"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 dietary habits and sleeping rituals. The beauty world is no different: Between self-care Sunday skin-care routines and the endless fixation on essential oils, the industry has adopted a decidedly more holistic outlook over the past few years.
So when I first heard about The Calmery, a clinic based in London's Harley Street that offers energy healing and reiki facials, I wasn't exactly surprised — but I was intrigued.
It's fair to say I'm a skeptic when it comes to alternative healing. I roll my eyes at Ayurveda and have no patience for 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 that's anxiety or addiction — with "positive thinking."
That said, like every other cosmopolitan "millennial" battling soaring rent prices, an increasingly long commute, and an all-pervasive digital world, I am stressed. England's National Health Service is under immense pressure, so waiting lists for CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and other traditional forms of treatment are months, sometimes years, long. In fact, the popularity of the wellness phenomenon and the rise in things like reiki facials have 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.
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 skeptic to walk through its doors, I booked an appointment for the newly-launched reiki healing facial.
Reiki was developed in 1922 by a Japanese monk named Mikao Usui, who claimed to use the treatment as a means of healing physical, emotional, and mental strife. This site explains the practice better than I can: Reiki is based on the idea that an unseen "life force energy" flows through us, and that's what gives us life. If one's life force energy is low, we're more likely to get sick or feel stressed; if it's high, then we're better able to feel 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 website states. "The practitioner gently places their hands in a series of non-intrusive positions on or near the body."
Most places I look for information firmly establish that reiki is a form of pseudoscience, or "alternative 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.
The Calmery's founder, Sushma Sagar, used to balance her healing work with her 9-5 as a global fashion brand director; now, she 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, their faces tended to look brighter post-treatment. "One thing that I noticed was, on leaving, they often looked subtly different, having shed some of the stresses they came in with," she says. "Sometimes if people released a lot, the change would be dramatic and we would both be blown away… in a good way!"
Before Sagar begins, she warns me that she may make some "strange noises" during the treatment. She also adds that the reiki facial can't remove issues from your life, nor can it physically remove wrinkles from your face. What it can do, however, is give you what Sagar calls an "inner radiance" of someone who feels calm, who isn't letting life get them down. "Everyone responds differently, some quicker than others," she says. "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'd expect to play 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 assures me.
Sagar encourages me to look at my face in the mirror, but to be honest, 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
alley 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. For me, the less animalistic shouting, the better.