Good vibrations: Alternative therapies in luxury London spas

Words by
Sphere Life

20th February 2018

From crystal massage to sound bowl therapy, New Age wellness treatments once considered “out there” now aim for inner peace in the capital’s leading spas

The Lanesborough: Tibetan sound bowl

by Jemima Sissons

Lanesborough Club spa reception
Lanesborough Club spa reception

Lanesborough Club spa reception

Tibetan sound bowls, are said to produce a resonance that “echoes the universe”, according to Caroline, my Brazilian therapist. Further reading reveals that they are supposed to boost immunity, lower heart rate and even soothe pain in cancer victims. Bold claims, but anything that offers me a calming influence is welcome. 

I head to the newly re-launched spa at The Lanesborough hotel in Knightsbridge, which feels more like a Highland bothy than a futuristic temple of wellness. Fake fires glint away and deep armchairs in the relax area provide a genteel place to await one’s therapist.

I am led to my room, where black marble creates an almost macho Byzantine look. Caroline explains that they have all been taught special chants, but she doesn’t feel ready yet, so will “OM” instead. NASA scientists, she claims, have compared these to the sound of the sun. 

Lanesborough Hydro Pool
Lanesborough Hydro Pool

Lanesborough Hydro Pool

This is encouraging and she waves some lavender oil under my nose and tells me she is preparing me to receive the bowl. I feel like I should be under swaying banana palms with the Mekong flowing by, but I am in Mayfair. I try and suspend my cynicism and close my eyes, imagining Tibetan mountains.

The sound starts and it is very startling, a continuous whine that ebbs and flows. It starts reverberating through my body, until I feel the vibrations in every cell. It is rather unsettling — probably not the intended emotion.

I try it out for another minute or two, but honestly cannot stand the sensation. I ask Caroline to stop and massage my head instead.

Perhaps I am just the least relaxed person on the planet, but it wasn’t just the switching off, it was the discombobulating sensation of the sound drumming through my whole body.  I feel that somehow it is slightly lost in translation in a luxury spa, in the outdoors where the echo isn’t as intense and when one is probably already relaxed on holiday. It felt a bit weird, but the upside is getting to enjoy the fabulous plunge pool and steam rooms, and the gym is out of this world. I would come back in a flash for a traditional treatment, or some sessions of PT.

Sound bowl treatment: £70 for 30 minutes;  thelanesborough.com

COMO Shambhala Urban Escape at COMO Metropolitan London: Energy Therapy

by Charlotte McManus

COMO Shambhala
COMO Shambhala reception

COMO Shambhala reception

In the heart of Mayfair, the spa at COMO Metropolitan London offers a consciously holistic offering alongside the usual spate of massages and facials, with acupuncture, reflexology and reiki all available to clients with a yen for New Age experiences. Among its roster of various wellness experts, the name “Paul Lennard, Energy Therapist” stands out. Due to a last-minute cancellation, I manage to snag a session with him. I’m lucky, the COMO staff tell me — he is booked up for the next three months. The stars are clearly aligned in my favour.

I arrive at the COMO Shambhala, a clean, contemporary boutique spa space with six treatment rooms, minimalist decor and the hushed reverence of those who have discovered Zen. After a welcome snack of dried fruit and herbal tea, Paul greets me, looking more like an off-duty surfer than a conventional healer, in a T-shirt, long shorts and beaded jewellery. I remove my shoes and lie face-up on the massage bed, unsure what to expect. The website didn’t give much away about the treatment, other than that deep tissue massage, craniosacral therapy (no, me neither) and Chi Nei Tsang would be combined to create a bespoke experience.

Moving his hands a few inches above my body, Paul starts by sensing my energy field. All seems well until he frowns, explaining I have a “twist” in my stomach. I also have a blockage in my right leg, it seems, disrupting my energy flow. I often get cramp in my right leg, I say, but the look on Paul’s face suggests this is not the right response.

Shambala bath
COMO Shambhala bath

COMO Shambhala bath

“Did you have difficulties with a man in your life... when you were about 13 or 14?” he asks. “Maybe your father, someone like that?” “No,” I reply. Later comes another question about my past — were there issues with another difficult man, this time when I was about 16 or 17? Again, the answer is no.

This pseudo-psychology seems more like fortune-telling fishing to me. Yet Paul turns 
out to be uncannily insightful in deducing my personality and character traits.

The more physical side of the treatment was also a surprise and quite unlike anything I’ve experienced before. To unblock my trapped emotions and restore a healthy energy flow, Paul applies a few different methods. One involves drawing negative energy right out of me and discarding it (using a motion not unlike pulling an errant thread on a jumper). Another is to find a key pressure point, such as my lower stomach or temples, and pressing uncomfortably hard. From there, I could physically feel heat and sensation spreading from his fingers throughout my body — most uncanny.

At the end of the session, I left feeling strange and woozy, yet somehow lighter, almost buoyant, as if a weight has been lifted. This is normal, Paul explains, as all the toxins are leaving my body; he advises that I drink plenty of water. On my way out, the smiling spa receptionist says a lot of Paul’s clients have a similar reaction, with most taking some time to regroup before heading back out on to the busy Mayfair streets. Sinking back onto a sofa, decidedly spaced out, I reach for another cup of herbal tea.

 Paul Lennard energy session: £140 for an hour; comohotels.com/metropolitanlondon

I feel the energy tingle as it leaves my body and I feel instantly lighter and calmer. I am left more in tune with my body than I have been in years

Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre, Hotel Café Royal: Crystal massage

by Flora Drummond-Smith

Hotel Cafe Royal
Akasha's double treatment suite

Akasha's double treatment suite

I am deep underground in the splendid marble-swathed Akasha Spa at Hotel Café Royal. Located just below the bustling streets of Piccadilly, the spa is a haven of utter tranquillity. I am in a softly lit treatment room, lying face down on the massage table staring at a carved white stone lotus flower — they are said to induce feelings of intense calm — while aromatic essential oils are waved under my nose. As I relax, my masseuse warms the eye tiger crystals that she will use during the Sodashi Crystalus massage I am here to experience.  

Believed to act as conduits for healing, crystals, if used correctly, are said to dispel stress and negative, even disease-causing energy. I am told that this massage will concentrate on the body’s chakras — invisible energy points — to balance and harmonise its internal energy flow. Although I’m a little sceptical, this sounds encouraging and anything that will pummel away tension and stress is worth a try.

I am covered in a blend of essential oils. The masseuse then places her palms on energy points around my body before balancing crystals on each, leaving them to rest in my hands. Upon application, the crystals tingle pleasingly against my skin. I am more convinced this is due to the crystals being warm rather than some innate magical powers, but it’s a promising start.

Hotel Cafe Royal
Akasha's swimming pool

Akasha's swimming pool

Following this, using traditional massage techniques and crystal work, the knots and tensions in my body are smoothed away. The pent-up energy released during the massage is then channelled up through my arms and legs before being expelled through the tips of my fingers and toes with long, firm strokes. Bizarrely, I feel the energy tingle as it leaves my body and as a result I feel instantly lighter and calmer. 

The massage is unbelievably relaxing and I am left more in tune with my body than I have been in years. A dip in the spa’s 18ft pool, a turn in the hammam and sauna (day long access to Akasha’s spa facilities are complimentary with any treatment) only add to my newfound Zen.

Sodashi Crystalus body massage: £190 for 90 minutes; hotelcaferoyal.com/spaandtreatments