It’s 3 o’clock on a Friday and I am lying on my back in a plywood-clad room in Shepherd’s Bush. At my side kneels an avuncular Australian by the name of Duran Mack. He is applying slow but steady pressure to various points around my diaphragm. He pushes harder into my stomach. It is nearing unbearable at times. “Is that too much?,” he asks. “No it’s fine,” I lie.
It is, on the whole though, extremely relaxing, slightly soperific, and part of an increasingly popular treatment for stress in the capital. As a city we certainly need any help we can get. According to the London Mayor’s office 914,300 people of working age feel the effects of anxiety and depression every day. It is a state familiar to anyone who takes the Central line at rush hour or who maps out their days by the endless round of deadening meetings that come, free of charge, with our overbearing bosses.
London has a stress problem. Duran and his father Andy have set themselves the task of calming us all down. If they’re anything to go by it must work. I have never seen smilier men in the my life. “Personally, I haven’t been depressed or sad or angry or felt any emotion like that since 2010,” says Andy. They exude the good life, and have a preternatural calm that I can’t help but envy.
Dissolve Therapy focusses on eradicating lumps of stress, the tensions and torsions we build up in our body in day to day life.
Their method is innovative, and no-nonsense. It is also something quite new and specific to London. I turns the airy-fairy notion of destressing on its head. As Duran says, “I have no time for bullshit”. And for that matter, neither do I. I am a cynic of the world. After a period of illness and level of stress that could fairly be described as stratospheric, I am willing to try anything.
The Macks’ practise is known as Dissolving Stress Therapy. The treatment focusses on eradicating lumps of stress, the tensions and torsions we build up in our body in day to day life. The Macks thesis is that most - if not all - tension of this is stored around the belly. To deal with that they use a mixture of meditation, breath work and visualisation.
“So if you have tension in your shoulder, you close your eyes, you think about your shoulder and you zoom in on the tension that’s there. And then the mind goes, ah, that tension is not actually real. I’m just holding it without reason,” says Andy.
The Dissolve treatment is derived from ancient Eastern practises, that Andy Mack studied while living in Thailand and on the Gold Coast of Australia where he was under the tutelage of Adam Mizner, a 7th generation Yang style Tai Chi Chuan teacher.
We have conditioned ourselves to be closed books, full of pain and stress, which causes the body to physically freeze up.
Mack spent 30 years studying martial arts, meditation, and bone setting. He contends that our bodies are full of blockages, be they emotional or physical. The goal is to unwind those knots and in doing so set us on a path to a better state of mental and physical wellbeing.
As Mack explains it, we have conditioned ourselves to be closed books, full of pain and stress, which causes the body to physically freeze up. What that leads to is everything from depression, to burn out, sexual dysfunction, and unenviable sleep patterns.
The key is to open those long-closed pages and ease those long-built up torsions. “When you release, you’re releasing so deep within yourself that all this shit you’ve been holding on to forever melts away. And you find this freedom. You forget about your problems,” says Andy.
Working from a purpose-built wellness centre at the side of a church in West London, they have successfully treated a galaxy of stars –ranging from royalty, rockstars, rappers and unfortunately injured members of the England rugby team. And now me.
When I arrive at the Millers Way Project in W6 I find a place that is more Kyoto than She Bu. It is quiet, serene, and the few people I encounter there move with a grace and smiliness which is almost shocking after a fifty-minute trek on the tube.
Millers Way was a lockdown project created by Chloe Ogden, an acupuncturist who studied in Shanghai and Taipei and who is committed to treating the dysfunction of her fellow Londoners in a way that traditional medicine perhaps cannot. Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and “alternative” western techniques are at the heart of the place. It serves as the headquarters of the Mack duo.
Guests at the centre are asked to remove their shoes as they arrive. Water is proffered; pleasantries are exchanged, and already the stress seems to seep through the soles of my socks, which, shamefully, I soon realise have a hole in them. But no matter, my hosts politely ignore that little ignominy.
Duran, who seems almost unfairly healthy, leads me downstairs to a treatment room of exceptional size and comfort. Japanese style curtains shield me from the harsh sun that has left me half-drenched in sweat walking from the station. “If you could just lie down on your back on the bed in the middle of the room,” he says. Inevitably, I lie on my front. With a kindly laugh he corrects me. And then the treatment begins.
He starts by feeling around my abdomen for points of tension. He soon finds them. “Breathe in,” he says. And with each light breath he applies increasing pressure. It is a strange sensation at first. But his reassuring demeanour and kindliness soon makes me totally comfortable.
The pressure of his hand steadily increases. “That’s good,” he says, as he works on all the knots that I’ve built up. The scepticism I might have felt before I arrived is exhaled with each breath. An hour passes like a wink of an eye. I fear in the last ten minutes that I nodded off, so comfortable was I. I hope I didn’t subject him to the snoring which my partner so often complains about. I probably did though.
When we are finished and I am back in the world of the living I feel a sense of softness, my shoulders no longer set for action, my chest no longer a tangle of anxiety. “Go outside, take a walk, enjoy the day, and let your body relax,” he says.
I like to think of myself as stoic and cynical, but I leave that place in Shepherd’s Bush feeling lighter than air. It’s the best Friday afternoon I’ve had in a while.