I was about to be deeply cleansed. Stop The World is an alternative health farm, an Absolutely Fabulous nirvana situated in an old rectory near Glastonbury, where stressed out, well-off city folk come to 'detox' spiritually and physically at pounds 350 for four days.
I had arrived in the middle of a Winter Restoration Deep Cleansing Week, and pre-breakfast lymphatic drainage exercises were in session. 'The lymphatic system is basically the body's sewage system,' explained Jo Ridley, the woman in white. 'These exercises aid the elimination of toxins: I learned them from an Australian herbalist and alchemist.'
I joined the small group of other lymphatic exercisers reclining on the floor of a large workshop room, their legs in funny positions, staring into the eyes of a massive tiger wallhanging.
Breakfast was headed by Fiona Arrigo, an alternative therapist who started Stop The World two years ago after two serious car accidents had forced her to re-evaluate her 'shopping and lip-gloss' lifestyle. 'I think we're upholding traditional values here rather than New Age ones,' she said. 'I like the idea of re-creating a home, a rather romantic, safe home where you won't be told off for wearing a short skirt. Also I wanted to provide something more sustainable than you get at workshops.'
Felicity Marlowe, a fashion designer from west London with 'extreme work burn-out', downed her cup of mud-like liquid rapidly: 'It's for my bowels. A woman came in earlier this week and gave me an ayurvedic consultation, which basically tells you what you need to balance your body.'
Across the table - laden with fortified juice, fresh fruit salad and herbal teas - was Miriam Cassar Torreggiani, a 74-year-old Maltese woman dripping in gold rings, designer clothes and heavy make-up. She smoked 60 cigarettes a day before she arrived. Now she was on six a day. 'You have time to look into yourself here,' she said with gusto. 'You are surrounded by genuine love. This is a little bit of heaven.'
Back in the workshop room overlooking the 50-acre grounds, Peter Batty, a meditation and drumming teacher, implored us to kiss, cuddle and get to know our drums. This was a drum workshop designed to help us throw off our inhibitions with instruments.
'Women often feel very empowered after they've had a good time with a drum,' said Batty. Bashing bongos and tapping tabla, we embarked on an introduction to rhythm. 'You have to know where the 'one' is,' says Batty, explaining the philosophy of counting the rhythms. 'Otherwise, you are in chaos and won't be able to play with other people.'
Over lunch of filo pastry baskets filled with spicy vegetables, discussion ranged from the rigours of meditation to the effectiveness of new alternative 'wonder' product, blue-green algae. Miriam confessed that her mind wanders in meditation. Peter Batty, a veteran of 15 years Tibetan Buddhist meditation, explained: 'The only difference is that now I don't worry about my mind wandering.' Camilla Ker, the cook, was very enthusiastic about the blue- green algae. 'It has the perfect amino-acid profile,' she said, 'I have a different level of energy when I take it.'
Lunch was followed by an aromatherapy massage, which was said to release muscular tension and toxic waste in the connective tissue. 'People tend to store disappointment in their legs and anger in their shoulders,' said the masseuse, Anita Vince. 'I believe the body is like a diary. I can feel years of stored up tension.'
Wafting out into the scented hallway, I bumped into Camilla sporting a red bandana and diaphanous scarf skirt.
This was a clue: it was belly-dancing time. 'We usually do belly dancing in the fertile months of July and August,' said Jo Ridley. 'It's a very opening exercise.' Holding our veils aloft, we shimmied around the room, shaking our pelvises and practising peering expressively above the scarves. 'Let your limbs ripple,' instucted Jo, 'and your eyes express everything.'
Only the yoga and stuffed mushrooms remained. 'We don't practise any isms here,' said Fiona Arrigo, 'the idea is to find your own place and interact with as many things as possible.' Exhausted, we collected our cups of Serenity tea and stumbled to bed.
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