Aromatherapy Associates, Knightsbridge

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Sometimes you choose change, at others it chooses you. Either way, there has been a lot of it in my life this year. Change is unruly and can be a horrible shock to those, like me, who are unprepared for it. At times I have felt ready to go under. I’ve left two corporate jobs, both times to be the writer I know I really am. In reality, I’ve just swapped one tough option for another. (Nice one, clever clogs, following your heart and going freelance in an industry under threat!) My sleeping problems have persisted. Cocktails of red wine and borrowed Zopiclone did little to give me a good night’s sleep, nor did they put the problem to bed in the long run.

Most difficult of all, a couple of my friendships have been bruised by events that I can only liken to the stuff of Jeremy Kyle. Maybe all this is just symptomatic of being a grown up, but to borrow the words of the great Mary Poppins, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. I needed a coping mechanism, a set of tools to calm me down when my nature forbade.

I have vivid memories of being young and seeing my mum semi-clothed and needle-clad at the acupuncturist’s. It set in a scepticism – fear, even – that made me cling to the doctor’s surgery like a leach. Yes, until this Spring my happy clappy hippy tendencies stretched only to food, to free-range hens and organic pesto, that kind of thing. But I’m proud to say that I’ve recently discovered a trio of holistic treatments to keep me looking forward positively. They are (drum roll): Bikram yoga, colonic cleansing and aromatherapy massage.

Yoga always seemed like a cop out. I went to several classes at university and always came away feeling like I hadn’t pushed myself. (I’d always choose a cardiofest – spinning or some casual wrestling with my Staffie.) I knew I was probably wrong about yoga, but nothing could quite have prepared me for the complete one-eighty I’d do on the subject.

Bikram yoga is a series of 26 repeated postures done in a room between 95-105 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour and a half. Yes, it’s basically sauna yoga. I was hugely apprehensive. During my first session, back in June, I wondered what on earth I was doing in this dank room of sweat beads and hieroglyphic tattoos. It’s hard on the body; far from the easy-to-fake stretches of Leeds University Yoga circa 2006, these are poses that cause real, satisfying strain in the stomach, lungs and heart. It works using the tourniquet effect – the stretching, balancing and general pressure of Bikram’s postures cut the blood supply to your blood vessels, flushing your system out in the process. On that first day, I left Balham’s Hot Bikram Yoga feeling euphoric. People say Bikram is addictive and they’re not wrong. It’s healthier than red wine and borrowed Zopiclone, and, blissfully, I always sleep like a log afterwards.

On to the colonic. Will try to keep this one brief. Sorry to anyone who came looking for a review of Spuntino and accidentally fell upon some girl talking about her bowels. A friend had colonic hydrotherapy last year and, though alarmed when she told me, I was impressed by the palpable change in her attitude since. She not only acquired a better relationship with food (we’re both bingers), but her whole outlook became more positive. Now, arguably if you’ve psyched yourself up enough to spend £70 on a stranger sticking a tube up your bum then you’re open to the possibility of it working. But it did – I swear. Though the process is uncomfortable at best and the ensuing week’s liver detox a little rough, the longer-term results have been great.

Colonic hydrotherapy heightens your awareness of what you eat and drink, and gives you a new respect for your digestive system. Though mildly embarrassed that I just wrote that sentence, I can’t deny it. One week after the treatment, my detoxified body was my temple. I still abuse it, but I’m also more inclined to worship at its altar these days.

Sorry, that wasn’t so brief.

My recent trip to Knightsbridge’s new Aromatherapy Associates Boutique & Treatment Rooms was a luxurious experience that put the icing on my Bikram and colonic sponge cake (sounds delicious!). You realise the phenomenal interconnectedness of your body at the hands of massage, particularly when not just one but two of your senses are so engaged. Wafts of aroma (which the therapist tailors to you) collaborate with their hands, stimulating your pressure points from head to toe.

Aromatherapy Associates isn’t cheap, but you absolutely get what you pay for. It’s important for all therapists, I think, to live their art, and mine – Sophie – was no exception. All smiles and serenity, I felt genuinely cared about during our consultation. We talked about my sleeping, my inability to unwind, and my associated skin and digestive symptoms. Based on this, she picked out three scented oils, from which I chose one. For the next hour and a half I was coated in ‘Deep Relax’, a blend of sandalwood, vetivert and camomile oils, and given a holistic work out at the hands of Sophie’s, well, hands. The experience has made me reassess my assumption that selling cosmetic products is just the regurgitation of pseudo science. There’s nothing pseudo about AA oils; they almost empathise with your state of mind. Macaroons and tea at the treatment’s close made me love AA all the more.

Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but its regular bed partner, stress, is. I was looking for something to make some of the shifts in my life more manageable, and while it may not be the answer for everyone, I would urge The Stressed to look at some more holistic options. There have been none of the drawbacks of modern medicine or boozing – no hangovers or humiliation (except for the brief bum tube episode, if you choose to look at it that way). So while I’ve felt at points that change has unjustly chosen me this year, I have chosen change too. And I’ve relaxed. A spoonful of sugar, indeed.

Aromatherapy Associates Boutique & Treatment Rooms, 5 Montpelier Street, London SW7 1EZ. Tel. 020 7838 1117. Website.

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