Just before lockdown, I thought a nice way to relax would be to do something a bit different. The truth was I had worked non-stop for 2 years at least without a holiday except the occasional weekend getaway and was in need of relaxation.
I have to admit I don’t really find spas and massages naturally relaxing like some people do.
It’s almost forced relaxation in my view and there have only ever been 2 occasions in my life that I have had a massage. The first one was when I was given a spa experience as a gift and the second was when there was a constant pain in my neck and a massage seemed to be the only way to fix it, although I did try a chiropractor who also helped.
I was looking for some form of relaxation but didn’t want it to be overly imposing.
After a bit of research I came across an article in the financial times stating what kind of activities to do in London.
Two that stood out the most were; 1) Gong Bath and 2) Russian spa.
I was intrigued so researched both and share my experience below.
What is a Russian Spa?
I opted not to go down the Russian spa route as it was the most bizarre thing I have ever come across and would definitely make me more uncomfortable than feel relaxed.
Russian spa is also known as a Banya and is a bit like going to a steam room but supposedly wetter and cooler. The idea is to go between a hot room and cold room to help with circulation and then eat fish, drink tea and vodka in another room to relax. In Russia most go to a Banya for social purposes and even have one in their summer house.
To replicate this experience in London, I would start off by sitting in a steam room while wearing a strange felt hat. Supposedly this felt hat will keep your head cool which gets heated up the quickest. Next you would go to a bath full of ice to help with circulation before moving onto a social room to relax.
Once that is done you can have a Parenie massage, this sounded even stranger than sitting in a tub full of ice. It would basically involve your body being brushed off by some twigs; usually a bundle of birch, oak or eucalyptus which would release essential oils onto your skin and make you sweat. Once this is over you would go back into icy water.
Those that have tried it claim that the shock to the body from the change in temperature which awakens the body can leave you feeling relaxed.
Not sure wearing strange hats, eating fish and being hit by twigs is my thing though.
What is a Gong Bath?
I did however feel like a Gong Bath would be less intrusive. Like most people my initial thoughts were; 'Is this an actual bath like when you wash your body with water?' The answer to that is no! It is a sound bath where you immerse yourself in sound and let it wash over you to cleanse you.
It is a form of meditative technique which uses sound to balance us. Typically a combination of chimes, gongs, drums and singing is involved.
So, how did my experience go?
When I got there we were taken to a basement, the entrance was through a shop and immediately I wasn’t sure where we were going. We got to a dark room and there were blankets on the floor and around 10 people in total. Candles and lamps were on and we were asked to lie down on the floor.
The Gong Master started the session and asked us to close our eyes and relax. I felt like for me the experience was split into three stages;
Stage 1 - Relaxation of the mind. The gong sounds were mellow and slow and almost felt like they were attempting to quieten the mind. It was a bit like listening to relaxing music when going to sleep
Stage 2 - Re-awakening myself. She slowly started to increase the sound of the gongs, but also started singing which sounded very much like she was crying. This felt like an attempt at her trying to get the emotions out of my body before moving onto making the gongs deeper again.
Stage 3 - Correcting the energy. She walked across the room and looked like she was listening to the energy with her eyes closed trying to correct it. I found this part a bit strange and wasn't fully convinced it was achieving anything (I admit during this time I was observing with my eyes partly open and not partaking).
How did I feel?
I could see some benefits to the technique as my mind was able to relate to the three stages to some extent. However perhaps if I had relaxed enough I would have found it more beneficial. The total experience lasted 90 minutes which was perhaps a little long for me as I was fully awake by stage 3 and watching what she was doing instead.
Interestingly my friend's experience of the event was different to mine. She found it relaxing and was more positive, although did mention that she saw aliens during the experience (not sure during which stage).
Would I go again?
Unsure, I am the type of person that likes to know the ending first and then figure out how the story unfolds. Not knowing what to expect at the end or at all meant I couldn’t enjoy the journey. However now that I know how it ends, maybe next time I will. Unless I feel adventurous enough the try the Russian spa instead providing COVID goes away and allows us to take part in such experiences again.
If you are truly intrigued maybe try a home Gong Sound Bath and make a request for the Gong Master to come to your house to allow you to experience something different.
I imagine trying to replicate the Russian spa experience at home might be much harder even if you manage to gather the right twigs and fill your bath up with ice, unless of course you are lucky enough to have a sauna too. If you do try it, don't forget the hat!
If anyone has done either, please share your experiences with us. We would love to know how it went for you.