I tried Synaesthesia, the 80 minute massage designed to ‘leave you a changed person’
It was intense
“I struggled to walk and speak in the following hours of the massage. Nothing was going on between the ears. Lights were on, but not only was nobody home, they’d long left the country.”
This is what one customer said after his £120 treatment from Lush Spa, Synaesthesia. The massage tries to emulate synaesthesia, the neurological condition in which the stimulation of one sense triggers an automatic, involuntary experience in another sense. Synesthetes experience a different reality, smelling tastes, seeing sounds and tasting noises.
The 80 minute multi-sensory massage uses sound, touch, taste and visuals and claims to “change your outlook on the world, leaving you a changed person”. According to staff, it’s so powerful people often see images or burst into tears and online reviews say customers are “swept away into another world.”
Clearly the feedback sounds absolutely mental, but can 80 minutes of sounds, strokes, colours and smells really make you feel that different? I had to find out for myself, so booked myself in for the spas signature treatment.
After reading reviews of people crying, seeing visions and struggling to speak, I felt quite nervous. I had a horrible hangover and my senses were way too fragile to be “stimulated.” But as soon as I walked into the spa I felt calm and despite being on the shop floor of their busy Oxford Street branch, it was deadly silent. I was greeted by my therapist. She wore silver glitter on her eyelids and spoke in soothing, hushed tones. She told me about the treatment. With the help of a behavioural therapist, the treatment was created by two people who actually have synaesthesia: Lush MD Mark Constantine and Simon Emmerson of The Imagined Village, who created the soundtrack.
There was a chalkboard on the wall covered with words, she asked me to pick one that “jumped to me” the most. This choice would govern the main part of my experience, and would be the influence behind the scents used in the treatment room. I then did the same thing with a series of multicoloured glass jars.
The treatment room was warm, dark and quiet. Lit with a pink glow, bird songs were playing and jars of scented oils bubbled and blew smoke. “The massage movements are choreographed to the music so you will be the centre of a physical ballet,” says my therapist, the idea being to influence your subconscious in order to to change your behaviour.
She left the room while I undressed and I rang a little bell once I was ready for her to come back. Knowing I’d be writing this article I found it hard to switch off during the massage, focussing too much on what I should be feeling like. But by twenty minutes I felt more relaxed and comfortable than I’d been in years. I was in that state where you’re half asleep but still aware of your surroundings, something I later learnt is referred to by psychologists as hypnagogia. In this transitional state from wakefulness to sleep, people can experience dream-like visions and strange sensory occurrences. This explains the visions and sensations from customer reviews, basically created from being really, really relaxed.
80 minutes flew by. By the time it finished I was so relaxed I stayed lying on the heated bed for at least fifteen minutes. Nothing particular went through my head, I was really aware of my body and I felt warm and fuzzy. My hangover had vanished, and despite not sleeping well the night before I felt like I’d just woken up from a 12 hour sleep.
The treatment finished with a cup of tea made using the same oils from your massage, then I was sent back into reality. Walking back into the swarms of Oxford Street was overwhelming, walking fast to dodge grumpy shoppers felt unnatural and it took me a while to find my bus stop. But that night I slept like a baby.
Did the experience leave me a “changed person”? It wasn’t drastic, but I definitely came out calmer, more clearer-headed and content than I’d been for a while. While I didn’t experience the intense visions or hallucinations customers described, I had a warm-fuzzy lightness and a heightened awareness of my body. I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed not to see bright colourful images or burst into tears, but it was a treatment I already want to experience again.