PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2002, 12:00am

If you think going to the gym three times a week is all you need for a healthy life, think again. Although every bit helps, there are numerous alternative ways of cleaning up your act from the inside out and getting your system back on the straight and narrow. One such method of spring cleaning is colonic irrigation.

The average two-metre-long colon is part of the digestive system's large intestine, which absorbs nutrients from food and stores waste until it passes out of the body. Because the colon is a muscular tube rather than a smooth cylinder, waste can get trapped in various nooks and crannies or adhere to the colon's walls where it sits and rots, and is thought to cause such undesirables as toxin build-up, acne and a host of other ailments.

During a colonic treatment, clean water is propelled up a rectal tube - think the diameter of a slender little finger rather than a hosepipe - into your colon where it softens and dislodges said waste. (No matter how 'regular' you are, everyone has some.) You then get an overwhelming urge to go to the loo, so you simply release all the water and waste - the tube is designed so that none of the bad stuff can go back up it. This urge-release cycle is repeated for about an hour.

Once the rotten matter is expelled, which usually takes several sessions, the theory is your colon will become rehydrated, good bacteria will flourish and your system will be able to cope better with illness, toxins and nights on the town. Goodbye water retention, dull, spotty skin and any number of common complaints often caused by a lazy colon and sluggish bowel.

To the uninitiated, it might sound like something that could land both practitioner and client in court, but once you get your head around the embarrassment factor, it is far less painful than a trip to the dentist.

The new HydroHealth Colon Hydrotherapy Centre, dedicated to colonic cleansing, tries to make you feel as relaxed about the process as possible. Its interior is all soft tones and ambient music, more unisex hair salon than sterile clinic, and the qualified staff go out of their way to put you at ease. Technology is literally space-age (to ensure ultra-clean water, all H2O at the centre is purified in special tanks similar to ones astronauts use in orbit for their drinking water), and everything scrupulously hygienic - no mess, no fuss, no smell.

After an initial health consultation and a full explanation of the procedure, I was shown into the VIP room - there are seven private rooms but the VIP option is the most spacious and has an en-suite bathroom. I had to undress from the waist down and sit on a special bed with a plastic channel running down its middle, leading into a raised box-like structure. Protruding from this box was a tube on to which Gloria Leung, a qualified colon hydrotherapist, inserted another, slightly curved attachment, fresh out of a sealed packet. She lubricated the end of the latter and, after explaining how, she left me to strategically position myself so it was about a couple of centimetres up my backside. I lay back and covered up with a sheet.

Although Leung couldn't have been kinder, it was an unnerving and undignified experience, but after a few minutes the uncomfortable sensation of having a foreign object where the sun doesn't shine abated. When Leung returned she switched on the water - clients are told how to operate the taps next to the bed so they feel in control - and began to massage my tummy. Within a few minutes, I started having light cramps and was advised to push it all out. Embarrassed though I was with Leung in the room, I had no choice. Like having a severe case of Delhi belly, what felt like the contents of my bowels came flooding out. The water and waste passed from the channel, down into a long glass cylinder running just above the floor, alongside the bed to the waste unit.

Then I had to do it all over again. However, once Leung was satisfied I had mastered the urge-release technique, she left me to my own devices, returning periodically to make sure that everything was alright. At the end of my session, I was worried about getting up, but to my relief, both bed and channel were spotless.

Back at reception, I was given a glass of water with added electrolytes, two acidophilus capsules (good bacteria) and a pot of herbal tea. I felt a bit light-headed but curiously clean, flat of stomach and rather proud of myself. Leung suggested I go back several days later because she felt there was more to come out. I did and glad I was too. This time the mystique and fear surrounding the treatment was gone. I had much more successful 'releases' of waste matter than the first time and it wasn't at all embarrassing. I even found myself discussing bowel movements with a fellow colonic irrigationist over tea. The late Diana, Princess of Wales, would have been proud.

Tips: To prevent feelings of nausea and slight discomfort, it is advisable not to eat two hours before the treatment or for one hour afterwards.

Don't be embarrassed - the staff have seen it all before and tried it themselves so they know what you're going through.

So what's the score? 9/10. If you're going for a New Year detox or simply want to try colonic irrigation, HydroHealth is the place to go. It takes the fear out of being flushed and gets top marks for its friendly customer care, cleanliness and hi-tech equipment. While not the world's most relaxing treatment, it is highly satisfying and after a few sessions you'll probably notice improvements in your skin, sleeping patterns and bowel movements.

Value for money: $480 a session; $100 extra for the VIP room.

Reservations: 3/F, On Lan Centre, 11-15 On Lan Street, Central (tel: 2530 9999).

NB: a local general practitioner suggests people wishing to try the medically controversial treatment should consult their doctor first. He also recommends checking the qualifications of any therapist before committing yourself to treatment.