Senior Practitioner, Leigh Anne
Life moving too quickly? Always tired and stressed? Perhaps you need a Qi MOT, suggests Lisa Botwright...
Tucked away in a corner of the bustling retail epicentre of Oxford Circus is a quiet haven dedicated to helping people regain their energy and find happiness in the simpler things in life: an oasis in the spiritual desert of commercialism.
Practitioners at Qi Wellness (tagline: Recharge & Be Inspired) claim to be able to help people find renewed energy, mental clarity, health and wellbeing through their Qi treatments. Sounds wonderful. Who isn’t tired and drained by today’s busy lifestyles?
According to the centre’s website, Qi (pronounced ‘kee’ here, in the Korean tradition) ‘is the fundamental energy that creates and supports life. It is nature’s primary source of energy and what keeps everything in balance and harmony’. It’s stated as fact, which makes me sceptical – I don’t remember learning this in my science GCSE.
Nevertheless, the concept of Qi is one of the building blocks of most eastern religions: from Hindu’s Prana, to Chi in Chinese Taoism. Pneuma meaning ‘life force’ was also central to ancient Greek writings, and formed the basis for western medicine until well into the eighteenth century. This abstract notion even pervades popular culture – it’s the Dust in Philip Pullman’s wonderful His Dark Materials trilogy, and it’s The Force that gives the Jedi Knights their power in Star Wars.
In fact, it actually seems a perfectly reasonable way to describe my own hazy, lapsed-C-of-E, optimistic agnosticism – a metaphor for all my unanswered questions that meander untidily along the lines of … ‘I’m not sure if I believe in religion as such – but there must be something, some ultimate creative force out there, to give ‘meaning’ to life…?’
Not that the centre is at all ‘woo-woo’ (a term that the practitioners themselves use to acknowledge that some of the ideas might – by some people – be considered off the wall). In fact, they’re keen to project an accessible and inclusive image, welcoming clients from many different backgrounds. There are plenty of talks and courses on offer if people want to delve more deeply into the spiritual side of things, but the centre’s staff insist that there is absolutely no need believe, or even take an interest in, the South Korean ancient philosophy that underpins the treatments. “You don’t have to believe to receive energy,” I’m told.
The decor is certainly not woo-woo. With its calming, but smart, pastel shades, it’s much more akin to a boutique hotel, than a spiritual retreat. One of the practitioners, Joe, gives me a quick tour, which includes a glimpse into a large room where the group classes (t’ai chi, chanting and meditation) are held every day, and then I’m shown to one of the treatment rooms and introduced to Leigh Anne [pictured above], who’s going to look after me today.
Leigh Anne explains that the centre’s treatment focuses on unblocking the body’s meridians, or channels, through which the Qi flows – and on encouraging positive energy (Qi) back into the body. “If our Qi is deficient or blocked, that’s when stress and ill health can occur,” she explains.
The whole thing lasts for about an hour, which includes a consultation before and after the actual treatment. It might not be strictly relevant, but I take the opportunity to ask Leigh Anne questions and learn all about her previous career as a long haul Flight Attendant for BA. She tells me that she loved her job – “my favourite things are people and travel” – but after four years of regularly flying through different time zones, her energy levels were very depleted and she began searching for a natural way to regain her health. She discovered Qi treatments at a health show and was initially drawn by the sound the practitioners were making (more of this later). After several visits, she felt like a different person, with a “new sense of hope and clarity.”
When the tables are turned and she asks me some questions about my own health (not too bad, fingers crossed) and reasons for coming along (pure curiosity) I find I’m strangely emotional. Most of us are so busy rushing around, that we never take time to reflect on our own wellbeing, and the phrase ‘how are you?’ is scattered so liberally and perfunctorily through modern conversation that it ceases to have meaning. Leigh-Anne’s ‘how are you?’, on the other hand, feels disarmingly penetrative: her warmth and aura of calmness make me want to pour my heart out. It’s just so nice for someone to listen, as I describe my (incredibly minor) niggles, and I imagine that this process of unburdening is just as important as the treatment – more so, if you’re cynically-minded. It’s definitely central to the holistic philosophy of the place: the idea that mind and body must be aligned for optimum physical and mental health.
To be honest, I’m also a little nervous about the treatment ahead. Leigh-Anne explains that it can be a bit uncomfortable, depending on the individual, and sensing my apprehension, suggests we make a start without delay.
The treatment is initially a little uncomfortable, but not prohibitively so. I lie flat as Leigh-Anne presses her hands into various parts of my body and works systematically from head to foot. As she pushes, she makes a deep ‘whooshing’ sound – energy is apparently carried by sound waves, and the noise is a way of pushing ‘good’ energy into the body.
The stomach area is especially painful, and she spends a lot of time on this, explaining afterwards that the abdomen is like a battery: the main energy centre for the body. When she works the more muscly areas of the body, the legs and neck, for example, it feels much more relaxing.
What’s not so relaxing is the rushing, tingling feeling that rises up through my body as I lay back: I’m genuinely surprised by its intensity. I can only liken it to some far less spiritual experiences of my student days – drinking too much alcohol just before bedtime and succumbing to ‘the spins’. Curiously, the waves of tingles dissipate through my collar bone as I lay on my back, and then through my hands as I sit up and Leigh Anne works on my shoulders. Perhaps this is the negative energy leaving my body. Or perhaps it’s the psychosomatic result of my earlier nerves. Who knows?
What I do know is that after the treatment I feel incredibly serene, although a touch ‘spaced-out’. I have to sit and gather myself for a few moments, before I can coherently string a sentence together, even to thank her.
Much later, I float around the house cooking the dinner and helping the children with their homework with such contented good humour that the husband looks at me sideways; I continue to surprise myself by not having to reach for any of my usual western crutches (ie wine).
I’ve only had one treatment, but I really appreciated the benefits. Whether it’s the power of Qi or the power of a good chat, though, I shall never know – but I was sufficiently convinced by the experience to point my husband in their direction…
Treatments start at £40. For more information, visit: www.qiwellness.org