your life and however different the world looks, you are right now completing the story of your mother and of your grandmother, and then all of the women that came before them in your family. You can change the characters, the locations, whatever you want, but those ancestral threads will always be calling you back. That one thread will always be present, but you have power over present and future. So how are you going to act upon those two in order to clear the path for what your own mission is outside of that ancestral information?

“My number one tip: don’t think of hair just as an element of beauty—understand it is an element of power. Once I’m showered, I really have a moment with myself in the mirror outside of kids, outside of chaos. With my fingers—not with a brush, obviously—I brush my hair down with my fingers. A lot of hair drops while you’re doing that, because it’s a way of combing it. But as I do it, I focus on all the things that I want to let go of. And you feel it. You feel it in your chest if you’re doing it intentionally, really calling upon all the things that have been hard for you to deal with recently. So first, let go. And then it doesn’t matter what hairstyle you choose, that’s the least important.

“We judge ourselves so much in the mirror. We criticize ourselves so much. Mirror conversations need to be about an appreciation for being alive and for the beauty that has been passed to you from generation to generation in your ancestry line. We have to be more into recognizing those things instead of going through the social media narrative of how we should look or not look. I think that that’s the most important. If you have those elements in place, your day will start from a totally different level.”

This story originally appeared in the March issue of D Magazine with the headline “Everything Is Connected.” Write to [email protected].