According to a recent study, life in urban Portugal is getting ever more stressful, with damaging consequences to our health. Traffic jams, long working hours, poor and irregular eating habits, lack of exercise and living in polluted city environments, all contribute to a whole host of health-related problems.
Poor sleeping habits, high blood pressure, lack of concentration, irritability and short temper, alcohol and cigarette abuse, obesity and attendant diabetes risks have all been cited as the results of a more stressful lifestyle. It’s not surprising, therefore, that exercise and alternative lifestyle health clinics – already popular in the US and the UK since the early ‘80s – should now be springing up here in Portugal.
But is it really worth forking out 75 euros a time for a relaxing massage when a brisk walk, a few lengths of the pool and a cup of herbal tea could just as easily do the trick? Many middle class professional businessmen seem to think so.
One such clinic in central Lisbon, which aims to tackle stress and restore the body to harmony and balance, can be found in Edifício Monumental, by the side of the shopping centre. The Institute of Stress (Instituto de Stress) offers a number of treatments designed to take the strain out of life – at a cost.
I went along to try out the Institute’s Apollo III treatment to see if there really is anything in these kind of clinics, other than trendy gimmicks.
On entering the fourth floor clinic, secretary Isabel Braz led me into a room that resembled a space-age time capsule from Star Trek and told me to strip down to my briefs.
I lay down on a towel-covered bed and waited alone for something to happen. Fluorescent lights flickered on in the dim room, casting eerie shadows over the walls, as a variety of jungle sounds, including cascading waterfalls, birds and insects, were piped into the room. Apparently, this is ‘music therapy’. The lights flickered several times in glows of pink and blue, while strange hypnotic patterns swirled on the ceiling. This subtle light and pattern show, resembling the Christmas lanterns projected on the buildings in Praça do Comércio, is known as ‘chromotherapy’.
And so I remained for around 10 minutes, until a young woman, dressed in a clinical white coat and armed with a clipboard, entered the room. First, she took my blood pressure – rather higher than normal she told me. This was the ‘stress-check’. Then began the therapy, which kicked off with a relaxing reflexology foot massage, lasting around 20 minutes, using essential oils.
As I started to relax, this was followed up with an overall body massage using Indian oils and herbs, starting with my legs and working up to my back and neck. Strangely enough, the arms don’t feature at all in this treatment!
The idea is to use only the more relaxing aspects of ‘shiatsu’, an ancient system that stimulates specific points on the body with the gentle application of pressure to the fingers, palms, knees, spine and back. By manipulating these pressure points, you can relieve muscular stress, as well as physical and mental tiredness.
“Most people these days are suffering from stress and don’t even know it. Look at your blood pressure, you’re stressed and aren’t even aware,” explained Susana Cruz, my masseuse. “Generally speaking, I would say that 80 per cent of our clients are stressed businessmen who don’t have the time or force of will to take regular exercise and don’t know how to switch off. Many people get home from work and cannot mentally leave their work problems in the office,” she added.
At this point, I was motioned to turn over, and the treatment was extended to my front – again leaving out my arms – and worked up to my face and temples. “What we aim to do is create a sensation of floating or hanging suspended, because this produces the body’s natural endorphins that can contribute towards alleviating pain and tension and instil a feeling of wellbeing.”
After an hour-and-a-half of this treatment, Susana left the room and I was left to relax under the light and image show for a further 10 minutes.
Returning later to take my blood pressure, it had, as if by magic, gone back to normal. I returned to the chaos of the street feeling much lighter and with my senses considerably heightened. Was it worth it? If you’ve got money to blow, why not!
The Institute of Stress can be found in Edifício Monumental, number 71, floor 4 B. Telephone: 213 163 200.