Spa Junkie at… The Arrigo Programme

Our discombobulated reporter ditches the BlackBerry on a digital detox

Image: Getty Images. BackBerry

The challenge and criteria for my first retreat of 2013 is to go somewhere that does not require a plane and, breaking with tradition, a detox that’s less physical and more emotional.

I have decided to immerse myself in The Arrigo Programme, which a girlfriend has highly recommended. It prioritises the “three Rs” – reflection, relaxation and revitalisation – and aims to help with concerns including depression, exhaustion, addiction and chronic stress. The beauty of the Somerset-based programme – which you can do for a weekend, a week, or longer – is that clients hole up, solo, in a cottage and all the therapists, food and treatments come to them. This is a place to truly escape from stress.

I have booked to stay in a cottage alone for two days. A week beforehand I have a personal telephone consultation with the founder, Fiona Arrigo. She speaks to all clients before they arrive so that she can devise a customised programme of therapies. A psychotherapist with over 30 years’ experience, Fiona listens to me as I try to explain that my travel schedule means I have hardly slept in my own bed for two months, a state of events that has left me feeling discombobulated and has aggravated an existing poor sleep condition. I feel worn down by work demands and international timetables. Fiona is reassuring, and I am excited about my stay. I am also contacted by someone from her team to discuss my dietary requirements. The basic detox menu is wheat-, gluten-, dairy- and caffeine-free, with lots of organic vegetables and fish (although it can be customised).

Day 1

A week later, I am driving up a muddy track in Somerset, a couple of miles from Glastonbury, in the pouring rain.


Mill Barn at The Arrigo Programme 
Mill Barn at The Arrigo Programme 

I enter the small converted barn where I will be staying. It has flagstone floors, comfy sofas, a wood-burning stove and French doors overlooking a small river. There are candles and fresh flowers everywhere. A woman called Jady, who is to be my housekeeper, greets me. She explains that my supper is already in the fridge and will need heating up, and that she will be back at 8am the following morning to make me breakfast. I settle in. By the bath are large tubs of Epsom salts and by my bed is a pretty journal.


Fiona arrives for my first psychotherapy session; she’s glamorous, fun and compassionate. She questions me about my life, career, relationships and emotional and physical health.

Fiona suggests that I haven’t fully grieved for my father, who died when I was a teenager, and that this has impacted on my relationships. She explains that her aim is to give me the time and space to release old emotional stress patterns.

She also tells me that I am burnt out. “The 21st-century disease is depletion,” she says. “Women are multitaskers and the knock-on effect is adrenal exhaustion.” The issues that women face today, she says, result from “historical, genetic, emotional and mental pressures to live up to who we think we should be”. The purpose of the next few days will be to rebuild my strength. “You need rest, safety and a period of not worrying, so that you can collect enough ‘chi’,” she says. “It’s not about ‘pushing’ for things anymore; it is about ‘allowing’.”

We also discuss the modern-day disease of connectivity: although technology has allowed me to multitask on the go, Fiona says it is in control of me, as opposed to me of it. She explains that constantly “being on” is weakening my concentration, encouraging shallow thinking, reducing creativity, enhancing anxiety and causing stress. She feels it’s one of the core reasons for my insomnia. Yet despite the insights, I still have a digital itch: I twiddle my fingers as my acute hankering to check for the little red light mounts.



I am alone in my room, and for the first time in more years than I can remember, I have no connection to the outside world. There is no mobile phone signal and I am asked not to use a laptop, read newspapers or watch television – a complete digital detox. Here then, is the most challenging part of this programme for me, a BlackBerry addict: to truly disconnect. I eat my supper – grilled sea bass with chard – in silence in front of the fire. There is a stillness here that is eerie to a committed urbanite. I feel a slight panicky loneliness rise up.


Kalindi arrives to give me a two-hour massage. She slips into the cottage and sets up the table. It is one of the best, most intuitive massages I have ever had – a hybrid of Lomi Lomi and her own style. She kneads deep into my muscles, but it’s not quite as painful as a Swedish or sports massage can be. I spend most of it drifting in and out of sleep. Afterwards, she tells me that she is something of a body whisperer, who “speaks to the muscles and invites them to relax”. However New Agey it may sound, it seems to work. I feel almost comatose and collapse into bed, my body supple and slick with oil. Kalindi must have lit all the candles in my bedroom. I fall asleep to the sound of the river rushing outside.


I wake up and lie in silence on my bed staring at my now-redundant BlackBerry, yearning for the row of red lights and notifications flashing from the plethora of applications, BBMs, texts and emails that seem to validate my existence and are my lifeline to the outside world. My sleep afterwards is fitful and disrupted.


Spa Junkie may feel disconnected, depleted and dejected, but the New Age therapies ratchet up a notch on day two. Check back on Tuesday March 26.

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