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Letting go (a bit) at a 5Rhythms orgy of ecstasy

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It’s been a while since I said anything positive about a new age activity (to wit there has been positivity about tai chi, healing, singing about angels and, to my eternal shame, thetahealing), but despite my innate fear of new age men, turns out I rather enjoy 5Rhythms movement meditation.

5Rhythms originated in the 1970s and uses tenets of shamanistic, ecstatic, mystical and eastern philosophy – although to the uninitiated it looks like flailing around to music. There are now three different weekly events in Melbourne alone. Today there are around 150 of us, on a fire-hazardly hot day at Abbotsford Convent.

A DJ is spinning languorous ambient music, causing one woman to roll around on the floor, showing her knickers. Others wave their arms around like trees in the wind. We’ll be doing this – to varying BPMs – for the next few hours.

First things first, I get as far away from my cohort Esther as possible (“no touching, please – we’re British,” she mutters) and plonk myself in the corner.

Ten minutes in, I’m still grimacing at ground level. At some point I’ll have to get off the floor, upon which I am trailing the odd limb, and get jiggy with it. The BPMs are rising, and in response, people are running around the room like aeroplanes or bucking their hips wildly, as though reenacting the voodoo sequences in Live and Let Die.

I get up and get stuck in, and after some initial dying inside, I find I’m completely forgetting myself – and pulling awesome shamanistic dance moves, hitherto unseen. Cop THIS, fire twirlers. I sneak a peak at Esther. One minute she’s interpretative prancing through the air with her frock sailing behind her, the next she’s raving to an internal munt0-mix, happy as Larry.

An hour goes by. I love this. I’m secretly dying for someone to gasp of my chops: “You mean to say you’ve had no formal training?” However, I can’t quite lose the “Get fucked, seriously” attitude whenever someone comes whirling dervishing into my space. Especially new age men. They’re creepy, aren’t they? They really are. Just don’t make eye contact – that’s my advice.

One shirtless man with an unruly beard and orange fisherman’s pants curls up in the foetal position on the floor. Another man drifts over to him in a non-threatening manner and slowly reaches out a hand to touch his shoulder. They remain in this chilling tableau for many minutes.

The BPM rises some more. There is clapping. Some people tumble on each other like acrobats. They embrace. Women have, by and large, tucked their dresses into their knickers and are rolling their eyeballs around their sockets. One woman curls into a ball and a man wraps himself around her like a limpet. I try and meet Esther’s eyes so I can mimic a dry heave – I must – but she’s on another fucking plane. Another couple touch each other’s fingers and won’t stop staring into each other’s eyes and kissing. “Feeeeeeeel it” a disembodied voice shrieks over tribal drums. We’re feeling it, we’re feeling it; if only in the form of flashbacks. In fact, as Esther notes later, this seems to be an old ravers’ home, for those who have long since blown a fuse.

My interest starts to wane 90 minutes in and I go and gaze out of the window. The mix falters between tracks and I can hear everyone groaning, like we’re in some soft porn flick.

As we sit in a massive circle afterwards, in various states of undress, I draw one knee towards me to stop it touching the skin of the new age man next to me*. The facilitator is telling us about a mid-week class called “relating on the dance floor”, in which, reading between the lines, we learn to touch each other and dance at the same time.

“You should do that,” torments Esther in a whisper.

Still, for someone whose contribution at warehouse raves in the 90s was chain-smoking and scribbling down illegible horrible thoughts on cigarette packets, this devil-may-care dancing is a remarkable achievement. I’m going back in; god help me.

* This is fair enough, as a friend told me afterwards a mate of hers goes along to these shindigs purely to pick up new age chicks who are helpless to resist a shirtless man dancing to the divine force.

Tai chi: calming for me; rage-inducing for commuters

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“Ridicule is nothing to be scared of,” said Adam Ant, who should know.

I’m in an extremely central Melbourne precinct with 10 softly-spoken pensioners in sweatshirts, pants and gloves, repulsing the monkey.

And a strange thing happens. Gentle, gentle, I’m feeling so gentle. I’m so used to bowling over pedestrians and skewering my hipbones on the edges of desks, I didn’t know I could feel like this. It’s as though I’m pushing and sculpting treacle instead of air. Warm, lovin’ treacle. I look over at my friend Lou and she’s similarly entranced.

Tai chi is an internal martial art that translates as ‘great extremes boxing’ (it involves ‘yielding and sticking’ to an incoming attack. Maybe this limpet-like tactic repels the attacker into shaking you off). Stay serious, reader – I’m working muscles I never even knew I had as I form magical tigers, snakes and storks with my body, and there’s not an ounce of fat, nor orthopedic shoe, on any of these elderly athletes.

We’re in the middle of a complex leg balancing sequence to a watery Mandarin rendition of Irene Cara’s ‘What A Feeling’ when some huffing bronco in a suit ploughs through the middle of us, scattering old people in his wake. Luckily, I have achieved great mental clarity, so I don’t mind.

Other commuters may smirk, but I know they’re jealous. I’m starting the day parting the wild horse’s mane and they’re … well … they’re not. Definitely going to do this lots. Feel all smooshy.


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It started innocently enough

“Write about my story and you will become famous,” beams Maria. I meet this soft little babushka in a Byron Bay backstreet, where she beckons frantically when I threaten to walk past her fragrant shop front.

As she administers a vigorous back massage, Maria tells me the condensed story of her life: she grew up in Russia, became very sick with radiation poisoning after the Chernobyl disaster, but completely healed herself. “My blood – all clear.”

When she learns I want to stop smoking, she becomes gleeful. “Oh! Then we’ll use ThetaHealing™,” she enthuses. “More expensive but you have already paid now. Lucky. Turn over!”

“I’ve got a live one here,” I chuckle to myself, rolling onto my back. I mentally kiss goodbye to eighty bucks worth of relaxation and prep my mind to simultaneously take notes and be in the moment.

ThetaHealing™ cures cancer, etc

So far as smoking goes, it turns out I couldn’t be in better hands, because ThetaHealing™ purports to both rewire genetic behaviour and cure cancer. Head to the official website, set up by ThetaHealing™ inventor Vianna Stibal, and you’ll find explanations like:

We believe by changing your brain wave cycle to include the ‘Theta’ state, you can actually watch the Creator Of All That Is create instantaneous physical and emotional healing


ThetaHealing™ can be most easily described as an attainable miracle for your life. ThetaHealing™ is also best known for the 7 Planes of Existence; a concept to connect to the Highest Level of Love and Energy of All That Is

Under Vianna’s guidance, a newb practitioner can expect to work with guides and guardian angels, balance seratonin and noradrenaline levels, and pull heavy metals and radiation out of the cells.

That’s Vianna.

I don’t know any of this yet though, as I’ve just come in for a gloopy massage, which is now off the cards. But I like Maria, and I’m happy to see what she pulls out of the hat.

With warm hands, Maria cups my heels and tugs gently on them every few minutes. This is nice enough, and it’s raining, so I’ve got nothing better to do.

“Now I’m going to look at your DNA,” she says, or something. I’m confused – particularly as Maria has a lovely thick purr of an accent – but some Googling later totally clears things up. Maria is “activating the 12 strands of DNA. The chronos, or youth and vitality chromosome is activated, the telomeres are strengthened to reverse the aging process, and students experience an opening to the Unconditional Love of the Creator.”

Back to me on the table

Maria pulls up a stool so she can peer into my face. She explains that a person absorbs their parents’ fears and neuroses while still amoebic, and thus needs to be genetically separated from them.

While asking me questions about my family, she applies her fingers to acupressure points on my feet. At first it hurts, but after a series of stroking of the side of my hands and feet, and some inaudible incantations intended to fill me with unconditional love (ending in “it is done, it is done, it is done”), the discomfort wears off.

Maria questions what I most dislike about each parent; information I feel funny about giving up, lying here on my back with a stranger poised to perform a genetic separation manoeuvre. She tells me I mustn’t take responsibility for them, nor anybody else, nor judge them, nor believe their behaviour will determine mine. It’s fairly standard therapy speak; only therapists don’t stimulate your pineal gland at the same time.

“It is your life’s mission to be happy,” she says. “No, it’s not selfish – you need to give yourself unconditional love, or nobody else will be happy.”

I’m asked to make a ring shape with my forefinger and thumb. Then she loops her own finger and thumb through it, makes a statement, and tries to break my grip: “I am worthless” (you’ll always get this; it’s any therapist’s favourite), “I am special” “I am just like my father” “I cannot give up cigarettes” she intones, and asks me to repeat each one. If her fingers easily break through mine, I apparently believe this statement to be true. If I hold the circle, bully for me.

“It’s not hypnosis,” she corrects me as I offer my opinion, “it’s kinesiology.”

Oh bugger. The first and last time I had kinesiology, the therapist took to my childhood with a pickaxe while waving crystals and sloshing Bach Flower Remedies around, made me converse with my 10-year-old self, and plunged me into such lethargic depression that I went home and split up with my husband. But I digress.

Now, the funny business

You’ll scoff in disgust at this point, but it has to be said. Our session ends without fanfare, as Maria takes a call on her mobile and I wander out having a bit of a private titter. But as I walk away, towards the sea, I feel insanely, incredibly good. I feel like a mass of buzzing energy that’s greater than my physical form. If you’ve ever accidentally partaken in a snifter of ketamine, you’ll be familiar with that fuzzy sense of expansion. I’m smiling like a loon and there’s a tremendous sense of well-being. You can’t buy good feeling like that any more; not in Australia anyway.

It’s incredible, but short-lived. My phone beeps. Don’t look at your phone, don’t look at your phone, I think. But I do, and I immediately zero into its little world, to its mewling demand for attachment and its drip-feed of stimulation. The expansive feeling wears off, and with that, drug injustice™ sweeps in. (Drug injustice: the keening, self-pitying sense of being ripped off when something isn’t quite enough any more. Sounds like a silent, anguished howl.)

I don’t know how that shimmering loveliness happened, if it was me or Maria, or a form of meditation, or a sudden warm front blowing in. The conclusion I’m heading towards is: I don’t care, as long as it feels good. Which funnily enough has always been my philosophy in life anyway.

File under: I don’t know what you did, but just keep doing it.

Or: If this is the placebo effect, sign me up for more placebos forthwith.


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“I don’t know what I do for a living,” shrugs Mark. “People ask me and I say, ‘I make people cry. Sometimes they fall asleep.’”

I’m back in Byron Bay, the Most Spiritual Town in Australia, back where I started my Snake Oil Skeptic quest. I’ve bought some Aphrodite Herb Tea, Maca Inca Superfood Powder, worn a floaty frock, followed the sound of steel drums and talked rubbish to the local ne’er-do-wells while staring out to sea, but really I’m here to see the healer from day one.

So far all my experiences with healers and psychics have left me with nothing but flaring nostrils and clenched fists – all except for Mark. There’s definitely something going on with him. I shit you not, when I look into his eyes I feel a bit hypnotised, like the rest of the room disappears. I’m hoping he can give me some pointers on how to become more open to spiritual experiences while accepting none of the rhetoric. I’ve felt like I’ve had a spiritual side since I was a kid without all that; I’ve felt it buzz and pulse and hum. And then abandon ship at around puberty.

“I just can’t get past chakras,” I say, as Mark sits across from me and bores his eyes pleasantly into my head. “So they’re everywhere spinning in the body… but where’s the shred of evidence? Can I get anywhere without accepting chakras as a basic foundation upon which to build?”

“I’m not interested in chakras,” Mark says. “I just know what I can see and feel; I can’t explain it and I don’t want to study it. It was drummed out of me as a child, because I grew up in a very scientific family. Then, when I reached my thirties I tried studying healing under two egotistical healers and it was a terrible experience.”

He asks if I’ve read any Eckhart Tolle. “I’ve been carrying around The Power of Now for ages,” I admit, “but I can’t bring myself to read it.” Especially in public.

“Your ego mind won’t let you,” Mark says. “But the ego mind is just a construction. Imagine it as a voice sitting on your shoulder, trying to tell you what to do. You are not your mind, you are a higher self.”

“I would call that ‘higher self’ my unconscious mind,” I challenge. And that goes for angels, higher powers, spirit guides, coming across weird ‘signs’ and ‘miracles’, and much other new age phenomena. Unconscious mind.

“Yeah, whatever you want to call it,” he says (touché!). “Just try not to intellectualise spirituality. You’re spiritual already; your ego mind just doesn’t want you to be because it wants to be in control. People study spirituality as hard as possible and think they should be here, when they’re here.” He moves his hand along an imaginary scale. “You get people wandering around Byron who look spiritual, but they’re not – they’re terrible people.”

Before I hop on the table, Mark checks out my energy by staring at the wall a few metres away.

“It’s all over the place,” he says.

“You’re not even looking.”

“I don’t have to look right at you, I can see it anywhere. I can see it remotely, around someone in another town. You’re throwing energy out but not letting any in. It’s important to forgive yourself for things. And you’re floating a metre above the ground. It’s important to stay grounded and draw up energy from the ground.”

I’m probably on the table for about 40 minutes, with Mark moving his hands around about six inches over my body. I’ve had this done loads of times in the name of journalism and felt nothing but intense irritation. When Mark does it I bounce like I’m floating on a lilo in the sun, a pina colada in one hand. There’s a subtle sense of being pulled upwards, but more noticeable are the ripples pulsing down my body from my head, finally streaming out of my feet. It’s not an Icke-style awakening, but it’s something.

I swing my legs off the table and Mark looks into my eyes. “Wow. That’s beautiful,” he swoons of my newly arranged energy, in a totally non-pervey way. I think everybody – new ager or skeptic – is secretly waiting for someone to tell them they have a stunning aura, so I’m pleased by this.

Questions I wanted to ask but didn’t, for fear of hearing vague answers that would prompt more questions:

  • Can you mess with someone’s energy as they’re walking down the street without them knowing?
  • Are the spirit guides aliens from the star system Alpha Draconis?
  • Why did they give us critical minds?
  • Why does Universal energy need human vessels?
  • If we’re made up of a higher self and ego mind, which one does the libido belong to?

Healing my embittered soul with song

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Over the years I’ve learned not to trust people who say “close your eyes and open your mouth”, but today at the joyful voice workshop I’m assured I’m in a safe environment.

This one-day course aims to help you heal yourself (your soul, rather than your gout) by the power of your own voice. Sometimes I’ll dream I’m singing, and it’s the most beautiful sound I ever heard. Something pure and unspoilt from years ago… You know… before the music DIED.

Anyway, in waking hours I’m in possession of a plaintive squawk with a blatant disregard for consonants, and my friend Esther is terrified of singing in public despite ordinarily being a gobshite, but with some gentle coaching (“gentle” is the operative word today), healer Chris gets all 15 of us here sounding like human panpipes.

After about an hour of cooing “ooooooooooooh” my head’s vibrating like I’m on a cheap pill, and this pulsing sensation starts travelling down my spine until all my cells expand and I feel like I’m going to fall over.

As soon as we’re all duly hypnotised, Chris whips out a synth and starts playing songs about angels and butterflies in minor keys. Eventually I feel a tear plop out down my cheek. This is supposed to happen.

“Was that just you feeling sorry for yourself, though?” Esther asks during snack break. I knew I shouldn’t have filled her in on the previous few days’ unbloggables. I persist that there’s something undeniably restorative about singing, especially when you’ve a tendency to hammer yourself into the ground. I mean, maybe some regular joyful song about angels’ wings could be the long sought-after antidote to drugs and booze.

“You might want to take up cutting,” Esther says. “Or bulimia.”

After the break we’re told to pair up with a complete stranger, take both their hands, stand about 2mm apart, and drone at each other until we’re both resonating like a bell and pulling off harmonics. This should be hideously excruciating, eyeball to eyeball as we are, but it’s just one of those rare situations where there’s no room for self-consciousness. And hey – everyone’s had the curry dip and poppadoms.

Next step is to become a human theremin, with one person leading – dipping and warbling over octaves and making bizarro shapes with their mouths. The other person, intuitively, is just a split second behind them. Third step, we mirror each other’s freaky arm waves while doing all the above. Fourth step, hugs.

After lunch and a giant coffee, I find my patience is tested. “I bet Chris comments on the coffee,” Esther says as we tromp back in with our haul – and certainly he does. He attests that the power of gentle breathin’ and lovin’ allows people to quit all sorts of substances cold turkey though, so we may as well have this last hurrah.

With another two hours of ultra-vague discussion about good vibes and negative energy, and lots of head-buzzy sing-songs around the synth, I find I’m fighting waves of violence, while Esther later admits she was muttering the serenity prayer to make it through.

“Why is it that people think spirituality always has to involve angels and butterflies?” she tuts as we sprint off to the car afterwards. “What’s wrong with being a human being?”

Keeper? Adapting to such in-your-face intimacy was quite an eye-opener, and I did like the singing as a way of, um – ugh – getting in touch with yourself. I was banned from singing sweet hymns in the car as a child (ask me for my rendition of Give Me Oil In My Lamp), but no one can stop me now.

The Vagus Nerve Vs. Invisible Padlocks

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All through the airport I had a face like a smacked arse. I could feel my features growing pinchy and tight as I shifted through the food court, the sort of face that elicits a “cheer up, darling, it might never happen”; that in turns elicits a spirited “fuck off”.

I felt like I’d been stabbed, but it was just your bog standard heartbreak and disappointment. From the airport I’d outrun it.

An aside, as we mope past McDonalds: do you know why sorrow feels like being stabbed in the heart? It’s the vagus nerve, which travels from the limbic system in the skull, to the chest. The limbic system, that most reptilian and primeval of zones, from which our every base urge and unconscious thought materialises, is also known as the emotional brain. Agitation of the vagus nerve during emotional upheaval causes a sudden drop in blood pressure and heart rate, and inflicts pain.

From the chest, the vagus nerve continues to the gut, which Dr Michael Gershon, chairman of the department of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia University, hypothesises is our second brain, complete with neuroreceptors. Perhaps one day we’ll even book the gut in to see a psychiatrist, one of Gershon’s peers suggests. The gut transmits stress signals back up the vagus nerve to the heart. Double whammy.

How long’s this going to last for? I wondered. I could go on a bender and spin it out for a year, but instead I’d do a runner.

The size of your amygdala determines how fearful/impulsive you are. The pineal gland is also known as the third eye.

Byron Bay lies on magical ley lines. I’ll get on to ley lines another day, so for now just take my word for it. My hotel room had views of broiling skies and self-satisfied palm trees. Drawing the curtains, I hunched over my computer, tippety-tapped meanly and smoked.

Later that afternoon, I tore myself away to have a dunk in the sea. I swam with big silver fish in clear waters and then booked in for a massage so relaxing I started to hallucinate. Part of the package was a session with a healer, Mark. This was the first time I’d gone for a new age treatment without the caveat of an article to hide behind. Our history teacher at school once told the class that the superstitions of people dying of the plague in the Middle Ages – like cuddling hens and rubbing human faeces on buboes – may seem ridiculous now, and they probably did then, too, but when you’re desperate you’ll try anything. That was my reasoning when handing over my money. That and: when in Rome.

Mark took a seat and looked at me. He had a very empathetic face, useful in a job like his. I thought about what to say. I wasn’t about to drearily flutter my hands and emote over a boy – how very predictable.

“I keep spacking out and losing my temper,” I told him, which is also true. My computer is regularly sprayed with spittle and threatened with punishment; it should be taken away from me by DoCS. “The rage is always there, just under the surface.”

Mark said a number of kind things. “Everything you’ve ever done, no matter what you think of it, has served a purpose,” was one of them. He decided against a psychic reading, in favour of healing. I lay down as he made plucking motions with his hands. “I can see all sorts of protective layers you’ve put over your heart,” he said, still plucking. “Some of them are tissue thin, some of them are heavy padlocks.” I drifted off, feeling like I was floating in the fetal position, breathing easily in golden fluid and bubbles.

“Be careful crossing the road,” Mark said as he waved me off. That was a month ago and I haven’t felt a blade in my heart since.

Conclusion: Mark calms my vagus nerve better than I do. I’m saving up to see him, next disaster.