The Wacky World of Wellness

Be well

Be well

I see there’s a big holistic wellness show coming up next weekend at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

They promise there will be a little something for everyone and I believe them. There was a stretch of time during my early reporting days that I refer to as ‘ The Plimpton Period ‘ when I tried every alternative therapy under the sun (not to mention a few in complete darkness). The only thing I did not embrace was the deep colonic. I had a perfectly reasonable advocate explain it all to me and I carefully examined the equipment but in the end (please, folks!) I opted out. After all, how do you do a television feature on colonics?  You can’t. Oh sure, you can go the metaphoric route with trains in tunnels and bursting fire hoses but you’re better off to leave the whole thing alone.

Seeking wellness can  start with a simple massage but be forewarned, with or without the oil, it can be a slippery slope. Before too long the quest may place you before a pit of hot coals. What follows are impressions of some therapeutic days gone by. I’m off to sit in a hot bath.spa towels

When aromatherapy first came to town I was down there in a flash. Anytime you can have someone other than your legal partner marinate you with a lavender unguent is undoubtedly a good thing.

There was also a spot in Vancouver devoted to sensory-tank deprivation.

You cannot possibly enjoy the highly touted benefits of sensory tank deprivation when it’s being filmed for television so we shot it once as a story and then I went back days later to get the real feel. Basically, you crawl into a watertight, sound proof coffin and float in body temperature water which has been saturated with Epsom salts. Because of the change in specific gravities you almost float on top of the water and since it is pitch black you experience a very strange sensation of spatial drifting. You can’t see anything, you can’t hear anything and ideally, you really shouldn’t really feel anything. I understand they have group tanks now were people who are too intimidated to try it alone can have some company. This sounds distracting. Who wants to butt heads with others in some sort of holistic human log boom?

I stayed in the one-man tank for a good hour and a half and emerged looking like a margarita glass with a fine, crusty layer of salt around my rim. It was relaxing but did not really alter my state. I don’t know what I was expecting but I found the shower afterwards particularly refreshing.

mudThermal mud immersion was another treatment up for grabs. This is somewhat like sensory tank deprivation except you’re sitting in a swamp.

Hundreds of litres of warm water, peat moss and volcanic ash are loaded into a tub and then you climb in. This, apparently, will help rid your body of toxins while at the same time turning your inner being into some sort of mangrove root.

The attendants at this spa were very diligent and kept giving me sips of distilled water through a straw while they placed a cool wet washcloth on my forehead.

After about twenty five minutes I emerged from the mud looking like a bog creature in a cheap drive-in movie. Again, the shower was beyond cleansing. Then the attendants wrapped me from head to foot in warmed, fluffy towels, placed me on a portable bed, crossed my arms on my chest in Tutankhamen fashion and left the room.

When I finally departed the spa I could barely walk. I don’t think I have ever been so relaxed or less able to call upon specific muscle groups for locomotion. If there was any tension to begin with I left it all behind in the mud.

On two occasions I have walked across hot coals.

That first step's a doozy

That first step's a doozy!

People have asked me, What’s the trick ?  The short, honest answer is,  There is no trick.

Psychologically you wish there was a trick because the very thought of dancing barefoot across an open barbeque pit is enough to stop any right-minded individual in their tracks.

The hot coal experience is supposed to be an exercise in mind over matter. You meditate yourself into such a state that the fear of fried flesh is no longer an issue. It is a particularly daunting task for sceptics, of which I am surely one.

I distinctly recall accidentally stepping once on a red hot charcoal briquette that had fallen into the sand at a beach picnic. The pain was instantaneous and the subsequent altitude I achieved was slightly shy of suborbital.

The first time I made a deliberate dash over fire was in a very public venue at one of those commercial wellness show and I was not the only reporter involved.

Under the watchful eye of local firefighters the organizers had raked out a bed of glowing tinder in front of Vancouver’s convention facility. I took a good long look at the heat that was shimmering up from those embers and had grave second thoughts about the whole exercise. The professional coal walkers, if you can call them that, gathered all the suckers into a nearby room and proceeded to try and calm us down. We did some stretching and relaxing and chanting phrases like ‘I will not burn. I will not burn’. Witches in Salem may have gone through the same exercise.

At one point they asked if there were any questions and I remember automatically piping up with, ‘What’s the trick?’

And then we walked. We walked outside to the area of the red hot cinders which reminded me vaguely of a scene from Stephen King’s The Green Mile. We took off our shoes, our socks and rolled our pant legs well out of combustion range.

There were no more delays. It was ultimately time to hit the hibachi. We didn’t run, but we damn well didn’t linger. It was a good solid five steps. The small crowd applauded, I rolled my eyes for the camera and then I looked at my feet fully expecting the worst. Perfect. There was not a mark, certainly nothing you could call a burn. I was as surprised as anyone because at no point, despite the meditative efforts, did I believe I was going to escape one of the most painful experiences of my life.

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Years later (don’t ask me why) I tried it again, this time out on a farm in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley.

Once more, there was a lot of chanting and recitation. Again, the sceptic in me was not convinced. I had survived it once, why the hell was I pushing my luck?

This time I was with some experienced ‘ walkers ’. These were people who felt somehow cleansed by the whole experience.

And instead of individual sprints we more or less walked as a group over a much bigger spread of red hot embers. At one point I was a little distracted when one of the walkers began reaching down into the hot coals and tossing them over his head.

Was he trying to set his hair on fire?

‘Listen’, I thought, ‘You want to turn yourself into a flaming marshmallow try waiting for the rest of us to get out of the way. No sense immolating an innocent bystander’.

But, just like the first time, I made it across without any residual damage. I didn’t for second think this had anything to do with my mind.

They had coached us to fill our heads with thoughts of cool moss but there was no chillin’… just grillin’…on my mind.

I rationalized that because the feet did not linger on the coals and because of the thickness of skin on the soles not enough heat was being transferred to cause burns. It might also have something to do with a very thin film of perspiration down there.

Who knows?

The world record for fire walking is a marathon of well over 100 metres.

I think five brisk steps to a sober second thought makes a lot more sense.

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