Most of us know what going for a massage involves, and that a visit to the spa means essential oils and scented candles inside hushed, darkened rooms. But what about the newer treatments at holistic centres?
Two newcomers are 'Network Spinal Analysis' and 'BodyTalk', both of which claim to cure us of aches, ailments, emotional blockages, asthma, phobias - even deadly diseases. Both treatments have only one or two practitioners in Hong Kong; both claim to be gentle, non-invasive and safe for adults and children.
But they remain relatively unknown. Physiotherapist Abby Yek Cheung, a partner in PhysioMotion in Central, is not aware of either form of treatment. 'I would say do your research,' Cheung advises those who are interested in the treatments. Here is an insight into the methods.
Network Spinal Analysis (NSA)
Practitioner Christine Ridal - a chiropractor qualified in Australia - has been doing NSA for more than 10 years. She established NetworkCare in Hong Kong five years ago.
According to Ridal, we store tension in our bodies due to stress, whether physical, emotional, mental or chemical. NSA focuses on the spine and nervous system. 'By addressing causes rather than symptoms, NSA changes the way your brain and body manage stress, moving you out of a state of defence and into growth,' Ridal says.
NSA was founded by Donald Epstein in the early 1980s. He compared various methods and came to the conclusion light touch released large amounts of spinal tension and could ease 'negative stress responses' such as aching shoulders, frustration or anxiety.
The techniques he founded are designed to unlock 'stored tension' in the body and teach the brain how to 'harness energy'. Ridal says NSA is designed to awaken and open areas of our brain because much of our responses are engaged in the basic, fight-or-flight area of the brain.
But what practitioners actually do to this end is difficult to grasp. The problem is, once the theory has been explained, the client is likely to expect something miraculous.
Ridal, an enthusiastic NSA proponent, demonstrates the technique. NSA is done mostly with the client lying face down on a massage table. The room is bright and the atmosphere is calm with music playing and an oil burner in the corner.
Ridal shows how gentle touches on the spine - the base and just under the neck - help the flow of energy through it. 'It should rise and flow,' she says of the neck. Ridal continues to touch various areas, noting she can feel an 'opening' or 'release'.
The client shifts a little, which Ridal says is often the case when a release is under way. Ridal says she is helping energy move through the spine, to 'feed' the nervous system.
To help this, she pinches her fingers together as though she has picked up the energy and then flicks her fingers along the spine or from the base of the neck the way you would if spreading finger-paint across a long piece of paper, all without touching the client.
It's as though the energy can be physically moved through or from the client using the practitioner's hands. This is the part that may see some more scientifically-minded people baulk.
Lying there, the experience is relaxing and pleasant. Ridal instantly finds areas of tension or blockages and asks me to breathe through them. She says the energy is not moving freely from the base of my spine all the way up, and to envision it not being blocked in the middle.
While this 'wave-like' experience of breathing is happening, she is using those flicking movements.
Sure enough, the breathing does slow and become more even. But whether that was all in my mind through envisioning it, or a reality, is anyone's guess.
It was as relaxing as any meditation class or spa treatment, but was there a lighter sense of well-being and transformation? After one session, the answer was no. But Ridal stresses it can take time - up to several months - as one advances through the stages of release.
The verdict on NSA: Relaxing, but it would need to be experienced regularly to judge its worth. For those with vexing personal or physical issues, give it a try if you have a spare HK$1,200 for the initial assessment and HK$500 for subsequent sessions. Packages make it cheaper. Ridal is knowledgable and experienced.
Angie Tourani practises the BodyTalk system in a modern holistic practice called the Body Group, again aimed at transforming our minds and bodies.
The system was created by another chiropractor, Australian John Veltheim, who is also an acupuncturist, philosopher and author, according to his promotional material.
BodyTalk is being taught in more than 28 countries, and Tourani says it can help with arthritis, injuries, learning disorders, chronic fatigue, back pain - the list goes on.
On the walls, charts suggest BodyTalk is a combination of various therapies including western medical expertise, the acupuncture meridians, kinesiology and modern physics and mathematics.
Tourani describes it as 'amazing' and while all she does is little more than press gently into my arm repeatedly, what she discovered was pretty impressive. BodyTalk aims to use the bodies' 'innate wisdom' to lead the practitioner to locate imbalances.
Using tapping movements on the chest and head - and holding the forearm - the process is designed to teach the body to 'return itself to balance'.
Tourani says muscle responses indicate where the problems lie and she can then focus on those areas during the treatment. A quick questionnaire beforehand gives health and lifestyle information, but Tourani uncovered a couple of minor health issues from the recent past, even 'feeling' a yellow fever inoculation from two years ago (this was true, but not stated in my questionnaire) and a lack of vitamin B, something medical tests had recently uncovered.
But like the psychic who tells you all about your past, what's the point if you already know? BodyTalk is designed, therefore, to give ongoing improvements in health rather than short-term symptomatic relief. It can be used in conjunction with a variety of treatments.
It may help people suffering chronic health problems. The treatment is said to reach its full potential in the long term. But it's best to try a few sessions initially to discover whether it works for you.
The verdict on BodyTalk: Calming and sleep-inducing. It probably needs several sessions and patience. Tourani is passionate about the system and will talk you through it in fine detail before proceeding. It costs HK$800 for the initial session and HK$600 for subsequent sessions.