There are certain treatments that can be sought in observance of key festivals and religious holidays – a chocolate facial at Easter, a cinnamon hair mask at Christmas and a chemical peel at Halloween.
In the Chinese calendar, entire years can be significant, and as we have now come into the Dragon, the year of my birth, I have decided that I’m going on the hunt for a culturally relevant beauty treatment to mark the occasion. It was either that or tucking into a plate of dumplings at Mr Chow.
The Langham, Europe’s first Grand Hotel, is a wonderful bastion of old-school five-star charm that has found itself in the heart of London’s fast and cheap retail universe. Situated just north of Oxford Circus, where Topshop and Nike Town loudly dominate the landscape, The Langham stands firm in a part of the city that lost some of its allure a long while ago.
It is also home to the first Chuan Spa in Europe; and if friends are to be believed, the spa’s newly imported Chuan Signature Yu facial is one of the most wonderful in town. The facial incorporates jade, the most significant healing gemstone in Chinese culture, and uses the traditional system of meridian cleansing.
“Our philosophy is steeped in the values of traditional Chinese medicine [TCM], which is almost 3,000 years in the making,” my therapist explains as he walks me down the steps to the treatment rooms. “These healing theories are based on the study of the physiological and pathological relationships of the body; they centre on the belief that the human body comprises two opposing yet mutually dependent halves – Yin and Yang – which we try to cultivate and balance through a vast range of therapies that all focus the Qi [vital energy].”
The spa itself, which was voted Best for Interior Design in the 2011 SpaFinder awards, is quite lovely. Within a few minutes, I am in an oasis of Zen-ness, taking in the tranquil surroundings while sipping a soothing cup of element tea in the relaxation area, which has been designed to gently nurture your Qi, Jing (life force) and Shen (mind and spirit).
After an introduction to the spa, with the obligatory questionnaire completed, my soft-spoken and age-defying therapist, Zoe, leads me to the treatment room. As I settle on the bed in my sumptuous robe, she explains the use of jade stones and their historical significance.
“The history of jade is as long as Chinese civilisation itself, in which it’s been widely used as a healing stone. The Chinese have been known to wear jade, eat it, suck on it and even be buried with it. In the Chuan Signature Yu facial treatment, we use it to stimulate and massage facial acupuncture points with the ancient Gua Sha technique, which involves repeated pressured strokes. It’s one of China’s traditional national therapies, used by Chinese-medicine doctors to relieve blocked meridians, and helps to heal and restore the skin to achieve a fully rejuvenated look.”
And here I was thinking jade just looked pretty around my neck.
We start with a short breathing ritual to aid relaxation, before she uses a range of Thalgo products for a full hydrating facial. I love Thalgo; my skin always reacts very well to it and I’m thrilled that it’s used here. After the facial, which includes a cleanse, tone, exfoliation, moisturisation, shoulder and neck massage, and deeply nourishing face mask, Zoe gets to work with the jade stones.
The benefits of Gua Sha include detoxification and toning. Gua means scraping, or rubbing; Sha means a reddish skin rash. Initially, Gua Sha was used to treat the balance of heat or cold inside the body, and rheumatic pain in the elderly. It was further refined, and Jing Luo (meridian) Gua Sha was developed; it’s since become a method of diagnosis and treatment for blocked meridians by TCM doctors.
There are two jade-stone instruments. The first is shaped like a ballpoint pen, and is primarily rolled around the eyes to release toxins and reduce puffiness; the second is shaped a bit like a knuckle-duster, and is used more widely across the face in a gentle sweeping motion. Each stroke is about 6in long and goes along the meridians. Zoe does it very lightly, so there is only a minor amount of redness. The stone is smooth and warm and it feels like it’s melting into my deeply moisturised skin. It’s all-round heavenly; I don’t know if this is due to the tranquillity of the environment or the jade stone itself, but I find myself in a state of deep relaxation.
Zoe finishes with auricular therapy to help stimulate my internal organs. This is a form of ear acupuncture based on the belief that the ear is a micro-system of the entire body. She firmly applies three small balls (covered with tiny, flesh-coloured plasters, to keep them in place) to key areas of my ear in order to help regulate my digestive tract – an effort to continue the detoxification process following the treatment. She tells me that this method supposedly also helps to reduce appetite and aids weight loss. My drowsy eyes light up; I ask if she can put them in both ears to increase my odds.
I float off the table and venture into the main part of the spa, which features a sauna and steam rooms, swimming pool and state-of-the-art gym. I spend an hour lolling on a warm tiled bed by the sauna before it’s time to reluctantly de-robe and head back out into the buzz of the West End.
My skin feels nourished and I feel wonderfully relaxed; so does this mean my Yin and Yang balance is restored? I’m not sure, but with a dose of ancient China coursing along my meridians I barely notice the crowds of neon adolescents thronging the entrance to Topshop – so job done.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Chuan Spa combines a modern five-star spa experience with traditional Chinese treatments. I loved the use of the jade stones and felt both cleansed and serene after the treatment. In addition to the spa’s signature treatments, the services of a fully qualified TCM practitioner are offered for private consultations, and specialist TCM therapies, including acupuncture and Ho Guan (cupping), are available. It’s a welcome addition to the London spa scene.
Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, treatments and accommodation.