Not so long ago, a trip to the day spa involved a massage and a facial, but my, how things have changed. Join me as I road test some of the more unusual health treatments around the globe, from the wonderful to the downright wacky.
Don’t cry for me
At minus 60 degrees Celsius, I feel like Australian Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson on his expedition to the South Pole. By the time I enter the second chamber, which is dialed down to minus 110 degrees Celsius, I imagine I am on the top of Everest and have entered the death zone.
Monaco madams like to play a little game in which they undergo cryotherapy at the ultra-swish Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo and then see if they can last the entire three minutes required to receive the full benefits of this frigid treatment. After your health vitals are taken, and clad only in your swimsuit, gloves, socks, headband and mask, you enter these freezing chambers which are believe to aid relaxation, reduce stress, assist sleep disorders and improve jet lag symptoms.
I last the full three minutes (dancing helps) but the only thing I leave with are fingers so frozen several are numb for months afterwards.
It’s a horse, of course
When you think of it, animals are very good listeners, so it’s quite apt that I should find myself in an outdoor ring on the Gold Coast undergoing a meditation session with a 22-year-old horse called Jack.
Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat offers Equine Assisted Meditation where, for 50 minutes, you’ll be guided through breathing exercises with a horse, which is said to be adept at detecting your energy.
I’m skeptical at first, and so is Jack, but within minutes, once I slow down my breathing and monkey mind and focus on this magnificent animal, Jack responds, his erratic breathing changing pace to match mine. By the end of the session I am leading Jack around the ring without a halter, and able to stop his trotting simply by using my breath. The life lessons about slowing down and learning to breathe are ongoing.
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A Turkish delight or fright?
Clutching nothing more than what appears to be a face cloth, I am laying on a hard concrete slab, awaiting my fate in Vienna’s oldest hammam – Aux Gazelles.
This Turkish treatment starts with the kind of steam you’d experience in a southern hemisphere summer. Just when you think you can’t take any more heat, your therapist will arrive, poised to scrub, soak, soap and slap you for two hours. Imagine you are in a car wash and you won’t be far wrong. Apparently you are meant to leave feeling relaxed but after relinquishing my last shred of modesty, I just felt drained, albeit incredibly clean.
Sweat it out
It’s nudging 50 degrees Celsius in the Canadian Aboriginal sweat lodge in which I find myself on a brisk Vancouver day. Indigenous elder Old Hands starts this traditional treatment with a smudging ceremony in which we are instructed to swirl smoking sage over our bodies.
We then enter a dark tepee, sit cross-legged, while Old Hands pours steam over hot coals. Beating a drum, meant to represent the time in our mother’s womb, Old Hands summons the spirits of our ancestors and we are invited to speak with them, ask questions and seek answers to our lives.
The one-hour ceremony is meant to signify a rebirth and the health benefits are believed to be ongoing for at least a week. I don’t recognise any direct contact with my ancestors but Old Hands tells me I’ll feel much lighter emotionally and I can certainly feel a shift in the days that follow.
In 1659 three nurses were sent to Quebec City by the King of France to establish the first hospital in North America. The nurses were way ahead of their time and not only believed in traditional medicine, but holistic healing.
La Monastere des Augustines, in which they lived, is now a hotel with both contemporary and original rooms. Guests are invited to partake in treatments which reflect the history and values of the sisters, some of whom still live there.
One of the more interesting treatments is Postural Health where, for 90 minutes, you will learn how to adopt good postural habits while seated; learn to stand in total comfort; and achieve greater freedom of movement. Even the reflexology session, in which I find myself, is no normal treatment. Therapist Erick Lessard works with patients in the adjacent hospital for whom morphine no longer relieves their pain. He is able to quickly diagnose some minor health issues within my body.
There’s also a range of signature teas on sale at the hotel’s boutique which are made from the medicinal and heritage plants used by the sisters, and if you stay the night here, you’ll partake in breakfast in silence, just like the sisters once did. Best of all, you’ll leave feeling at peace with the world.
The Secret to Smiles
Even the name of this place sounds promising. I’m in a Sri Lankan spice garden called Luckgrove and the owner Mr Bonnie, both in name and nature, is extolling all of the health benefits of various plants.
He points out a cocoa plant and says chocolate is great for magnesium and selenium to aid the memory, but too much and you become addicted. Cinnamon, he says, is good for blocked ears, cold feet and stained teeth, while aloe vera is a good germ killer, great for constipation and for treating wrinkles.
So convinced is Mr Bonnie of the natural healing properties of plants, he says Sri Lankans smile so much because they eat bananas, apparently a natural Viagra. However, it’s the lime peel in which I am most interested as Mr Bonnie says it’s the key to losing weight.
At his store, myself and several others on my tour, buy bottles of his lime pills. We are told to take them for three months and even without exercise, we’ll lose weight. I last one month and then, grappling with the reflux they give me, abandon this health journey. Several months later I check in with my fellow travellers. They have all quit for similar reasons. None of us lose any weight, but Mr Bonnie has made us smile and that’s reason aplenty to visit.
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