Katie is a Chinese medicine practitioner, healer and mentor with over 20 years experience. She is founder of lifestyle brand Hayo’u, the UKs leading Qigong platform Hayo’uFit and best selling author of Yang Sheng ‘The Art of Chinese self-healing’.
I was gifted Katies book when it came out in 2019, Katies words and wisdom resonated with me so much, I have re-read her book numerous times and gifted a copy to almost every one of my friends. Katies mission is to empower people to master their health by sharing her knowledge of Chinese self healing, self-care tools and Qigong.
I hope you are inspired reading about Katie's journey and the generous honesty she shares in running her business. Yang Sheng is not just about physical health, it is the ultimate self care and holistic approach to wellbeing involving mind, body and spirit and if you read one book this year, make it Katies, she has quite simply changed my life.
Tell us your story and what inspired you to set up your company?
As a child I was always inexplicably drawn to anything oriental; if it was my turn to choose a restaurant for our family outings it would always be to the local Chinese restaurant or, if I was very lucky, a trip to China town in London's Soho where I was transported by the sounds, smells and sights of the bustling people, the curious items in the shop windows and the array of foodstuffs available - different every time we went, depending on the time of year. It seemed strange, magical and yet oh, so right - something made sense! It was only many years later, after a car accident ended my dreams of becoming an opera singer, that I was really able to fully appreciate first-hand the remarkable power of Chinese medicine and really begin my deep and abiding love, appreciation and reverence for this ancient Chinese wisdom.
My car accident had caused extreme injury to my shoulder and neck, so much so that it had affected my voice and had left me in excruciating pain that no amount of Western medical help had been able to alleviate - daily pain was an unpleasant, and seemingly unrelenting, fact of my life. Then one day I was walking along the Edgeware Road, as usual the pain in my shoulder nagging and biting me with every movement, and I saw a Chinese herbalist shop offering “Chinese Massage”. At the time I didn’t know what that was but I was so debilitated by my pain that I thought I’d give it a go!
As the practitioner skilfully massaged my neck and shoulder, running a strange tool over the painful area, bringing up a vivid red rash, I felt relief. Instant relief. It was as if the pain had just been released from my body. I was so inspired by this apparent miracle that I decided there and then to train as a practitioner myself. My decision to go into that Chinese herb shop, completely on a whim, changed my life forever.
After experiencing for myself how a 10-minute Chinese massage could reduce my pain so dramatically, I knew that my life would never be the same again. I realised that Chinese medicine was not just about herbs and acupuncture but was a wealth of ancient wisdom that could sit very happily alongside the Western medical system that I was used to. I learnt that the vivid red rash that I had experienced during my massage was not a bruise as I had initially thought but was in fact "sha" - the red flush that appears during a gua sha session - and was actually stagnation in the form of my deeply held pain being released from my body.
I knew that I had to study Chinese Medicine for myself, something that has now been my passion and my livelihood for well over 20 years. Qualifying as a Chinese Medicine practitioner, embracing Asian therapies including Tui Na massage, reflexology, acupressure, acupuncture, gua sha and Qigong - all intrinsically linked via Five Elements Theory - has been the answer to healing not only my own health and wellbeing but also the health and wellbeing of many thousands of my clients along the way.
This is how my life and my health was changed for the better and why I now encourage so many people to allow it to change their lives too.
What do you love most about running your own business?
I have never considered myself a business woman. I've always considered myself a woman in business because I didn’t come into business with the specific intention of being a business woman – I simply started a business because I had a good idea! And, of course, I wanted to make things better because I am, by profession and by nature, a therapist and healer.
I knew that we were in a pivotal moment in history in terms of alternative medicine – of preventative self-care – and that what so many people were looking for was a realistic way to keep themselves fit and healthy, with a strong sense of self-esteem and wellbeing. And I knew, from first hand experience, that if I could translate the wisdom of Chinese medicine into quick, simple and pleasurable techniques that anyone, any ability, mobility, age or fitness level could embrace then this would be enormously beneficial to my clients – a way for them to master their own health.
It would help them to understand the notion that we do not have to become ill in the first place, that we can actively prevent it by adopting these very straightforward and uncomplicated practices into our everyday lives. I realised that this was the missing link; the part of Chinese Medicine that at the time was largely unknown in the Western world, certainly in Western culture.
Known in Chinese as Yang Sheng, translating as nurture life, it is the Chinese practice of self-healing. Essentially ‘prevention rather than cure’. There is a great Chinese proverb that sums it up perfectly - ‘A drop of prevention is worth a bucket load of cure,’ and that is so true. Yang Sheng involves dealing with small health concerns at root level to limit the chance of illness getting a foothold in the body and becoming more of an issue.
In practice, it is the fostering of health and well-being by nurturing body, mind, and spirit in harmony with the rhythms of the natural world around us, and with universal laws. Rooted in Chinese Medicine and Daoist philosophy, Yang Sheng is not just about physical health, it is a holistic approach to wellbeing involving body, soul, and spirit – an integration of mind and body, physical and mental balance, control of excessive emotions, health, and fitness into old age, and, of course, wisdom. It is about developing a mindful approach towards ourselves, drawing in core theories like yin and yang, adhering to the laws of nature, and the harmonious free flow of qi around the body. It is the art of ultimate self-care.
It is the sharing of this extraordinary and ancient wisdom that I love most about running my own business. It is the idea that I can help people to make that mental shift and understand that this should be the first resort to their own health care – to prevent themselves from becoming ill in the first place; the recognition that if we can look after ourselves effectively we won’t need to rely so much on our GPs. I often liken it to brushing our teeth – we brush our teeth daily as a way to keep them strong and healthy, rather than simply relying on our annual check-up or visit to the hygienist for our dental health. It is the same with our physical and emotional health. And far from competing with Western medicine and the service that our wonderful NHS provides, it would be complementary to it; empowering people to keep themselves healthy so that the burden on the NHS resources might be eased, the results then pushed into supporting the people who really need it, creating a better and more efficient service.
That was my idea, but of course the problem that I had as a fledgling woman in business was that I didn’t actually have any idea HOW to run a business! As a child of the 1970s I did Home Economics, not Economics so it didn’t occur to me as a young woman that I would need to learn how to be a business woman. I was an art student; a music scholar and opera singer and it seemed as if the masculine world of business had nothing to do with me. But the reality was that by having this really good idea I then had to create a structure and a way to relay that great idea to potential customers – to create a thriving and sustainable business. And that's when the real challenges came in, when the mistakes were made and the harsh lessons learnt. I often think that one day I should write a book on how not to run a business!
What is your proudest accomplishment?
Undoubtedly, my proudest accomplishment is that I AM actually in business; that I am still going despite the many trials and tribulations of running a small start up with absolutely no prior knowledge of how to run a business. Obviously I was confident in my skills and accomplishments as a professional Chinese Medicine Practitioner of over 20 years, but this was a whole new ballgame and the reality is that business, so often, is still very much a male orientated structure so it has been a hard slog and for me and my right brain, creative and intuitive nature to have successfully navigated my way through this incredibly steep learning curve whilst simultaneously running my business and my practice.
But I am still here! And I am here owning 100% of my business – I don’t have to be answerable to outside investors, dictating what I should and shouldn’t do with my idea. I am able to be authentic. Authentic to myself, to my vocation, and to the wisdom that I have absolute faith in. That is my biggest accomplishment.
I think this is what perhaps sets me apart from my competitors: I am at the helm of my company, running the business myself whilst being accessible, relatable and very visible across my social media platforms. As I promote this self-sustaining ecosystem of self-care, I don’t just talk it, I live and breathe it alongside my audience.
Looking back what were the most important things you wish someone had told you before starting your business?
How to run it in the first place! I wish that I’d had someone who could have guided me towards the simple, basic blocks of business knowledge in order to avoid the myriad of pitfalls – not being subject to the guile of unscrupulous associates; not being naïve; not being unrealistic or over ambitious; not letting down hard working employees… because if you fail at the top due to lack of experience or naivety, or if the infrastructure is wrong and things start to collapse, it is so often those dedicated colleagues who suffer. And that is something that I take very, very seriously.
Businesses need to be built on solid ground but mine, in the beginning, was built on the quicksand of inexperience. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what my weaknesses were or fully appreciate my strengths and how to use them to best effect; didn’t understand how that might be impacting the bigger picture; I didn’t recognise the true value of having the right people by my side balancing my creativity, wisdom and vision with their solid and dependable insights and experience.
Thinking about it, it is exactly like our health. Running a healthy and balanced business is like running a healthy and balanced body: all the composite elements need to be healthy and strong in order to support and nurture each other.
These days, with the benefit of knowledge learnt the hard way, I am able to focus on being “front of house”, sharing Chinese wisdom in fun, simple, yet profoundly effective ways whilst at the same time having a meticulous understanding of the health of my business. I know my figures, my profit margins, my ROI… my business plan. And just as I do with my body, I pay attention, reacting with the correct adjustments when needed.
One of the other things that I wish I had known at the start of my business is the importance of understanding both the upside and the downside of rapid accelerated growth. Whilst it is very exciting when the zeitgeist shifts in your favour and you know you have to seize the moment and capitalise on potential sales, the reality is that when you have these sudden spikes in growth and need to expand quickly it can bring a whole host of related logistical and financial problems. Growing too quickly, especially if you are in a still-fragile position with tight cashflow and lean staff, can mean that you can’t realistically navigate your way through an unexpected growth spurt. Competitive market places, long lead times for production, tough competition, freight challenges, staff sickness or maternity leave can all hamper business when a fast turnaround is needed. And that’s before Brexit, COVID and postal strikes add to the challenges.
What are the most rewarding aspects of what you do?
The most rewarding aspect of what I do is, of course, making people well – helping them to understand that the way they live their lives, aligning with nature and embracing Yang Sheng and qigong, can have a profound effect on their health and wellbeing. Once people truly understand this and see for themselves how their symptoms have eased, their sleep improved, their overall health enhanced, and their joie de vivre returned, I know that they will continue to preventatively self-care – it will become a way of life for them.
In fact, we have hundreds of people who have been so inspired by this way of life after following my daily Instagram lives throughout lockdown that they have gone on to train with Qigong Grand Master John Munro of Long White Cloud Qigong or have taken Katie Blake’s Gua Sha Training Course and have become qigong instructors and gua sha therapists themselves, setting up their own businesses and positively influencing yet more people in this remarkable healing art.
I am a firm believer that as women in business our natural inclination is to nurture and encourage other women; to form alliances and collaborations that empower others to shine, enabling the world to engage with their own unique abilities and to contribute to this growing ecosystem of wellness.
Who would you love to collaborate with?
One aspect of having my own business and presence on social media is that I am in a position to champion some of my very favourite, largely female led brands. Women who, like me, had an idea and made it happen. I love that I am able to share their brilliance with my own followers, feature them on the ever growing “Katie Loves” section of my Hayo’u Method website and share entertaining and informative split lives with them.
What I love about collaborating with these brands is the fact that they are founded by women who have invested their lives into their vision, into their absolute belief in their products. I know how hard that can be, so one of the most satisfying and rewarding aspects of where I am today is that I am now in a position to help them, just as Trinny Woodall did with me – that invaluable “leg up” for which I will be forever grateful. Trinny shone her light on me at precisely the time that I needed it most, so I really appreciate that I can now pay that kindness forward and help to support other small businesses. Not by being paid, because I am not, but because I genuinely love their products and the integrity of their brands – I want to use the small power that I now have to empower other women to thrive and shine in business.
Some of my favourite brands at the moment are Sweet Bee Organics for their wonderful organic skincare range, elixirs, and medicinal mushroom-based herbal blends; Love Liposomal for their delicious, all-natural vitamin supplements; and Castorvida for their truly versatile castor oil compress – without a doubt a game-changer for a healthy and balanced body. Each bring their own beautiful gifts, sit very happily alongside my own health and wellbeing offering and tie in very nicely with other forward-thinking wellness brands featured on my website, such as Heavenly Herbs, Phyto Nectars and Pietro Simone.
I am very fortunate and privileged that I am already collaborating with brilliant and inspiring women, including Fern Cotton and Trinny, and there are certainly other people within the natural wellness space who I would love to work alongside: The Menopause Mandate and King Charles, via his Prince's Trust. On a personal level, I am already very involved with the Prince’s Trust but professionally I would dearly love to collaborate with charitable organisations where we can work together to effect the greatest change. I believe that supporting, educating and championing women through the Prince's Trust, or organisations such as Women for Women, is where women like myself can guide and mentor to the greatest effect, drawing on our own experiences to help give other women the opportunity and the power to create their own businesses and livelihoods – for themselves and their communities.
Describe yourself in 3 words
I am very fortunate, and indeed deeply touched, that my clients, customers and followers use such lovely words to describe me, including inspiring, passionate and compassionate, driven, wise, loving and healing – but I think the best three have to be Funny, Compassionate and Real.
Why? Because it is through being funny; laughing at myself and the world around me and engaging in laughter qigong during my free classes, and being compassionate and kind to myself and others, that I am able to authentically demonstrate how I heal myself and how they can begin to heal themselves too. Sharing the wisdom in this way helps people to understand the simplicity and the beauty of these remarkable practices and how they can bring them into their own lives and the lives of their loved ones.
My aim is to heal and empower by sharing Chinese wisdom in ways that fit into everyday life; that are accessible, simple to understand and implement, and are most of all effective. And the best way that I can do that is by simply being myself, walking alongside my followers, sharing my own challenges and triumphs of health and wellbeing as we all heal together, supporting and loving one another.
Who inspires you and why?
My audience inspires me; the Daoist Masters and infinite Chinese wisdom inspires me; everyday life inspires me - the seemingly mundane and the truly sublime. Life is one long moment of inspiration and that, I hope, comes across very clearly in my teaching, particularly in my Qigong classes and meditations, because that's when you can really see it at work.
It is so important for us to take moments in the day to stop, recognise and appreciate these moments of inspiration and that’s something that so many of us simply forget. But to be inspired is actually healing, it allows us to align with higher, healing frequencies; in fact, inspire means to breathe in, and breath according to Chinese medicine is the number one healing modality.
What book should we all read
Mine! Yang Sheng – The Art of Chinese Self-Healing. Why? Because this knowledge is precisely what is missing from so many people’s lives. It is what will unlock your unmet needs: how to feel better, how to manage the onslaught of modern life, and importantly how to do it in just a few minutes a day. It is the first step towards preventative self-care and mastering your own health and wellbeing before any minor niggles gain a foothold in the body and cause a more serious problem.
There are so many great books available but they often require you to have a level of understanding of Chinese medicine in the first place. And that can be a problem because people just don’t know where to start; they are confused by the terminology, the descriptions and the application of the techniques – they just don’t know what they should be doing. My book leads them in simple, easy to apply, pleasurable techniques and lifestyle advice that they can build on as they become more confident and begin to really understand that this is a truly holistic way of living. It is the perfect place to get you started on your self-healing journey. Yang Sheng is what living well means to me.
What is your greatest personal achievement?
My greatest personal achievement is that I am where I am right now. My life’s work of all the pain, trauma, worry and suffering, educating myself and acquiring sufficient business acumen to build a great team around me in order to run my business successfully is something that I am immensely proud of. My perseverance has paid off – it may have taken me fifty years to get to where I am today but I believe this is just the beginning, the prequel to the main event.
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?
The very first thing I do when I get up in the morning are a few of the Lion’s Breath exhalations, so great for helping to expel stale qi before I head off for my morning bathroom routine which involves a shower; quick facial gua sha under the running water to wake up my complexion; perhaps I’ll use the Jade Comb around my torso, abdomen and down the legs to stimulate the lymphatic system, before finishing with a blast of cold water. Once out of the shower I’ll tap all over my body with the Bamboo Tapper to really get the circulation moving and use the Drummer to help ease any areas of tightness or tension in my muscles. If I have time I’ll use the Bian Stone Massager for some self-acupressure, depending on what I feel I need to focus on that day, before a little more facial gua sha with oil. I am then ready to practice my morning qigong, enjoy my breakfast and begin my clinic. It sounds like a lot to do for a morning routine but the very short length of time it takes gives untold health benefits and, for me, is non-negotiable. The Bian Stone Massager, Bamboo Tapper and Drummer, and Jade Beauty Restorer are, without a doubt my health, wellbeing and beauty essentials. Along with good quality tea!
How do you unwind?
I do qigong, walk my dogs, take a moment for some deep breathing in the garden or a 20-minute meditation, enjoy plenty of organic, locally sourced food… and I love a relaxing evening with Netflix and my husband!
What makes you smile?
My new little puppy, Don Simone! He is the newest addition to our family and is naughty, charming, funny and an absolute joy. And Catherine's jokes…we feature a morning joke in my free Tuesday and Thursday Instagram qigong classes and the Laughter Therapy is a large part of that. Despite the usually awful joke, just one minute of laughter will boost our immunity for 24 hours, essential for good health.
What are your wardrobe staples and style icons?
I love Peachaus, for their beautiful, ethically produced and sustainable leisurewear. I also adore Aspiga, just effortlessly stylish. Both brands are forward-thinking, authentic and have the utmost integrity; creating gorgeous clothing whilst being kind to the planet and kind to us – I wear them all the time! My style icons, I’d have to say, are Trinny, Miranda Holder and Victoria Genest – strong, passionate and courageous, yet soft and nurturing too. They are the epitome of the 21st Century woman who also happen to have the gift of just knowing how to present effortlessly glamorous outfits for all women, whatever their shape, shape or age.
Where is your favourite place to travel to?
In Europe I’d have to say Italy, history of art being a passion of mine; I can’t fail but be moved every time I visit the country. And in Asia it would, of course, be China. For the culture, the ancient wisdom and the inspiration that feeds my very soul.
Image copyright Katie Brindle