Like so many Londoners, much of my life is spent being parped at by black cabbies and ingesting the copious germs of the underground. (For which I hear have now developed a super species all of their own.) I would say it is only a few times a year, that my lungs get blessed with pure air. The odd jaunt to the country side, week on a beach. All a rare and pleasant occurrences when I feel blessed to be untouched by the plooms of fossil fumes.
As such I am the most sensitive candidate to countryside. Give me a heady mix of oxygen and methane and I am gone to the 9-hour stints of coma-like sleeping and a permanent state of slumberous relaxation. Throw in a massage, a good book and a daily lake-side stroll and it doesn’t take long for any notion of work to seem miles away.
Last week I took on the experience of some real self-induced down time at the health and wellness Viva Mayr clinic, in Altaussee, in what i thought would be a week of cripplingly gruelsome self-love. The promise of no coffee or calls from my agent was easy, but I was worried about withdrawing from my team, kitchen and 6pm martini addiction. (I’ve not just done a collaboration with Grey Goose for no reason)
The new clinic at Alterssee is the most recent of the Mayr’s, opening to the public only spring time this year. Before my arrival I fantasised of a hostile white clinic, enforcing 6am chants at the lake, being force fed microshoots and shots of green algae. I had heard the tales of the tea fasting, the miniature chewing trainer (this is what they call bread here) and nightly enemas. The reality was in fact nothing of the sort. My favourite room, the lobby looking more like a 1960s hotel lobby from a Baz Lurhman film than a hospital sanitarium.
The principles of this medicine system were founded in Austria buy Dr. F. X Mayr. The focus being primarily upon treating the digestion and intestinal health of patients and educating them on the crucial part they play within the bodies overall health. Being a sporadic sufferer of IBS, the result living 5-years with a parasite (nicknamed Norman), this was reason enough for my trip.
Over the course of the week, I was taught that it is not so much what we eat that is important, rather that what we digest. The two being very different things. Chewing one of the key ‘skills’ (I use this term loosely) taught to patients, each mouthful a recommended 30 times. Try chomping on a teaspoon of soup 30 times… you get the idea. All of the food is also cooked. Not a raw smoothie, or carrot stick in sight. Unusual perhaps to many healthy eaters habitually spending a fiver on a daily green juice, in pursuit of wellness.
As a lover of sushi, steak and salads, most of which would be eaten as the speed of a baby monkey on a caffeine, the slow eating part was the hardest to grasp. Growing up it was an eat fast or not as all situation. Being the hippy feral kids we were, my brother and I were never above taking food off each other’s plates, so the slowest lost out. As I write this I am wondering how I managed the patience to eat soup with a teaspoon, although I do notice now, chowing down on my chicken noodles is taking that much longer and my digestion is tip top, so I am eating my words of skepticism, so to speak.
Of the more spritely guests, between meals offers little in the way of simulation. There are selection of recommended wellness treatments and activities, ranging from nasal therapy to nordic walking. The former being akin to having hot pokers put up your nose, the latter being a hybrid activity of walking an skiing, minus the snow and reckless fun. Daily abdominal massages with the dapper, boyband looking Dr Sepp Fegerl and Kinesiology, a technique for testing muscles, to measure my bodies reactions to the various foods were a highlight. Without exception my illusion of a recreated Jilly Cooper-esque scene were squashed by his detailed analysis of my ideal bowel movements and observations of my gassy intestines.
Other highlights were folding napkins (the only free activity on offer) aerial yoga (apparently this is a thing) and the ‘alkaline’ cooking class, where I was taught to perfect soup (boil and blend) and spirulise a courgette. Possibly not an activity for the keener cook
Unheard of treatments included electoylsis footbaths (to rid the body of toxins through my feet?!) and watsu. A water therapy shiatsu, of sorts. Did I have issues with water and claustrophobia I was asked ahead. No pleasingly not. This treatment included an hour on my back being rocked about in a hot tub of saline water in what would be familiar to a new born baby in a sink. An hour later with considerably pruned fingers I emerged with no notion of time and spend the rest of my day feeling like I was on a boat.
Having gone at the end of summer, I half hoped to have the opportunity of a bit of celeb spotting. Bonding over the jets of the jacuzzi with Keith Richards, or breaking out of the clinic for a coffee with miss Moss would have certainly jazzed up the trip, but alas it was not to be this time.
Should I have the finances and time to return to the Mayr again I don’t doubt I would. Without a doubt the week was a life-changing experience, providing my not only with lots of knowledge and advice on my digestion, but also the time for me to reflect on and reassess aspects of my life. Will I spend the next two weeks keeping to Dr Sepp’s advice and not drinking, eating nuts and dairy. I will certainly do my best. Luckily I was wise enough not to ask him about Vodka, so my 7-pm treats are here to stay. Bottoms up martini drinkers.