With the explosion of the #wellness movement, many of us are becoming increasingly curious about alternative therapies and preventative treatments as ways to improve our mental and physical wellbeing, and ultimately boost our longevity.
But wellness doesn’t come cheap. It’s become something associated with the elite, exclusively reserved to the few who can afford it. £1,000 tickets to the Goop wellness summit, anyone?
Not everyone in the capital wants self-care to come at such a cost, though. If you’re one of the people who can’t afford weekly massages, sound baths and reiki sessions (so most of us, then), fear not. A growing number of Londoners are on a mission to change that.
We spoke to some of the capital’s wellbeing practitioners who are determined to make wellness more accessible and are providing treatments to members of the community who otherwise couldn’t afford it.
Always wanted to try acupuncture? Multi-bed or community acupuncture clinics, whereby several patients are treated in the same room, is a good place to start. They offer treatments at a lower cost and the Association of Community and Multibed Acupuncture Clinics (ACMAC) keeps a database of clinics.
Caroline Simon hosts a multi-bed acupuncture clinic every Monday in Sydenham, South-East London, where she offers treatments on a sliding scale starting from £15, “I’m slightly obsessed with making acupuncture affordable,” she says. “If you don’t, there’s a whole group of people who will never try it.”
Simon treats clients struggling with a host of issues, from back pain to stress and anxiety, to people suffering from long-term conditions like MS, “It can perk them up and give them an energy boost,” she says.
“Older people and babies can respond very quickly to acupuncture, it’s quite profound,” she adds. Simon also treats menopausal women experiencing symptoms like hot flushes and pregnant women suffering from morning sickness, sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and says she has used the technique to turn breached babies.
Ear acupuncture for victims of trauma
Another area where acupuncture has been found to have benefits is as a non-verbal form of treating addictions and emotional trauma. Simon has joined a group of practitioners and acupuncturists led by Rachel Peckham to provide free treatments at NADA clinics to anyone affected by the Grenfell fire tragedy.
“NADA acupuncture is an auricular (ear) acupuncture treatment which helps to relieve symptoms of PTSD and anxiety and has been showing huge benefits for those who have been attending,” says Peckham who runs the two clinics at the Al Manaar Cultural Centre and The Space in Freston Road (both close to Grenfell Tower).
The NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) Protocol involves the insertion of up to five needles into certain acupuncture points in the ear that relate to the body’s internal organs, including the liver, kidney and lung, for around 40 minutes. It was founded by Dr Michael Smith, the former director of the Lincoln Recovery Centre in New York, and has since been used to treat victims of natural disasters and terrorist attacks, including some affected by 9/11.
“It’s a great option for people who aren’t ready to talk yet,” Simon says, adding that the most common response is a feeling of calm and improved sleep (she also offers the treatment at her community clinic for £5).
It’s practical too, Peckham points out, as it doesn’t require the removal of clothing and NADA practitioners can treat as many as 30 patients in a two-hour session.
The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) is in the middle of a big push to position the treatment alongside conventional medical treatments for certain conditions, particularly as an alternative treatment to pain.
Around four million acupuncture treatments are performed each year, according to the BacC. “More than 1,000 studies are carried out globally each year into the effectiveness of acupuncture, so evidence is emerging all the time to show that it is beneficial in many conditions,” Mark Bovey, head of research at the BAcC, said in a statement.
Like acupuncture, osteopathy, a manual therapy which sits in the same bracket as physio and chiropractic, is another area where practitioners are pushing to expand their reach to all members of the community. The technique involves hands-on manipulation of tissues to treat a range of conditions, including back and neck pain, arthritis, sports injuries and repetitive strains, as well as treating chronic pain.
Danny Orchard is the co-founder of Core (Centre for Osteopathic Research and Excellence) Clapton, a registered charity and wellness space in East London offering specialist treatments at reduced rates – the normal fee of £45 falls to a concessionary £20 to people on benefits, dependents of low-income families and students.
Having spent years working privately (both in a GP practice and in an investment bank), Orchard wanted to offer treatments to people in under-invested communities. “A lot of people put osteopathy in an alternative therapy, but we’re actually allied health professionals now, there are 14 of us, including physios, prosthetists and ambulance workers. We became one of those in 2017, so we’re far from alternative, we’re kind of mainstream now, but historically we were an unknown quantity.”
Core also puts on a calendar of affordable wellness classes, like sound baths, yoga, Pilates and Qi-gong, on a “pay-what-you-can” basis from £2 – £10, depending on someone’s ability to pay.
No long waiting lists
A big part of Core’s offering is preventative. “One of the things we’re trying to help prevent is acute pain becoming chronic,” he says. “The WHO recently said that back pain is the biggest cause of disability worldwide, above cancer and heart disease, and obviously the global cost is huge.”
“It’s about being able to see someone straight away, no waiting list, and it needs to be affordable and accessible.”
Knowledge, not pain killers
“There is a basic level of pain knowledge that everyone needs to have. It’s not just about pain equals damage, but it’s a complex interaction between what’s going on in your tissues and what’s going on in your brain, so we want to arm people with more knowledge rather than just prescribe pain killers.”
Part of the charity’s remit is to give more talks and outreach to people in the wellbeing world, including GPs, to communicate this message.
Manual therapists, like osteopaths but also physios and chiropractors, can help to bridge a gap for people who have been told to lose weight or start exercising by their GP, he says – something which can feel overwhelming or unachievable at the beginning. Ultimately, one of the charity’s main aims is to get osteopathy offered on the NHS and the team is currently working on building a database of research from the patients they see to support this.
As the self-care narrative shows little sign of slowing down, projects like these will go some way to ensuring that these aspects of wellness don’t only reach the privileged few. But we’re still a long way off the wellbeing world being as accessible and inclusive as it should be.