The International Writers Magazine: Body Nuturing
Have you ever been exfoliated
Elizabeth Schotten Merklinger
Unless you have been very lucky, the end of a holiday generally spells more fatigue than its beginning. I have just discovered a wonderful antidote to the prospective jet lag. The exhaustion ensuing from scurrying to the airport and last minute shopping can be cured easily by the magic of ... exfoliation.
A short spell of relaxation at a spa before every flight is the answer to cope with jet lag. The ideal ofcourse is to soak for days in a sulphurous hot spring, be it in Istanbul or in Budapest. But unfortunately these watery delights are not always available. Now a wonderful alternative has emerged, the ubiquitous health farm, many only a short distance from major airports. In essence this means just a slight detour and a short postponment of the journey.
I recently sampled just such a health farm near Heathrow Airport, no more than an hour from Terminal 5 (and even less if you take advantage of the chauffeur service on offer). Champneys Forest Mere, in the lush idyllic Hampshire countryside, is an amazingly expanded countryhouse with a huge staff of professionals here only to intice away your stress. The sprawling country mansion standing in 120 acres of parkland was acquired in 1994 by Mrs.D.Purdew and her son Stephen, and they subsequently spent millions to refurbish it for us. The list of therapies and activities on offer is endless and includes such staples of the spiritual diet as yoga, tai chi, meditation, aerobics and step. But more intriguing are the many exotic newcomers to the discipline most of which are dispensed in the splendid treatment rooms.
||The difficulty is only in making a decision. After much soul searching, I finally select Thai massage, twilight aroma submersion, the Serai Bad, and thalassotherapy treatments. Thai massage is an ancient art supposedly first used by Tibetan monks, its many benefits including a release of stiff joints and muscles, and the opening of your energy field (?). The primary aim of this treatment is not just to attack your muscles, however. The real target is your emotions and your spiritual orders and disorders.
I was ushered into a stark cubicle, the subdued light revealing one lone floor mat on which I begin to relax waiting for those tender loving strokes I have come to associate with massage. But suddenly I was literally attacked by S. as she proceeded to pull my toes and fingers, only a prelude to actually standing (yes, with her feet) on my arms and legs, the entire time using her elbows, I think, to make my neck muscles snap. Once this procedure was finished, I was rubbed down with a specially prepared tiger balm (created by monks). While working on my feet, I am told that I had warrior armour left over from my past life experiences. I don't doubt it, but is this the way to rid me of such left-over baggage from my last incarnation?
After some hours of much needed rest, by late afternoon, I am ready for my next session. Twilight aroma therapy submersion is something new, even for an experienced aficionado of spa treatments like me. At the thought of being submerged, however I panic. Will by claustrophobia show? We begin a serious discussion as to whether I wish to be revitalized, detoxified or to have my emotions rebalanced. The choice is not easy but my emotions do need a bit of a workout and therefore I opt for the rebalancing act. I begin to feel more assured as I am covered in a pleasantly scented oil, wrapped in various towels and a rubberized sheet. Then, gently ever so gently, I am submerged about an inch so that I literally float on water. I am left to contemplate my navel (or what I can see of it) for about 40 minutes. What a way to start the evening, or for that matter, to end it!
The next morning begins with mud. When I think of mudpacks I recall a visit to Abano (near Venice) some years ago when, in dungeon-like cells in the bowls of the hotel, a hefty matron slung hot fango (very hot indeed) at my aching joints. With these past images still very much alive, I am not prepared for the Serai Bad, a tilted Turkish steam room with twinkling stars on the ceiling and azure blue ceramic tiles on the walls. At the start three types of mud are applied ever so gently- white for the face, a light beige for the body and a dark shade of terra-cotta for the joints. After a spell of gently heating the mud, the sweating begins in stages and the steam softens and loosens the hardened muddy mass. A delightful warm shower now gushes from the twinkling stars and washes away the mud and all my cares. I don't know whether this Ottoman version of the mudpack is as efficacious as the old Abano sling-the-fango treatment, but it is certainly more enjoyable.
A toxin is a nasty word which crops up continuously here. The plural, toxins, is even worse and most treatments are an attack on the body to rid it of these invaders. Toxins enter our bloodstreams not only through polutants but also through a wide variety of things making up our daily lives- diet, tobacco, anxiety and a host of other evils of the modern world. Everything here is done to eliminate these poisons from our bodies, and the magic way this happens is through detoxification.
“Have you ever been exfoliated?” I am asked later in the afternoon. Startled I review my life in patches. No serious transgressions come to mind, just a few lapses. My senses awake. The scent of spearmint teases my nostrils. No, she is not talking about ex-communication but ex-foliation, something to do with being rubbed in a special toothpaste. I relax and begin to enjoy the adventure. A clear choice now has to be made. “Do you want to be detoxified, stimulated or destressed?” I am asked. But how to make such a choice. Might some of each be possible? No, it has to be a clear choice. I opt for the removal of toxins. Now a lemony scent invades the nostrils. I suppose this is the magic potion of detoxification. All of me is exfoliated, oiled, bundled in sheets and left to marinate.
Toxins can also be removed by sea water. The huge round thalassotherapy pool is the first of its kind in the UK (thalasso is the Greek word for sea). Salt water is produced here in imitation of the ocean and is piped into the pool in an assortment of hard, harder and very hard jets, offering, amazingly, a very effective way to relax. You may be attacked by jets at any level and from all sides. They can be directed at your shoulders, stomach, thighs, waist, feet or for that matter at the entire body at once. The more manageable jets are on the perimeter of the pool and the further you venture to the centre, the stronger the assault. This cleansing water is not mere tap water but supposedly is full of minerals useful in the detoxification process. No toxin can resist such an onslaught and the procedure spells its doom. Should you fancy something gentler and do not enjoy being pummeled about by jets, you may instead select an algea wrap (seaweed, I think), to tackle those same toxins in a gentler fashion.
On the lovely terrace overlooking the manicured lawns, I sip my lemon tea, feeling lighter and quite serene. Here in this small delightful corner of Hampshire on the edge of the New Forest, I, like so many others before me, am leaving behind a very important part of myself, my toxins.
Champneys Forest Mere is in Liphook, Hampshire GU307JQ. Telephone 44-1428-726000; www.champneys.com
By road Liphook is just off the A3 from London. From Liphook continue on the B2070 following the signs to Forest Mere. A two-night stay runs from £350 pounds and includes the use of terryrobes and slippers, meals, massage and thalassotherapy.
© Elizabeth Schotten Merklinger September 2010