THERE’S little to do at this Austrian health retreat but relax and embrace calm
Across the dining room sit two Russian traders, dispatched to Austria’s Viva Mayr health retreat by their London boss to enrol in the stress reduction programme. I want what they’re having, I think, long before discovering what brings them here. From where I sit, all I see is a couple of friends laughing and kicking back, giving every appearance of having not a care in the world.
And, of course, they don’t. At least, not for now. One of the best parts about visits to Viva Mayr – this is my second – is that many daily decisions are made for you by a stellar team of physicians, physiotherapists and nutritionists. Even the knowledgeable waitresses know precisely what is and what is not allowed on each guest’s personalised dietary regime.
Though my job lacks the relentless daily stress of banking – and countless other professions – by the close of last year I felt burned out. Along with everyone else battling the headwinds of this recession, I was marching double time just to keep up. Already an advocate of holidays that restore my system, rather than taxing it to the limit, and a fan of Viva Mayr, on the banks of Lake Worth, I leapt at the chance to pay another visit, this time to reduce the stress that had turned me into a snapping turtle.
Every visit begins with a doctor’s consultation, and I was assigned to the doctor I’d worked with before. Unfortunately, from a dietary perspective, I’d not only regained all the weight that flew off me the last time I was here, but a second round of applied kinesiology, designed to identify food intolerances, showed that my body still doesn’t digest yeast (and by extension, all sugars) properly.
Burnout and exhaustion hit the stomach first, then target the immune system, and finally, launch an assault the adrenal system. Guests at Viva Mayr are put on a limited diet designed to rest their digestive system, and this is especially beneficial for those combating stress. For breakfast there’s one of several non-gluten breads (spelt, soy) or rice cakes, served with a spread such as soft cheese or avocado. Lunch is the big meal, and might contain a medley of grains and vegetables in a creamy sauce, or meat, served with vegetables. The chef here is gifted and everything coming out of the kitchen is superb, made from organic meats and vegetables, and handled with loving care. In the evening it’s just tea or broth, with bread.
Other familiar items on my Mayr activity menu were daily massages administered by a crack team of muscle manipulators: they take no hostages, but leave you feeling absolutely amazing. Daily Kniepp foot baths are a must because its believed they promote lymphatic drainage and the elimination of toxins. You plunge your lower legs into warm water for fifteen seconds, followed by ice cold water for the same length of time. You’ll know you’re on track if your leg develops a bright red “sock”. Don’t worry, it disappears quickly.
When my appointments had finished on that first day I took to my bed for an epic sleep so restorative that I woke myself up laughing. If only I could revisit that dream and discover what the joke was!
In order to sample the stress-busting programme, I signed on for a couple of therapies I’d never tried before, including a test designed to discover how my body compensates for stress. A baseline blood test established resting levels of hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin. I was then sent to pedal a stationary bike for five minutes at a medium level of resistance – physiologically speaking, exercise counts as stress – after which my blood was re-checked. The results surprised me. In a good way.
Though they highlighted what I already knew – sky-high lactic acid levels proved that I’m woefully out of shape – it turns out that I’m not that badly off. Someone suffering intense, chronic stress would register lowered levels of cortisol, because they’ve used them all up, and very high adrenalin levels. Mine weren’t bad at all.
I also had sessions of chromatherapy, reclining in a warm, comfy chair beneath a giant white umbrella, while an ever-changing rainbow of coloured lights played about the room. Even with my eyes shut, as recommended, I was assured that I’d reap the benefit. Like many of the techniques and treatments (such as applied kinesiology) offered by Viva Mayr, chromatherapy has detractors among the medical community. Its proponents say it’s a form of vibrational medicine that balances the body’s electromagnetic field. The idea is that we are made of light, and that our bodies both emit and absorb it. The jury may be out, but I can’t deny that those 30 minute sessions were deeply relaxing, and felt quite different from the effects of having a massage or napping in bed.
Sticking to the colourful theme, I took the Luscher Colour Test, designed as a diagnostic tool and used by some physicians, dentists and alternative health practitioners. It is believed to uncover causes of psychological stress, and a measure of a person’s ability to withstand stress, to perform, and to communicate.
The doctor administering the test used a small booklet with different configurations of colours. I was asked to identify those I liked or disliked most from the available options, and urged to choose purely on the basis of colour, ignoring any psychological associations I might have concerning these colours.
Each tint is linked to a range of personality traits. For example, among other things, yellow represents spontaneity, whereas blue indicates depth of feeling. Different shades move the story along, and colour pairings take it to another level. Your choices can alert the interpreter to your physical risk factors, signal depression and other emotional problems, and flag up problem areas within your psyche, which then manifest in your body. According to my doctor, a detox is never solely physical, because the soul is present in the body. Afterwards I was presented with a personality assessment identifying the emotional stresses in my life, and recommending ways to ameliorate the situation.
Finally, if you have energy to spare and aren’t worried that you’ll be too tempted by the cafés, Klagenfurt, just a few miles away, is a beautiful city filled with upmarket designer shops, galleries, museums, and some notable buildings, including a cathedral, and a magnificent Municipal Theatre in the Jugendstil style.
When I have time off, Viva Mayr is one of my favourite places to relax and unwind. I like its Spartan aesthetic, and range of amenities including saunas, salt rooms, and a small but serviceable gym and pool (I recommend the aqua aerobic classes, too). The location is exquisite. I spent many happy hours in the sun room, loafing on a reclining rocker, just staring out at Lake Worth. I also adore being looked after and, I’ll admit it, surrendering control for a while. It’s a great luxury having absolutely nothing to do.
This most recent visit reminded me that stress goes deeper than the headache of deadlines – it can take root in your body and wreak havoc. Luckily, time spent at this remarkable health clinic will set you back on the path to good health. Surely that’s the best souvenir of all?
The Facts Viva, the Centre for Modern Mayr Medicine, is at Seepromenade 11; A-9082 Maria Worth, Austria. A seven-night stay which includes accommodation, use of the facilities, consultations and an individualised diet plan starts at around Euro 2,800. Treatments and supplements are priced individually. For information about programmes, rates, and availability, tel: 43 (0) 42 73 311 170 or visit www.viva-mayr.com/en/
Flights to Klagenfurt from Scotland via London with EasyJet and Ryanair, start from £144, www.skyscan ner.net
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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