Sweet steams are made of this

There is a first time for everything. I just hadn’t realised quite how many firsts I could squeeze into one visit to Austria. For a start, I have never previously been there. (I am rather taken with Austria. There is lots of room, there aren’t many people, the topography is glorious, and I am told – for, of course, I saw precious little of it – the food is excellent.)

During my 10 days at the Lanserhof clinic I whiled away some of the endless food-free hours watching, for the first time, the Olympics in German. I am not sure that I shall be doing this again but it has been an education. Austrian TV’s coverage selection was eclectic, if predictable - thus while I was watching the Austrian women’s beach volleyball team lose to China, everyone else was glued to Andy Murray.

The Lanserhof practises Mayr medicine, after the late Dr F.X. Mayr (1875-1965), and this was my first encounter with the regime which, in a nutshell, entails cleaning out one’s system and starting again. But I had taken the very difficult decision this year to invest in myself, and my stay at the Lanserhof is how I chose to do that. I say difficult, because personally I find spending time and money on myself inherently selfish, and feel uncomfortable with the concept, let alone the actuality.

To abandon my business and my family for 10 days to go and eat toast seems like a massive indulgence. But I have come to realise that investing in oneself is not an indulgence, it is a necessity. It can even be thought of as an investment for both family and business, because if it results in improved productivity and longevity, then everyone benefits.

This is a debate that I know many couples have. I even know of one wife who persuaded her husband to pay her waxing bill from their joint account, on the basis that he benefited just as much as her. Interesting.

Not much time for waxing in Austria, and, anyway, I have done that before. No, as I embraced the self-investment principle I encountered lots of things for the first time. In the interests of my family, friends and colleagues I tried lymphatic drainage (although how they could find a lymph node under all the fat beats me); allowed myself to be scrubbed with sea salt; had suction cups adhered to my body; submitted to being painted with three different types of seaweed and then wrapped in muslin and steamed like a vegetable.

I sat in so many baths with colour-changing underwater LED lighting that I can recite the sequence (white-green-black-blue-yellow-orange-red-pink). I was also wrapped from the waist down in freezing wet bandages. Three times. On each occasion I got left like that for 20 minutes – the first time I felt too ill to care, the second time I was bored out of my brain and, finally, I smuggled in my phone and called up my Ducal Girlfriend.

Then there is the whole Kneipp therapy experience, which German-speaking people claim is the answer to everything from the common cold onwards. What is it with these Austrians that they like plunging their limbs into hot and cold water to improve the circulation? All over the woods where I walked and ran, and on the mountain trail I hiked, were Kneipp installations provided by the local council, presumably to keep their public healthcare bills down. The clinic, of course, had what I can only describe as a Kneipp+ facility, where after soaking my feet and calves in 39C water, I then had to walk like a stork around a cold plunge pool, lifting each foot up out of the water. This is not dignified.

So, how was the return on investment? Just before I checked out, I learnt that my blood pressure is a delight and that I have lost 3.6kg. I feel totally rested and full of energy. My new hero is Dr Georg Kettenhuber, who managed my care; doubtless he will now be recovering. I am sold on self-investment. It might have been my first foray in that arena, but it won’t be the last.


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