'Wellness' has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, from the way we work – let's put a ping pong table in a meeting room so you can connect with your inner child! – to our diet and sleeping rituals, and the beauty industry is no different.
So when I first heard about The Calmery, a clinic based in London's Harley Street offering energy healing and reiki facials, I wasn't surprised – but I was intrigued.
It's fair to say I'm a sceptic when it comes to alternative healing. I roll my eyes at Ayurveda, have no patience with yoga classes, and I keep crystals because they look cute, not because I think they will clear my energy. I especially don't have time for people who think you can tackle your mental health issues – whether it's anxiety or addiction – with 'positive thinking'.
That said, like every other London-based 'millennial' battling soaring rent prices, an increasingly long commute, and an all-pervasive digital world, I am stressed. The NHS is under immense pressure, so waiting lists for CBT and other therapies are months, sometimes years, long. In fact, the popularity of the wellness phenomenon and the rise in things like reiki facials has arguably come about through frustration with the lack of resources to aid people's general wellbeing. Perhaps it is time for me to start looking at alternatives?
And so I jump to The Calmery's site, and am met with the following statement:
"The Calmery is a place where you can experience an absolute, perfect calm, bringing a stop to your whirring mind, ease to your stressed body and a feeling of completeness to your spirit. We help you get there using energy healing. You don’t need to be spiritual, religious or interested in the supernatural to benefit. You don’t even need to believe that it works. Let us change your mind."
Thankful that I wouldn't be the first sceptic to walk through its doors, I booked myself in for the newly launched reiki healing facial.
Apparently, reiki was founded in 1922 by Mikao Usui, a Japanese monk who used the treatment as "a complementary therapy for the treatment of physical, emotional, and mental diseases." This site explains that the practice is based on the idea that an unseen "life force energy" flows through us – it's what causes us to be alive. If one's life force energy is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress; if it's high, then we find it easier to be healthy and happy.
Over the years it's been adapted and mutated into various different practices used across the world, but as The Reiki Association explains, the experience itself is essentially the same. "The recipient remains clothed and lies on a couch or sits on a chair and relaxes. The practitioner gently places their hands in a series of non-intrusive positions on or near the body."
Most places I look state that reiki is a form of pseudoscience, alternate medicine, and has no medical or scientific evidence behind it, but with those NHS waiting times in mind, I resolve to keep an open mind.
Sushma Sagar, the founder of The Calmery, used to be a global fashion brand director, balancing her healing work with her 9-5, and now uses her practice as an antidote to workplace stress. She created the reiki healing facial after noticing that although her clients came to her primarily for emotional reasons, post-treatment, their faces looked brighter. "One thing that I noticed was, on leaving, they often looked subtly different; their faces lighter having shed some of the stresses they came in with. Sometimes if people released a lot, the change would be dramatic and we would both be blown away… in a good way!"
"I may make some strange noises," she warns, adding that the treatment "will not remove issues from your life, nor will it physically remove wrinkles from your face, but what it can do is give you an inner radiance of someone who feels calm, someone who isn’t letting life get them down. Everyone responds differently, some quicker than others, but in general, when your energy is flowing well and you feel able to handle whatever life throws at you … it shows in your face."
So I lie down on the bed – incense burning, the kind of 'calming' music you hear in every spa in the world playing – and shut my eyes. I feel Sagar's hands moving around my face, just an inch or two away, before they stop in certain positions. Her left hand on my cheek, her right under the base of my skull; her left-hand fingers on my forehead, her right palm on my shoulder. Then the noises start.
Oh god. I am thoroughly alarmed. An array of animalistic moans, high-pitched squeaks, 'mmmMMMMmmmmM!'s and 'OoooOooohhhhhHhhhh's leave her mouth. The only time you might expect such unearthly sounds is in bed with a willing partner or on a maternity ward. Hearing these wails and groans come from someone I've just met in such an intimate space is uncomfortable for me – a stoic Brit who says sorry when someone stands on my foot on the Tube. Sagar had also warned me that it might sound like my "energy was hurting her" but that she would be absolutely fine. But that didn't prepare me for her jolts and flinches when she touches parts of my face.
Sagar's noises and shudders don't stop, but I find myself sinking into the bed. At some point, both of my arms begin to tingle, which she had explained might happen. Then she has her fingers above my brow and draws them up before clicking, and I feel something pull up from my head with her fingers. This could just be the pressure change, but I do make a note of it.
Next thing I know, Sagar's softly telling me that she's done and to get up slowly when I'm ready. I feel like it's only been 15 minutes since she started, but she points to the clock on the wall and it has in fact been 50. I sit up and feel utterly spaced out – like I'm both stoned and have just been woken up after a long sleep. She tells me that she's worked through my head, shoulders and chest and cleared as much of the blocked energy as she could, and that there was a particularly tough area over my left cheek. "I've cleared that now, though."
She encourages me to look at my face in the mirror but I don't notice much of a difference – perhaps I look the same as I do after a weekend of lie-ins and no boozing? I find it hard to concentrate on what she's saying, and leave to head home.
I feel light and serene walking down Oxford Street (words no one has ever said), and the busy work day and hellish journey to The Calmery feel like a distant memory. I watch the World Cup when I get home, and have a pretty average night's sleep. I don't wake up feeling any different, to be honest. I'm certainly not convinced by reiki – it feels too ethereal, too vague to get to grips with, and the noises and flinching were stressful – but there's no denying how chilled I was after the treatment.
The thing is, though, I have that very same feeling after a massage or facial, or even getting my nails done. I think human touch and an hour of enforced quiet with your eyes shut make everyone feel better and more in tune with their busy minds.
If spirituality is your thing, this would probably be right up your
street path to enlightenment; but I'll be sticking with a good hydrating facial or Swedish full-body massage to unwind and clear my ever-busy head.