MONTECRISTO

Finding Alternative Wellness in Vancouver

Although Vancouver is known for its commitment to finding Zen, the stresses of daily life make it difficult to continuously practice what we preach.

The notion of self-care is hard to define for many. At the end of the day, we often forget about the little things that feed our souls. Although Vancouver is portrayed on the world stage as incredibly relaxed, most city dwellers are living their lives in the fast lane. So why not slow things down? A day at the spa will always do the trick, but there are other ways to pursue wellness. Vancouver is brimming with alternative havens for you to escape to when your body and mind need that extra tender loving care.

Vive Wellness

Vivien Hsiung loves storytelling. But unlike most, her work involves doing so through acupuncture. For Hsiung, Traditional Chinese Medicine is a way to connect with our bodies and explore the stories and happenings within us. “Let’s understand your story. Let’s piece together what’s happening for you,” she says. “You can’t divorce the emotional from the physical.”

Vive Wellness sparks immediate bliss. The space is bright, filled with natural light and large tropical plants, and has the charm expected of any space in Gastown, with plenty of red brick and wood. Hsiung, a registered acupuncturist who was led to explore forms of alternative medicine after a bad car accident, explains acupuncture as a series circuit: “If one of the fuses goes, the whole things goes out. A whole host of series don’t light up anymore.” When a nerve is stimulated during acupuncture, an area in the brain opens up and begins to work again.

This isn’t a regular acupuncture appointment. Initial visits begin with a documentation of patient history, chronic patterns, and diet, and a review of injuries. She then performs a pulse reading, asking what in life feels out of balance.

The needles are applied gently with very little discomfort or shock. When they are in, the muscles begin to warm and relax, with bottled-up tension slowly fading away. Left under a warm light for a few minutes, the stimulated body begins the healing process. Next, Hsiung may focus on the lymphatic system using cupping therapy. This is important for moving toxins out of the body, stretching rather than closing lymphatic vessels in the process.

When cups are popped off, one last treatment is available to boost low energy levels: a vitamin shot. Injected near the lower back, the customized treatment delivers a dose of vitamins and minerals to cleanse the liver and combat fatigue and anxiety.

Hsiung helps with more than just pain management. She digs to find what is really happening inside your system, and nourishes a healthy conversation between body, mind, and soul.

Sky Studio

On the rainiest of Vancouver days, Sky Studio is a ray of light—literally. The boutique offers advanced light meditation, a surreal journey using a device called the Lucia N°03. “It’s a spiritual connecting tool, one that opens us up to our highest consciousness,” Tina Averback, a light practitioner and a 25-year veteran in the health and wellness industry, says of the neurostimulator, which activates the brain’s pineal gland and cleanses it. This gland is frequently referred to as the “third eye,” giving way to the interdependency between consciousness, brain waves, and hormone production. When the body is given white light, electrical activity in the brain changes, allowing for a transcendental experience that is usually seen only under extreme conditions.

Averback is the distributor of the Lucia N°03 light in Canada (she used to operate in the West End but has now relocated to Gastown’s Zenden). She begins by personalizing the light program, taking clients through three journeys: tune in, turn on, and drop out. Each is operated at different speeds and intensities, and Averback finds the one each person is most comfortable exploring. Headphones cradle the ears and play tranquil music; tucked in with a blanket, eyes are closed. The light begins to strobe and flicker, operating in different degrees of brightness.

“How do they know where you go when you open your third eye?” Averback asks. “No one has control over it. The only one to have control is you.”

It is a visual adventure that leads to a world of colours, shapes, and visions. For 25 minutes, witness hues never imagined, places never been. At one point for this writer, there was a floating sensation, as if arms were rising up to the sky.

Moment Meditation

Inside downtown Vancouver’s Dominion Building, a sanctuary awaits. This is a good time to take a moment—this is Moment Meditation. Described as a meditation club, Moment’s goal is to make mindfulness more accessible.

Bright white walls are patterned with thriving green plants and a circle of cozy grey chairs. In a Get Happy mediation, Anita Cheung (who co-founded Moment with Hiroko Demichelis and Evian Macmillan) leads the practice. She offers warm tea to start, and then hands around a small clipboard with a piece of paper on it. Everyone writes down his or her name and then together the group creates an acrostic poem, using the letters to express things to be grateful for, big or small.

After a few minutes with eyes closed, Cheung gently supports the room with words of affirmation, directing each person to focus on what creates happiness.

Feelosophy

Among friends chatting over avocado toast, a small group gathers in Turf’s studio space in Kitsilano, away from the noise of the adjoining cafe. Mats are laid out, with a blanket ready to be unfolded for warmth. A single candle flickers along with the soft music.

“It’s okay to slow down.” Although it may sound simple, these words, spoken by Feelosophy founder Ashley Brodeur, are powerful. In Vancouver, she says, we’ve convinced ourselves that the only value of programmed fitness is to feel the excruciating effects after a high-intensity class. To combat that, and the burnout many of us experience from the stresses of daily life, Brodeur developed Feelosophy, a combination of restorative yoga, touch, and music. “People aren’t touched enough,” she says over the phone from Toronto, where she is leading some Feelosophy pop-up classes (she is relocating there as well).

This particular Turf Feelosophy class is taught by Ashley Viel and begins with a question: “What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?” Instead of going to your mat and focusing on yourself only, Feelosophy concentrates on the energy of the room. Music with lyrics plays softly, which is important, Brodeur notes, because unlike tranquil sounds that are often played in yoga classes, words have the ability to touch us and connect us to experiences.

Throughout the practice, Viel moves from person to person, conducting hands-on adjustments in the legs, arms, hips, and shoulders. A head massage is also performed, using soothing oils that are drawn along the temples and through the scalp. As class nears its end, wrap up in a blanket to keep the body warm for the final resting pose. This is one yoga class that will give all the feels.

Pure Float

Floatation therapy is a fast-growing trend, allowing minds to sink into a deep form of meditation. Before entering the water, Pure Float in downtown Vancouver offers a unique kind of relaxation called NeuroSpa. To release tension before the float, the urban sanctuary recommends 30 minutes to synchronize the mind and body through the power of sound. Sitting on a lounge chair and covered with a blanket, customers are engulfed in a pod that plays music and acoustic vibrations.

Then it’s time to get in the water. Within each private space is a shower, complete with a pre- and post-float shampoo and soap. At seven feet tall, eight feet long, and four feet wide, the actual float tank is surprisingly beautiful: dazzling light replicating the constellations of the night sky are on the ceiling, and indigo lights illuminate the 11 inches of water. Floating can be done in silence or with music; one press of a button can either play tranquil sounds or the likes of Elton John (there are speakers under the water, and earplugs to keep water from getting in). Next, choose between floating in complete darkness or in the light of the constellations.

Infused with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt, the water is so buoyant that bodies float, as if in the Dead Sea. The experience may take time to adjust to, but once relaxed, senses of sight, smell, and touch begin to fade away. Floating helps relieve stress, anxiety, and depression, which is part of why owner Coy Broderick opened Pure Float; you leave floating on a high.

The Practice Studio

For Jackie Lede, something was missing. She had a strong connection to fitness and nutrition, but no matter where she got to in her practice, she wasn’t satisfied. “What was missing was: I wasn’t taking care of everything else in my life. I was only focusing on the physical,” she says. All areas of life are connected, which is why Lede became a life coach and launched The Practice Studio.

More than just the average fitness facility, The Practice Studio is a place where Vancouverites can build a whole lifestyle plan. Called the Whole Life Program, the unique 12-month guide (also offered in three- to six-month spans) helps map out everything we should be doing to achieve a healthy mind, body, and spirit.

“We look at your entire life,” Lede says from an office overlooking the Seawall in the West End. “We lay it out, every single category that takes up your life: finances, career, family, friends, travel, hobbies. We really assess where you are and where you want to go.” The year-long program includes 48 personal training sessions, 48 Life Design coaching sessions, 24 nutrition consultations, 12 months of unlimited classes, one initial body composition scan, and one exit body composition scan. With trainers, nutritionists, and life coaches, the studio works on all the pieces of daily life.

“I really just wanted someone to take me in their hands and just give me a plan of what I should be doing,” Lede says. “I wanted to create something with all classes in one space, and somewhere that offered the nutrition, the mindfulness, and the coaching piece that is missing in our industry. So I did.”

Vancouver Cryotherapy

“It’s nowhere near as bad as people think,” Jaipaul Dhaliwal says, standing in front of Vancouver Cryotherapy’s futuristic chamber located inside Gastown’s Float House (another float therapy studio). “Compared to a cold shower or an ice bath, this is much easier to do.” Images of LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Conor McGregor may come to mind: these high-performance athletes have been practicing cryotherapy (cryo being the Latin word for cold) for years now, as this machine provides one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory treatments. “This reawakens and takes advantage of those cold protective mechanisms,” Dhaliwal says. “It’s really your body doing the work, not the machine.”

Before entering the negative-165 degrees Celsius chamber, you are asked to strip to your undergarments and put on socks and wool gloves (toes and fingers have the least circulation and need to be protected in the cold). The machine then erupts in a nitrogen cloud. Organs, muscles, joints, and skin cells begin to repair and detoxify. Neurotransmitters are released during the process, allowing for mental clarity and boosted energy. Unlike an ice-cold shower, cryotherapy is tolerable. There is no sudden shock of freezing water and no moisture in the air. You’ll definitely have the shivers, but the whole experience is liberating, and lasts just three minutes.

After the session, feel endorphins and norepinephrine rush through the body. For the next eight hours, you can burn up to 800 calories as your metabolic rate soars. “Your body is responding to the cold by saying, ‘Okay, we need these calories, we can’t use muscle because we’re using it to shiver or do physical activities to warm up. What else is laying around? Fat.’” Many step into the cryosauna to assist with weight loss and may also discover beauty benefits, as the treatment can increase collagen production and fight cellulite. As Dhaliwal puts it, cryotherapy is a “positive stress” for the body.

SKN Clinic

At SKN Clinic in Yaletown, wellness is all about approaching the skin in a holistic way. Owner Amanda Beisel created the space to combine powers of traditional Chinese and eastern medicine with forward-thinking skin nutrition.

One of the clinic’s most popular transformative treatments is the HydraFacial, which targets acne, firmness, texture, dullness, dehydration, congestion, and hyperpigmentation. Getting patients in and out in 30 minutes, the HydraFacial begins with a deep cleanse and exfoliation, which removes dead skins cells on the surface. The face’s lymphatic system is then drained of toxins, allowing for cell turnover to begin. Next is a gentle acid peel to loosen pores in order for the extraction phase to clean out the skin using a suction tool. Finally, to nourish, antioxidants are used to assist with neutralizing free radical damage, preventing fine lines, and enhancing protein building blocks.

At the end of the treatment, the practitioner drains the HydraFacial machine to show what was pulled out of the pores. It is amazing to see what we have built up so deeply within the skin—a reminder that while facials feel luxurious, they can also be incredibly beneficial.

HealthOut

Training smart: it’s a mentality often forgotten when pushing ourselves to the limit during a workout. In the fitness industry today, there is often more harm than good in high-intensity workouts and flexibility classes that tell us to do push harder or faster or farther. And that’s why Ryan Oughtred set out to bring health back to basics.

In October 2017, the licensed naturopathic doctor launched HealthOut, a downtown gym that is anything but typical. Only three workouts are offered at HealthOut: Mobilize, Stabilize, and Energize. Mobilize, a class focused on joint mobility, flexibility, and posture, is perfect for anyone who is looking to bounce back from an injury or who has trouble performing simple daily tasks, like bending to pick something up. Attending Stabilize will assist with coordination and strength, while Energize promotes cardiorespiratory energy.

As Oughtred puts it, HealthOut is like a pharmacy: patients come to the clinic after a health professional has prescribed them a workout to meet both short and long-term fitness goals. Oughtred will then perform an assessment to diagnose which areas of the body need to be worked on in order to achieve flexibility, stability, strength, and overall health.

Wellness is subjective; it is not a one-trick pony, and not one-size-fits-all. It can be hard to make time for ourselves, but our bodies and minds always thank us when we do.


Find your health and wellness groove.