I don't want to get up at 6am for yoga, running aggravates my arthritis, and sitting cross-legged for 20 minutes of transcendental meditation makes my face itch. In short: I have no chill. I certainly have no Zen. However, on a recent assignment programming a wellbeing conference, I spent several weeks of zigzagging around town in hot pursuit of an elusive coven of breathworkers, reiki masters, crystal healers and bodyworkers - London's wellness A-list.
"Lucky you!" friends exclaimed. "Mmmmm," I vampirically smiled back. Inwardly, I was dreading it. Not the meeting of people, which I love, but the potential for vulnerability. I had spent years with my Pandora's box of emotional baggage firmly bolted shut, part of the ranks of the smugly stoic. A year living in Los Angeles - a city whose crown jewel is rose quartz and call to prayer is "namaste" - hadn't dented my emotional impenetrability. Back then, I figured that breathwork was just… you know, breathing. And so the hunt began, with only the slow erosion of my treasured scepticism for company.
Dipping a toe in the exploding dam of current-day wellness in any city is daunting. However, finding the true healers through whispered recommendations is too often the road not taken. During my personal search for enlightenment, I discovered that you don't need to fly to India or traipse around Venice Beach to experience ancient wisdom and genuine healing. Instead, the A to Z of wellbeing is waiting to be found on London's doorsteps. The characters that follow are but a few highlights from my growing little black book. As they say in LA: namaste.
The Earth Mother
Fiona Arrigo, founder of The Arrigo Programme and A Place to Heal
I figured a retreat would break me in, but I had my reservations. Would there be coffee? Would people cry? These thoughts nervously fizzed through my crowded cerebrum while preparing for biodynamic psychotherapist Fiona Arrigo's four-day Back to Nurture experience. Given my loathing of forced fun, how would I fare with forced Zen?
As it turned out, there was coffee, people did cry, and I didn't starve. Back to Nurture is about reconnecting with the earthy, wild woman within through crafting, singing and meditation around a blazing fire. Wise women forming circles is a practice as ancient as us. My fingers prove surprisingly nimble at stretching slippery deer hide to assemble my drum, which I beat enthusiastically while other retreaters sob their sorrows into the fire.
Despite my best efforts, I sob too. My legendary ability to repress public displays of emotion is fading fast. However, I'm no easy convert. Sure, the knotted muscles in my chest feel looser under the watchful, ridiculously glamourous eye of Arrigo and her cohorts, and I can take a full breath again - but I also spend most of the meditations dreaming of roast chicken and a double gin. Yet, as Arrigo would say, "the healing has begun".
The Crystal Clairvoyants
Emma Lucy Knowles, clairvoyant, and Estelle Bingham, crystal healer
Clairvoyant wunderkind Emma Lucy Knowles issues just two instructions before our session: "avoid alcohol and aim for a solid night's sleep." Naturally, I obey neither. In place of abstaining, I spend the night before drinking too much sake. Water? Negative. Hours of sleep: four. Technically, I've already messed this up. Like a schoolgirl who hasn't finished her homework, I frantically think up excuses. Then comes the irrepressibly cheerful Knowles. Once she tells me to lie down, I know it - whatever "it" is - is going to be okay.
Obediently clenching a crystal in each fist, what transpires could have lasted 40 minutes or two hours. I can't remember, because I was floating. While she wafts her magic hands over my body performing reiki, the crystals vibrate to the point that I'm convinced my fingers are visibly shaking. My stomach - not my heart - pounds. According to Knowles, my heart is in fact in my stomach. This is not good. I'm thoroughly shaken and instantly enamoured. Knowles unravels the inner machinations of my mind and recites them back to me as fact. She reads me like a book. I'm nervous. Rebellious. I have pink energy.
Next up: Charlotte Tilbury's reported crystal healer, the famously hard-to-pin-down Estelle Bingham, who uses cards, guided meditations and, of course, gems to calm frazzled minds. Bingham is the mischievous guest you hope you get seated next to at dinner. We nestle into a café window with our herbal brews and start nattering like old friends - until Estelle puts her tea down and bores two holes into my eyes with hers. "Let's talk about you." She launches into her take on my family history, my love life, my heart that's in my stomach (that again) - and she's right about everything. I keep batting her away, an excuse for everything and everyone.
I leave promising to make a mood board and holding back the tears that flow as soon as I jump in a black cab to my next appointment. I have approximately 30 minutes to get a grip, so I call the one person who I think might understand: a Los Angeleno friend who gets colonics in a Hungarian nurse's bathroom and allows estheticians to electrocute her face. "See a therapist, sweetie, and make that mood board," she trills cheerily down the phone.
Stuart Sandeman, founder of Breathpod
After narrowly avoiding a crystal-induced nervous breakdown, I thought that breathwork would be a breeze. Surely it's just a supervised version of my favorite self-care activity: snoozing. Nope. Cue 90 minutes spent hyperventilating on the floor (to build up carbon dioxide) with a funnel in my mouth, interspersed with breaks of foot and hand stomping and shouting (to expunge the CO2 and enhance mental clarity).
Scotsman Stuart Sandeman is impossible to dislike. Endearingly friendly and hyper honest, his story of trading suits and the City to found Breathpod in Dalston is a sad tale involving sickness and grief. For Sandeman, the high vibrational frequency achieved with his method releases low energy and negativity trapped in our cells. After an hour of frenzied panting, I concur.
Perched in a nearby wine bar afterwards, I let my subconscious dribble and then gush onto the crinkled pages of my journal. Cloudy thoughts become clear and I feel an immense urge to deal with unresolved issues. My energy is insane. I can't explain it, but Sandeman probably can.
The Body Whisperer
Amberin Fur, osteopath
Amberin Fur's name is whispered person-to-person, lip-to-ear, as I traverse the creamy consultation rooms of West London. Her merits are substantial: she's an osteopath and an acupuncturist, and was on the medical team for the British Gymnastics squad during the 2012 Olympics. After expecting to be heaved and cracked like in the osteopathy videos I watch on YouTube before bed - my own personal ASMR arsenal - I realise that Fur is instead draining shock from my body like thick sludge.
My eyelids flutter uncontrollably, a psychosomatic nervous- system reaction. Legs and arms that had felt heavy start to feel light as Fur's visualisation techniques take hold. Careful questions about past losses and injuries accompany acupuncture needles piercing the base of my skull and my creaky shoulder. And just as I start to relax - crack. Fur adjusts my neck when I least expect it, knowing my defiant body would have resisted. I cry afterwards. Later I nearly break my ankle on a loose flagstone on the corner of Saville Row. I cry harder. My insides are unspooling, and that's the point. Without addressing the trauma buried within our cells and bound to our muscles, something would always hurt.