In a city as hectic as Hong Kong, finding ways to relax can be tough. Busy work schedules, numerous social events, and general life in a city as intense as ours can send your stress levels through the roof and wreak havoc on your health – if you let it. So to help bring some calm into your life, we delved into Hong Kong’s vibrant holistic heath and wellness scene to find the most effective, fun, and unique techniques to quieten the mind, relax the body, and get you from OMG to “om”.
1. Have a Gong Bath
Many people consider soaking in the tub a great way to relieve stress, but others prefer to bath in sound! I have to admit, I was pretty new to the concept of ‘gong baths’ when Red Doors Studio got in touch to tell me about this practice which uses sound therapy to bring about relaxation and healing. Dating back to around 3,500 BC, gong baths are used to induce a state of spontaneous meditation and relaxation by immersing you in sound waves and lulling you into a Theta, or REM sleep state. This relaxed state of being facilitates the movement of chi (or ‘life force’) throughout your body, which helps to eliminate tension, stimulate blood circulation and glandular systems, and regenerate the nervous system – leaving you feeling totally relaxed.
Curious to find out more, I spent a morning with the studio’s founder, Martha Collard, who’s spent more than twenty years working as a consultant specialising in holistic corporate wellness. After learning about the various meanings behind Collard’s impressive collection of hand-forged meditative gongs – each distinctive in sound and size – I laid down on my comfy yoga mat in front of the gongs, and let her place a lavender bag over my eyes. After a continuous five minutes of soft gong playing and deep breathing, I started to wind down and felt myself gently drifting away into la-la land as the sound vibrations flowed through my body. My breathing became shallow, my heart rate slowed down, and by the end of the twenty-minute session, I was on the verge of falling asleep.
My first experience of gong baths was very enjoyable, and I can definitely understand how the gong has become recongised as a powerful instrument for healing. According to Collard, it’s an excellent remedy of stress-related issues such as depression, fatigue, and negative emotions – and she has successfully treated clients with all of these conditions. Aside from the deep state of relaxation I experienced, I also felt an incredible sense of comfort in the various sounds from the gongs. I left the studio feeling relaxed, rejuvenated, and totally clear-headed. So while gong baths might not be everyone’s first choice of relaxation technique, it’s certainly worth trying out if you get the chance – just take it easy for the rest of the day, because the effects can last for hours!
How much: Private one-hour session $1,500 / Large group session $250 per person / Group private for 12 people (1.5 hours) $5,000 ($350 for each additional person)
2. Get Some Reiki
No drugs, no equipment, no fuss – just hands. Developed in Japan in 1922, Reiki, commonly known as ‘palm healing’, has become widely recognised as a powerful way to reduce stress and restore balance in our body. This form of alternative therapy rests on the notion that to be fit and healthy on an emotional, physical, and spiritual level, energy must be able to flow freely within our bodies. Therefore, it uses a technique whereby hands are gently laid on various parts of the body to transfer energy and clear any blockages in order to promote self healing and balance.
This seemingly simple technique can have incredibly soothing effects on both the mind and body, and after spending one hour under the healing hands of Reiki practitioner and owner of Shine Body & Soul Healing Centre, Satoe Sasaki (pictured above), I can honestly say that I’m a total advocate. Even with the knowledge that a T8 typhoon was hurtling towards Hong Kong, I left my session feeling physically relaxed and mentally calm – and by no coincidence slept like a baby that night. The soothing effects of Reiki make it a popular technique for the treatment of stress, insomnia, grief, and even depression, and receiving it is a unique experience for each individual. Some of the sensations you may experience during a treatment include warming or cooling in certain areas of your body, a pulsating feeling, or – in my case – a gentle tingling in the hands and feet.
During my session, Satoe was able to detect both energy ‘blockages’ and areas of intense activity in my body, which she explained to me afterwards. This was very helpful in indicating subtle lifestyle changes that could benefit me in the long run – namely to quieten my chattering mind and stop over-thinking! The lovely thing about Reiki is that it doesn’t rely on applying pressure, manipulation, or massage to treat ailments, because the body is actually capable of healing itself. Simple, safe, and totally natural, Reiki is an absolute winner in my book.
Shine Body & Soul Healing Centre, C5, 2/F, Block C, Paterson Building, 37 Paterson Street, Causeway Bay, (+852) 9831 6058
How much: $700 for 70 mins / $900 for 90 mins
Find out more: Why not visit the Reiki Cafe at Shine and learn more about Reiki with Satoe?
Read more! We bust the 6 Myths of Reiki with Shine Body & Soul Healing Centre
Understanding what meditation actually is, and what it can do to benefit our health, leaves many people foggy-headed. Ironic really, considering the sole purpose of this practice is to bring clarity and stillness to our mind and body. Grounded in the philosophy of Buddhism, the goal of meditation is actually very simple: to quieten the ‘chattering’ mind in order to be unconditionally present with whatever is happening, no matter what it is. There are many things in life that are beyond our control, but by engaging with a particular meditation practice, we are able to learn the patterns and habits of our mind, observe our thoughts without judgement, and explore how to deal with them to cultivate more positive ways of being. It should come as no surprise then, that one of the main by-products of meditation is a sense of deep relaxation as the body and mind release tension and anxiety.
Now reaching this state of consciousness may sound ambitious – especially if you are completely new to the practice – but as I discovered in my recent Mindful Meditation gathering at IMI (Integrated Medicine Institute), it’s actually very achievable. By following the simple instructions to sit comfortably, focus on my breathing, and be aware of my body – while not “running away” with my thoughts – I was slowly able to reach a state of deep peace and clarity. I’ll admit it wasn’t easy to begin with, even with experienced counseling psychotherpy specialist, Catriona Rogers, leading the group through several stages of practice. I became very aware just how “chatty” the mind naturally is – it wants to wander – and the body can be equally “twitchy”, therefore it takes time and practice to reach a state of complete stillness. That said, after spending an hour meditating with the group around a single candle, we all left feeling a lot calmer than when we arrived.
While this was only my second experience of meditation, I can definitely see the benefits of practicing it over time. As Rogers explained, even just ten minutes of practice a day can have incredibly positive effects on your mental and physical health. If you feel your life is too busy and you have too little time to meditate, it helps to choose a short period and gradually build up to double it, working towards an hour’s practice, as Rogers does. It’s free, it’s simple, and the benefits are well worth it. In a city as hectic as Hong Kong, it always pays to take some mental time out.
Integrated Medicine Institute (IMI), 17/F Kailey Tower, 16 Stanley Street, Central, (+852) 2523 7121
How much: Donation based (contributions go to children’s health charity VIVA)
4. Learn Wing Chun
Learning how to block and punch might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you’re looking for ways to unwind, however Wing Chun can do amazing things for the mind and body. Derived from the legendary Ip Man, the father of Wing Chun, this beautiful form of kung fu is as much designed for inner health as it is for realistic self-defense. Rather than focusing on mastering external mechanical movements, like many other style of martial arts, it works on building a greater sense of awareness to your whole body in order to help you leverage your inner ‘mind force’ and create effortless movements. One introductory lesson at Mindful Wing Chun and I suddenly understood how Bruce Lee had the ability to lift a man twice his size and throw him over his head!
This may sound tough, but the beauty of Wing Chun is that the movements are slow to begin with, which is great if you’re a beginner like me. This allows you time to really focus on every part of your body and keep it in alignment so you can perfect each position. Of course, it also helps to have a team of talented, experienced, and encouraging instructors on hand to help you master the moves.
Not a million miles away from Tai Chi, and even incorporating some elements of Yoga, Wing Chung is actually incredibly relaxing and a great eye-opener to the parts of our body where we carry unnecessary tension. This makes it a beneficial practice for anyone suffering from muscle pain or aching joints, or those with jobs that are sedentary or involve repetitive movements. And while I didn’t emerge from my first class as an Ip Man master, I certainly felt less tension in my back and shoulders and left the studio feeling pretty chilled.
Mindful Wing Chun, 8/F On Lan Centre, 11-15 On Lan Street, Central, (+852) 6620 7050
How much: Students have the option of training one day per week on a monthly plan (packages range from $800 – $1,400)
5. Go Floating
If floating inside a zero gravity sensory deprivation “Dream Pod” doesn’t bring your stress levels down, then nothing will. Located on Caine Road next to the 7-11, Float On provides a magical sanctuary away from the sounds, smells, and sights of the outside world. Pop in your ear plugs, hop inside one of their four softly lit sci-fi like pods, and you’ll probably never want to get out again!
Designed to mimic being in a zero gravity environment, each pod is filled with 550kg of epsom salt and magnesium in 30cm deep water kept at 34 degrees (roughly skin surface temperature), which work together to make your body feel weightless. Once cocooned inside, you can enjoy 45 to 90 minutes of pure bliss as every muscle begins to relax and you enter a state of complete tranquility. Each session is designed to reduce physical and mental stress, relieve muscle pains and tension, reduce blood pressure, stimulate sleep, and slow your brain waves to help you reach a deep meditative state of consciousness – and did I mention that it also increases the production of lovely endorphins? Hmm, heavenly.
And, as someone who suffers from claustrophobia, I can assure you there is nothing to worry about because you have the option of keeping the pod’s lid open. There’s really no need though, as the pod is big enough to starfish in (my most comfortable pod position as it happens) and the glowing multi-colours create a soothing effect that will make you feel instantly relaxed. Floating is perfect for anyone looking to unwind with some quality “me time”, or for those who have difficulty sleeping – I came pretty close to dozing off myself!
Float On, B/F, 89 Caine Road, Mid Levels, Central, (+852) 2548 2844
How much: 45 mins $530 / 60 mins $630 / 90 mins $830 (discount packages available)
Read more! Check out our full review of Float On Hong Kong.
6. Do Tai Chi
I knew there had to be a reason why so many elderly people in Hong Kong practice Tai Chi – it keeps you mentally and physically fit. This ancient form of Chinese martial arts involves a series of slow, meditative body movements that were originally designed for self-defense and to promote inner peace and calm. Known to strengthen the immune system and emotional and mental shields, it also allows us to better deal with the stress of everyday life, making it part of the daily routine for many Hong Kongers, young and old. In fact, the particular school I attended, the Chen Style Tai Chi Institute, has welcomed over 3,000 local and international students through its door over the years. But don’t be fooled by those effortlessly graceful movements – it’s much harder than it looks!
During my class, led by Master Chow Chin Ching, I soon discovered the physical benefits of Tai Chi, or in this particular case, ‘Chen style’ which originates from the birthplace of Tai Chi. In the process of attempting to perfect my posture by bending my knees and correctly balancing my body weight, I began to feel my ‘rectus femoris’ muscles working in overdrive. As I began to move the chi (or ‘life force’) slowly and steadily throughout my body, I began to feel incredibly relaxed as I mirrored the movements of my Master.
The great thing about Tai Chi is the power it has in quieting the chattering mind, because it requires so much concentration to execute each movement and keep the correct posture that your brain has no time to wander. It may sound like hard work, but the effects are actually incredible relaxing – both to watch and to practice. One lady in the class even told me that Tai Chi is the one thing that she will never miss in her day, however busy she might be, because it’s the only way she can switch off from her highly demanding job and enjoy a good night’s sleep!
Chen Style Tai Chi Institute, Room 5, 11/F, 135 Bonham Strand Trade Centre, 135 Bonham Strand, Sheing Wan, (+852) 2850 5606
How much: Basic Course $650 for 4 classes / Intensive Training Course, Health and Healing Course $1,500 for 4 classes / Private Course $1,000 per hour
This article was originally published in July, 2017