Spas for the mind are the new cure-all

NOT long ago I found myself lying on a Freudian-looking couch in a small, neat room. Rather than a psychoanalyst sitting by my head with a clock and a contemplative expression, there was a lithe young woman at my feet, skimming over my bare soles with her fingers, asking me in a soft voice about my emotional and physical health, childhood traumas and phobias.

We were not in a book-filled chamber on a tree-lined street in Hampstead – we were in a scented, comfortable room at Triyoga in Covent Garden, a kind of spa meets yoga studio. I was there to experience Victoria Oldham’s Mind Detox. Oldham is a practitioner of the Grinberg Method, which seeks to soothe and train the mind through reading the body. She is doing so well that getting an appointment with her is a matter of luck – and her training courses are over-subscribed with Grinberg wannabes. Her services fall in between psychotherapy, alternative therapy and physical therapy, and nowadays fit comfortably in clinics and spas alike.

Oldham’s success is a sign of the times. More and more, fitness centres and spas are taking on mental and spiritual health. Where once simple physical pampering and relaxation sufficed, now it appears that we want a lot more – spas for the mind, if you will. Take The Banyan Tree spa in Phuket, Thailand, which along with manicures and backrubs, offers “lifestyle assessments”, “self-rediscovery” and “enrichment”. Like many other spas, Banyan Tree has developed its own complex jargon and it offers four wellbeing programmes all “created on the themes of Rejuvenation, Wellness and Discovery.”

These sorts of phrases have been around for years, but have – until recently – been more associated with rich hippies and eternal gap year students than high-earning professionals in urgent need of a battery-recharge. Yet that is exactly the sort of person places like Banyan Tree are now appealing to.

Take the new Six Senses spa at Pan Peninsula in Docklands, where “stressed City workers in Canary Wharf” can seek solace from a neuro-linguistic programmer who, during the Six Senses “spa season” (October to December) will offer hypnotherapy workshops. Meanwhile, a practioner of watsu, a holistic aquatic therapy, will offer a combination of watsu, craniosacral therapy and the Alexander technique. At the group’s Portugal property, you can indulge in a “meditation maze.”

Sheron Body, director of Six Senses’ spa operations in Europe, says: “Over the last 10 years, the spa industry has become much more focused on the mind-body relationship. It’s not just pampering now. It’s wellbeing and growth of the soul.”

The very meaning of Six Senses has little to do with the mundane business of pampering and relaxing. “Finding the sixth sense is all about finding that pinnacle of experience. It’s about balancing being here with the earth itself. It may all sound new age,” she adds, “but it’s real.”

Very real. Six Senses has been running for 12 years and – although it has been hit by the recession – has established itself as one of the world’s most desirable spa brands, with a host of resorts and “hideaways.” This year it has opened four new spas, including a resort in Jordan, and is continuing to grow at a clip.

Why are we buying into all this? Over the past year, many of us have felt worse than ever thanks to a crumbling economy. Going to a spa lacks the stigma of seeing a psychotherapist, yet it promises to achieve the same effects through the body, rather than the mind. With our minds overworked enough as it is, perhaps it’s the physical approach to healing that is so attractive. “We use the healing in a tangible way to make people feel better about themselves,” says Body. “More and more people are embracing reikhi (natural healing) and the science of energy flows. Holistic treatments aren’t just an alternative anymore – they’re also what you do because you want to look and feel better about yourself on a deeper level.”

In resorts such as the company’s Thai hideaways, it’s easy to see how you could do just that. With luxurious facials and gentle reikhi treatments round the clock, why shouldn’t you start to feel your chi flow better? Add a gorgeous jungle, an infinity pool and lovely food to the mix and the only obstacle to wellbeing is – as you might expect from an experience that promises to soothe the soul as well as the body – the price tag.

Canyon Ranch, Tuscon
This grande-dame of the spa-for-the-mind category has several properties in the US, but the flagship in Tuscon, Arizona has a whole health and healing centre with physicians, a range of physical therapists, nutritionists, psychotherapists, acupuncturists and even healing touch practitioners.

Spa Village Tembok, Bali
This luxurious resort is “dedicated to Balinese healing, rejuvenation, wellness and spirituality” and seeks to replenish mind, body and spirit through a series of “discovery paths” for balance, vigour and creativity. The traditional healing massages are also famed for ensuring supreme relaxation.

Six Senses Hideaway, Samui
In celebration of Spa Season, this iconic, stunning Thai resort will offer unique muscular therapy, neuro-linguistic programming and singing Tibetan bowl therapy. The goal is to forge “the possible relationship with oneself and others, leading to understanding and happiness.”