"The shampoo sink is where you let go of your hatred and your pain,'' says Michael Koler, a salt-and-pepper braid trailing down the back of his Indian tunic. At Michael's Motorcycle, his sunny, cheerfully ramshackle salon in the ritzy Dallas neighborhood of Highland Park, we're about to walk over to that cathartic spot so that Koler and I can take the first step in my feng shui haircut.
Applying what's now known as ''the art of living in harmony with land and physical structures'' to a shag or a bob would make about as much sense to Fu Hsi, who compiled feng shui's founding principles, as the Swarovski crystal-heart chi balancer on sale at Shop.com. About 5,000 years ago, Fu created the bagua to chart the relationships among the universe's five elements (fire, earth, metal, water, wood) and harness the flow of chi, or life force. Feng shui, which translates as ''wind and water,'' would eventually be used to determine propitious grave sites as well as living spaces that enhance good fortune. Now, of course, it's the money machine powering sales of zillions of instructional books (''The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feng Shui''), tabletop fountains, room spray and, yes, haircuts.
According to Koler, who has tended the tresses of Jerry Hall, her model daughter, Elizabeth Jagger, and delegates to the 1984 Republican National Convention, hair growth is ''a reflection of how the mind's energy moves.'' Koler links different growth patterns to points on the bagua, which he interprets as dominant or passive, open or closed. His method is affably hands-on: after an intensive massage and meditation at the shampoo sink, he leads me to a chair and starts poking around my hairline, discerning from the way it lists to the right above my forehead that I like to procrastinate. (No argument there.) Two cowlicks at the base of my neck say I'm ''a big-time ideas person.'' Once he has read my personality, Koler then starts cutting to rebalance any natural asymmetry and heighten my personal energy flow, obsessively combing my hair flat and then performing a fairly standard snipping and layering technique around the recesses of my sinus cavity, my jawbone and a few inches below my shoulders.
Students of Chinese medicine might recognize Koler's reliance on facial hot spots as siang mien, traditional Chinese face-reading. Students of haircutting will certainly recognize it, too, understanding that bone structure is fundamental to their profession. But Koler adds another layer: I'm not getting a cut but ''a new beginning.'' Twice during my 45-minute appointment, he rings a Tibetan ''mindfulness bell'' to remind us both to breathe. When we're done, I am instructed to look at ''my former self'' in a pile on the floor as my new beginning air-dries into weightless layers.
Billy Yamaguchi -- author of ''Feng Shui Beauty'' and stylist to the Los Angeles Lakers' coach, Phil Jackson -- has a more schematic approach. Clients at his four salons in Southern California must first answer a series of questions, with subjects ranging from life goals to their personality's color. (''Are you brown to orange to yellow? Or all greens, turquoise and blues except dark blue?'') The aim is to discover which of the five elements they relate to best, all of which have corresponding personality types and hairstyles. Balance the elements and the hair will look great -- and reflect the inner self. To David Twicken, author of ''Flying Star Feng Shui Made Easy,'' Yamaguchi's metaphoric extrapolations sound more like Five Elements, an ordering system common to most Taoist thought. No matter, Twicken says; at bottom, ''these are living principles.''
The beauty industry, not exactly known for its
dedication to empiricism, has already appropriated
aromatherapy and ayurveda. Crystal healing is one of the
many treatments offered at Bergdorf Goodman's luxe Susan
Ciminelli Spa. And it's no surprise that so many
facialists can now discourse on chakras. These
treatments have traditionally served well-being, not
style, but in an era when we're more encouraged than
ever to express our deepest selves through our looks,
there no longer seems to be a disconnect between our
appearance and who we really are. Yamaguchi says that
clients must ''own who they are'' to appreciate their
feng shui makeover. The same is true of anyone willing
to take a risk on a new style, whether it's informed by
the bagua or not. Who would argue that a haircut often
symbolizes a new beginning? That this beginning is
ushered in with the loud ring of a bell is really window
dressing, so to speak. Good stylists have always been
part psychic, part shrink and part magician -- and
frankly, we could all do with a little less hatred and
pain. Whether we let it go at the shampoo sink, or an
hour later, in a burst of joy over a good haircut, it's
a job well done.