Tooting his own horn, wellness guru experiences sharp pain, which he shares
I am sitting in a bathtub full of hot water, soaking in 10 pounds of Epsom salt, reading supplement labels, sipping the thick and dark red juice of the Brazilian açai berry. This drink is so handsomely bottled and packaged it looks for all the world like I am swigging from a very fine French Bordeaux. All the while - and by "while" I mean 90-minute soaks twice a day for five days - I contemplate how I got here. And how the wellness movement got here.
My current circumstance has more irony than I am willing to admit, except to you. My back has gone out - again - but this time it's happened in the middle of a book tour. But not just any book tour. After the publication of my last book, "Buddha or Bust," I had joined the so-called wellness circuit, speaking at such events as the Sun Valley Wellness Festival in Ketchum, Idaho. Now I was touring luxury hotel spas - like Enchantment Resort's Mii amo Spa in Sedona, Arizona, tucked into a red rock canyon held sacred by native Americans since the time of Moses - giving talks I call "Buddha's Massage: The Ultimate Pampering of the Mind." In brief, I suggest that despite marketing verbiage touting the wellness movement's obeisance to the holy trilogy of body, mind and spirit, the burgeoning spa movement pays just a little too much attention to pampering the body but not enough to pampering the mind. My talk is a subversive way to infiltrate an increasingly hedonistic environment and drop in a few tips on how to stay "mindful" in the moment - whether on or off the table. This was the simplest, most non-sectarian of the Buddha's teachings: how to "awaken."
So, what did I do but fall completely asleep - go absolutely unconscious - with regard to my own body/mind. At the very least, my mind was not paying attention to - or as new age health care professionals so kindly put it, not "listening to" - my body. My lower back, the cause of so much recent personal disaster it may soon be eligible for FEMA relief, had over the last weeks raised its voice from a murmur of protest to a shout audible to anyone standing close to me. But did I listen? Nooooooo. I jogged up those red rocks like I was a teenager, I swam laps in the hotel pool as though I was competing in Olympic trials, I did sit-ups as if I could ever - ever - have a six-pack. This, after weeks on the road, sleeping in a different bed every third night, schlepping luggage through airports and then long flights in seats designed, I am certain, by sadists. By the time I reached the Montage, yet another five-star hotel and spa in Laguna Beach, California, I was waking up with that achy pain familiar to too many of my fellow bipeds. And may I take a moment right here to refute the ancient wisdom that misery loves company. Up to my chin in salty water, the only environment in which I could find some surcease of suffering, I found no solace whatsoever reading a Reader's Digest cover story reporting that eight in 10 Americans suffer back pain and that it's the number two cause of missed work. But the real awake-up call came reading what is tantamount to a life sentence in purgatory: "Yet, a cure for the common backache is as elusive as ever."
The morning of my talk, I first took a "Thalassic Beach Walk" with a Montage spa staff trainer who explained that those little waves breaking at my feet released oxygen bubbles that counterbalanced the mean old bad ions blanketing much of Southern California, if not the entire planet. I was willing to accept that - for the moment. At least it may explain why I - and mankind - seem drawn to ocean's edge (I live on this Island, so am living proof of the theory). Perhaps man- and woman-kind have a built-in self-adjusting negative ion balancing mechanism that has enabled us to outlast dinosaurs.
I suspended judgment about her theory and thought I was being a very good boy by joining her workout class that followed the walk. As a devotee of core trunk stabilization, I felt prepared for her advanced class called "More Than Core." I wasn't. In a pose even those with supple lumbars find challenging - balancing on one knee on an oversized beach ball, left arm extended forward, right leg extended back - I felt an all-too-familiar sensation in my right buttock muscle. Spasm! Crippling pain. Instantly, I knew I would have to cancel the rest of my tour and endure about a week of, well, exactly where I find myself, in a tub and incapacitated.
The legend of the açai berry begins in Belém (Portuguese for Bethlehem), the capital city of a northern Brazilian state covered mostly by Amazonian rainforest thick with thousands of varieties and species of living things. Belém itself has more than 2,000 species of plants and around 600 animals native to Amazonia.
I keep thinking about the Brazilians of Belém harvesting, crushing and imbibing their açai juice. I wonder if they are all healthy. I wonder if they and all Brazilians dose up before Carnival and that's why they can prance through the streets all night like a cadre of Energizer bunnies. If so, dose me up, baby.
And then I wonder what they would think if they could see me right now, sipping from this bottle of MonaVie açai berries, at $32 for 32 ounces thankyouverymuch, and then wrapping myself in a Montage terry cloth robe thick as their rainforests, luxuriously enwrapped in a five-star wellness bubble - yet still unwell.
Would they wonder, like me, how we have come so far but moved to little? Right then and there, I commit myself to Googling to find out more about Brazil's healing traditions. After my Grey Goose.
Perry Garfinkel, a former editor of the Calendar section of The Times, lives in West Tisbury. His tortured back willing, he will give his talk, "Buddha's Massage: The Ultimate Pampering of the Mind," at the Mansion House Inn & Spa on Friday, Oct. 12, at 5:30 pm. There is no charge.