A life and death trip down memory lane

CALL it a New Age phenomenon or just trickery played on a gullible public, but the rise of interest in all things involving hypnotism and psychics has brought the idea of regression to the forefront of therapies designed to help people cope with modern living.

Regression is a type of hypnosis used by therapists to help you remember your past. Hypnotists use it to help clients recall past-life experiences which may have an impact on their lives today. Such is the interest in the treatment that even ITV’s Good Morning show is investigating its presenters’ past lives via hypnosis as a form of entertainment, while at a recent alternative health fair in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms, past- life regression therapists were inundated with requests.

And James McLeish, a remedial therapist at the Morningside Natural Health Clinic, says: "We are getting more and more people of all ages and walks of lives come to us now than ever before and I have had some very interesting cases." Intrigued, I decided to sign up - after all, the proof of this

alternative treatment had to be in the experience.

First up was my consultation. Here James wanted to find areas of my

personality I could work on. Insisting it was a necessary part of the procedure I felt perturbed was there anything I

actually thought needed "worked on?" It might have been time to make a sharp exit.

Using what he calls "thought and feel therapy" he asked questions such as "what don’t you like? Why?" It soon became evident I have a phobia of public speaking and, after further questioning, his assumption was this anxiety is connected to my past. But doesn’t everyone detest speaking in public, I wondered?

Intrigued, sceptical and a little scared I found myself lying on a couch in a state of relaxation I never thought possible. Murmurs of music, the gentle whispering voice of James and the warmth of the room were making my eyelids heavy.

Regression is normally used to help people address issues or identify why they have phobias they can’t make sense of in this life. It’s thought the most traumatic times - usually birth and death - are remembered first and foremost when under hypnosis.

However, warnings about regression were sounded by Deb Hamilton, a hypnotist at the Edinburgh Group of Hypno-psychotherapists, who says that issues can arise as a result of past life regression. "Personally I think it’s best to deal with an individual’s problem in the here and now and not look beyond this life," she says. "Past life regression is not an approach I would use in therapy but that is not to say it is a load of rubbish.

"If people are going to be regressed to their pasts they should shop around to find someone they feel comfortable with and can have a level of trust with and support from over an extended period of time."

Prior to my session James had told me that he had regressed people who discovered they were mass murderers in their previous lives which was why they had feelings of guilt in this life. One client in particular, he said, had impersonated voices from her previous life as a male murderer. I was worried what I might reveal.

The next tactic he used was meditation. Every muscle in my body from my face and shoulders right down to my feet slowly relaxed as I felt years of tension wash away. I was enjoying this now. This somewhat unique experience seemed worth it - for a while.

First, I was taken back to early childhood, then into the womb and then into a corridor which James told me was a timeline. I had to walk in towards the light of my previous life. Prompted all the time by James, I talked my way back through the timeline. Two hours after we began, my eyes were firmly closed and my mind was in the 1800s. I was sitting in a drawing room of a large farmhouse in the Scottish Borders, dressed in black, and my name was Annie.

Annie was in her 30s, sitting alone and gazing at paintings of a moustached man with blond hair and a red face. He was as unfamiliar to me then as he is today but there was a feeling of poignancy as I looked at him. In my dreamlike state the overall picture was hazy and unclear but the feelings of emotion were high throughout.

Most days it seems Annie would walk the grounds around the farmhouse alone or with the farm dogs. She read in the same drawing room day in and day out. The days were long and tedious. Nothing sensational ever happened and she was continuously bored. Plain in appearance and plain in personality, there was no glamour here I was sad to discover.

In fact, Annie looked like a sad wife in mourning. Her pale white skin looked stark next to her black Victorian dress, small blue eyes and dark brown hair. With no friends or family, she was a lonely, shy recluse - the exact opposite of the person I am today.

James encouraged me forward in time and suddenly Annie was upset because the man of the house, Samuel, had died. It was never clear what their relationship was but Annie was devastated. She could turn to no-one. She had nowhere to go. Opting for an end to her misery Annie drank poison from a bottle she had acquired and calmly waited to walk forward along the corridor of time to her next life, where everything would be so different. Whether fiction or fact all this information flowed from my mouth under hypnosis. Aware of both my present surroundings and my past surroundings it seemed I had a temporary dual existence. This surreal, intense experience is not for the faint-hearted.

I recorded the entire hypnosis. Playing it back I thought it feasible I lived in the 1800s but further self-analysis suggested otherwise. After all, have you ever fallen asleep thinking about something and ended up dreaming about it? I do it all the time.

Were the facts I had revealed actually based on Jane Eyre, which I had read in detail a couple of days earlier? Was Annie in the Borders because I have friends there with whom I’ve spent much time? Was Samuel after my own first love? Was the apparently unfulfilled romance which ended in suicide based on the fact that I’m a fan of the modern film version of Romeo and Juliet, and have been on holiday to Verona where I visited Juliet’s Tomb? Coincidences?

James admits he does not know for sure if people do go back to previous memories. "I am a believer of past lives, otherwise I would not do this for a living. It is very sad to think we might only have one life - there would be no point to it.

"I am also aware that we do not fully understand our subconscious so perhaps thought patterns emerge under hypnosis. I don’t claim to know, only to believe in past lives."

But he admits regression doesn’t work on everyone. "I think we have new souls in the world so some people will never have lived before. I also think we have old souls and no souls. There may be too many physical bodies in the world to accommodate all the souls."

For James, his work is a way of ncovering what people want to know, and aiding them emotionally. Maybe, then, my worst fear in my current life would be to end up like Annie.

For chartered clinical psychologist Dr Alan Coupar the rise of interest in egression is about faith. "I think people want to believe in life after death and life before death is consistent with this. These ideas of reincarnation have been around for years but they are off course with mainstream clinical psychology."

Yet despite my doubts, my experience felt very real, as real as a vivid dream. I know I was never fed information, I was just asked questions and wanted to answer them, and I never consciously lied or felt like I was making things up.

In reality though, the mystery of hypnosis and past-life regression remains unsolved. I came up with no hard facts, no data, no surnames to investigate and no exact address, but maybe another session or two would shed more light. Possibly the secrets of our previous lives are really out there - in the depths of our minds.

• Past-life regression costs from 45 for 90 minutes at the Morningside Natural Health Clinic. Call 0131 452 8964.

The number One spa and the great Escape

SANCTUARY. The word used to mean somewhere a fugitive could hide from the clutches of justice or a holy place where Catholic priests were given shelter from the government troops determined to stamp out their religion.

Of course, in these more secular days, sanctuary means something rather different. In fact, for the thousands of stressed-out workers of Great Britain plc, finding a sanctuary away from the trials and tribulations of modern life has become a major quest.

Which is probably why there has been a sharp rise in the number of spas - both in the UK and abroad - as people search for the ultimate place to relax and unwind. So popular are these modern-day sanctuaries that Traveller magazine has recently unveiled its first Readers’ Spa Awards. And the good news for those who can’t afford to jet off to the Maldives or Thailand for a weekly massage is that two Edinburgh hotels were named in the top ten best UK spas.

In fact, the One Spa at the Sheraton Grand Hotel on Lothian Road came top - it was one of only four UK spas to make it into the World Top 25 - while the facilities at Escape, The Scotsman Hotel’s spa, came in at sixth place. With such success it seemed only right to find out just what it is about these sanctuaries that invokes so much loyalty from their clientele.

Escape was the first stop. For those who’ve never been before, the metal staircase from the front door on Market Street which leads up into the bowels of the hotel is Blade Runner-like in its futuristic feel.

But it leads into a pleasant reception area, where a towelling robe and slippers are handed over for those using the spa. The changing area is shared with the gym, but once you walk over the bridge that spans the stainless steel pool you enter a different world.

Here everything is tranquillity. The surroundings are wooden and the treatment rooms are low on lighting to make falling asleep in the hands of an expert masseuse all the easier. The rooms are small with an Oriental feel, and have a massage table, shower and plenty of storage space for stocking the E’spa products used in all treatments.

I was here for the E’spa pre-natal treatment (75) and in the hands of the beauty therapist I spent the next 90 minutes being totally pampered. First my skin was gently brushed to boost circulation then, while sitting on the edge of the bed, my back was exfoliated then massaged with a hydrating cleanser and moisturiser to ease the skin dehydration suffered during pregnancy. Lying back, and with eye pads dipped in soothing lotion over my lids, the same exfoliator, cleanser and moisturiser was applied and removed from my legs, arms and upper chest, while the bump where my stomach used to be was gently cleansed.

The next step involved sitting up again - a real trial at this point - while warm marine mud was applied to my back. Lying down again, the same mud was applied to my arms and legs, which were then wrapped in tinfoil and covered by a seemingly endless supply of white fluffy towels. By now, almost completely asleep, pink hair and scalp mud was gently massaged into my head.

All too soon I was being told to shower off. Once clean again, the towelling robe was donned and I was led through to the tranquil room where post-treatment clients are meant to give themselves a decent amount of time to collect their thoughts before facing the real world again or going for a dip. Sadly, work beckoned so there was a rather abrupt end to the session.

I didn’t make the same mistake when I went for a similar treatment at One Spa. This time it was the evening and I was determined to savour every last minute.

Now One Spa uses exactly the same E’spa product range but it offers a far greater variety of treatments (I was getting the pre-natal again at 75 for 90 mins) but it soon became clear to me why it was placed top in the poll. Despite being three years old there is nothing worn about the place - it could have opened just last week - and the attention to detail, from the iridescent walls of the reception area to the orange scents of the laconium, is perfect. Again, robe and slippers were supplied and I waited in the calm surroundings of the spa for my therapist to arrive. She led me to a treatment room which was bigger than that at Escape, with the massage bed surrounded by Thai-style bowls filled with floating flowers and candles. This time the therapist asked all sorts of questions about changes in my skin since pregnancy and what I would and wouldn’t find comfortable.

Then the treatment began. It was very similar to that at Escape, but this time there was no body brushing. The therapist also appeared more experienced and her massage technique felt firmer and more comforting. When it came time for the head massage with scalp mud I was fast asleep. Who knows how long I lay there, but eventually I was asked to shower off. Wrapped up again in the robe, I was led through to the serenity of the relaxation area, where I was left in peace to sink further into the state of calm which the treatment had instilled. If only the rest of the pregnancy experience could be as relaxing.

• At Escape, Spa Day Experiences are available starting from 90 for the Escapism package (includes two treatments), to Pure Escapism costing 155 (includes four treatments) to the Ultimate Escape Experience costing 195, which is five hours worth of indulging spa treatments. Each Spa Day Experience includes lunch and a complimentary drink. Call 0131-622 3800.

• Day programmes at One Spa range from Tranquillity at One (187 for three treatments) to the E’spa Ritual (220 for four treatments) and the Balinese Influence at One (270 for three treatments - including a massage from two therapists at once). The full day treatments include lunch and use of the gym, hammam, aroma grotto, rock sauna, bio sauna, tepidarium, laconium, lifestyle showers, pool, hydropool and relaxation area. Call 0131-221 7777.

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