By Chere Di Boscio
Buddhists see health and illness differently than we do in the West. Issues of the body are akin to clouds in the sky, obscuring the sun – and just as the clouds only temporarily block the sun, so do our illnesses block our well being, until their root causes can be removed; in many cases, by our mind.
I’m not talking (only) about psychosomatic diseases that we bring upon to ourselves; rather, from the Buddhist perspective, the mind itself is the creator of sickness and health – if you catch an actual cold, for example, it’s because your mind has somehow weakened your body by stressed it over time. In fact, the mind is believed to be the creator of all of our problems, physical or otherwise. This mainly happens when we compare ourselves to or judge others; when we are full of regrets, dwelling in the past, or worrying about the future and not living in the moment.
Tibetan medicine takes much of this philosophy on board. It believes that we are each born with one of three particular dispositions, or humours: wind, bile or phlegm. I learned all of this from Antonis Sarris, the in-house Tibetan health expert at the stunning Six Senses Spa at the Alpina Hotel, Gstaad. Apart from being voted as nothing less than the Best Masseur in the World by Spa Finder in 2008, Antonis is also one of the few Westerners trained to be a Master of Tibetan healing rituals, herbs, crystal healing and Chakra balancing.
My first consultation with him involved a lengthy questionnaire and an interview to discover my natural constitution (mainly wind, with a bit of bile, if you’re asking). After establishing where Antonis thought I had some imbalances, he went about trying to correct them. For this, he had a three-pronged approach, which makes sense, as Tibetan healing embraces a holistic approach to health, focusing on wholeness and interdependence of the mind, body and environment.
To calm my mind and heal my body, he employed a very particular kind of massage. It involved a variety of techniques, but suffice it to say that he deserves his title as the Best Masseur in the World: he found spots on my neck, back and shoulders that I didn’t realize were so tight until he touched them, with just the right blend of gentle pressure to slowly dissolve each one.
Then, he dipped some little bags of special herbs he had prepared himself into warm oil and applied them onto different Chakra points. They were each infused with a different scent, and he explained that their warmth, herbal potency and fragrance would open some energy meridians on my body that were not flowing freely.
Our 90 minute session had unfortunately come to a quick end, but Antonis invited me to return the next day for another exotic ritual that would infuse my environment with positive energy: Tibetan Singing Bowls.
According to Tibetan oral traditions, the use of singing bowls dates back to the time of the Buddha Shakyamuni (500 –480 BC). They were brought to Tibet from India to produce sounds that invoke a deep state of relaxation, which help listeners meditate more deeply. In addition, their sounds and vibrations can assist holistic healing rituals like Reiki, Chakra balancing or energy cleansing. Many of those who experience the singing bowls report an immediate centering effect that calms the spirit and silences those endlessly chatting voices in our heads. I was curious to see how I would feel.
I was surprised when I entered Antonis’ therapy room to see that incense and candles were lit. There was a cushion on a black blanket, surrounded by copper bowls of various sizes and a mallet. I was asked to sit on the cushion and close my eyes. Antonis then gently hit one of the bowls, explaining that its tone would clear any negative energy in the room. He allowed the sound to fade away before hitting the bowl again. This carried on for a few minutes, and then he asked me to change into a thin robe and lie on the massage table.
Here, he put the bowls on top of different parts of my body and again gently hit them with the mallet until the sound dissipated – I could feel the light sonar vibrations resonating throughout me. It was very calming, and I did indeed find that my mind had cleared. Soon, I found myself focusing only on the sound of the bowls, following it mentally until it faded and started again. When I told this to Antonis, he said that this in itself is an important kind of meditation. Who knew?
I was very grateful for this calming experience, and left with a deep sense of contentment. Antonis explained to me that the Six Senses Spa at the Alpina Hotel is deeply linked to Tibetan practices not only because both Tibet and Gstaad are found at high altitudes, but because several Tibetans immigrated to Switzerland when China invaded that country. In fact, a Tibetan monk was on his way to the hotel later that week to lead a silent meditation. It’s something I would have loved to have experienced, but if Antonis taught me anything, it’s to appreciate what you’ve got; not have regrets and live in the moment.
After all, not to do so can be harmful to your health.