BEIRUT: For some Lebanese, momentary stress relief comes in the form of a large metal tabbouleh bowl. That’s how Maan Hamzi described his Tibetan singing bowl, an age-old instrument used by Buddhist monks to meditate and pray. At his healing workshops, held occasionally at the Harmony center in Hamra, Maan takes a wooden rod and glides it along the rim to create a vibration that can last up to seven or eight minutes.
“The vibrations are the healing element,” Hamzi said. “We use them to heal emotionally or mentally. For some it brings up thoughts from childhood, some focus their attention on the parts of their life that need healing, when you start you can sometimes feel pain in the beginning.”
Hamzi’s singing bowls are just one of many alternative methods that Lebanon’s more curious peace-seekers are using to alleviate the constant stress of daily life, which in a country marred by economic woes, political stalemate and security crises can weigh heavily on people’s psyche. Yogis and other specialists teaching ways to channel peace said that many of their clients come after pills and doctors’ visits failed to heal them entirely.
“It’s all about regaining lost energy back – especially in Beirut,” Maan said.
Nancy Abdo is one such convert to alternative stress relief methods. She recently returned from abroad to start her own stress relief and empowerment group Stay Positive in Lebanon.
Abdo holds biweekly yoga sessions with a bit of a twist, as the classes are held on the seaside at the Riviera Hotel.
Her meditation sessions are a little kookier. One of Stay Positive’s classes is called Five Rhythms Dance, a meditation routine invented by American dancer Gabrielle Roth in the 1960s. It is less a dance class and more an open cue to shake the stress out through five types of movement, the last one being meditative stillness.
Five Rhythms Dance and Abdo’s active mediation sessions follow a similar strategy of creating a chaos of activity like shouting, gyrating, spinning and jumping until the body and mind are ready for peace, she said.
“You are always thinking so many things, the brain is so active and your energy is all over the place, so we dance or we shout, we express ourselves so that at the end we are in a meditative state,” she said.
These classes, whether Tibetan singing bowl or Five Rhythm Dance, are in many cases modern meditative practices influenced by ancient Eastern spiritual and medicinal practices. Local gurus are often globe-trotters that have brought back offbeat healing methods from abroad.
Abdo spent three years in Holland, Mexico and India getting various certifications and immersing herself in the different healing cultures before returning to Lebanon. And Hamzi, who lives a split life between Lebanon and the Gulf, handpicked his Tibetan singing bowl right at the source in Nepal.
“I travel a lot, and I measure the amount of stress and sort of the tension everywhere I go,” he said. “There is stress everywhere around the world, wherever you find people.
“They don’t sleep right, they don’t eat right, it’s affecting their lifestyle, the way they treat their family. In Lebanon, it’s so chaotic, it gets worse every time [I return].”
Over the past five years, the breadth of Beirut’s alternative healing offerings has expanded. Centers, online information platforms and organizations like Stay Positive in Lebanon have risen to fill what instructors called a growing interest in restorative activities.
Beirutis can find quirky, feel-good activities like Laughing Yoga, a recent trend that fuses stretching and forced laughing; group hypnosis; and classes built around the country’s natural settings, such as meditation aboard a sailboat and mountainside yoga.
Houna Center in Hamra, for example, was founded around seven years ago and offers meditation and yoga classes as well as martial arts such as the Brazilian dance fighting Capoeira. Another center, Soul Spa in Verdun, offers sporadic classes to channel inner peace, such as so-called breathing circles, primordial sounds meditation, motivation group sessions and hypno-birthing.
Mona Rifai Khalaf runs Harmony, a holistic center in Hamra that’s been around since 2006 and where Hamzi sometimes offers Tibetan singing bowl sessions.
Khalaf teaches things like Reiki, a Japanese healing technique, and said she’s the only certified teacher in Lebanon for Quantum Touch, another holistic healing technique.
Khalaf tried to explain the basis and draw of holistic healing. Whether Reiki, Quantum Touch or other meditative activities, Khalaf said, the practices target the root of the stress and anxiety by teaching people how to increase positive thoughts.
“Everything starts in the mind. Our thoughts not only affect our physical body, emotions come from the thoughts. For example, when you focus on something positive you get a positive feeling,” Khalaf said. “This is how you we can start to take control. When you change your thoughts you change your life.”
Khalaf, who also offers private sessions as a life coach, said these kinds of stress-relief classes cannot changed people’s pasts ... which often play a large role in stress – but they can change the way a person thinks about that past.
Harmony’s clientele range from children to senior citizens, many of which hear about her classes by word of mouth, Khalaf said. Many of her older clients came to her after going to a psychiatrist and receiving medical treatment for their stress or physical ailments, but were dissatisfied.
Though she was not against medication in all cases, Khalaf said she believed pills only treat the physical, leaving the mental and emotional aspects of stress and general unhappiness unexplored. Since she started working in Lebanon, Harmony has seen an increase in open-mindedness and interest, though strong religious views sometimes still deter people from exploring Eastern-inspired holistic treatments, she said.
As instability continues to rule here, the instructors said they were not surprised more people were searching for control and release.
“There’s a lot of stress in this country,” Hamzi said. “We’re in a situation of political turmoil, absolutely this is one of many methods that people should embrace.”
Harmony center is located in the Estral Building in Hamra and can be reached at 01-755-667. Stay Postive in Lebanon holds several classes a week at the Riviera Hotel and can be reached at 03-372-345. Houna Center in Hamra can be reached at 03-676-285; and Soul Spa can be reached at 01-353-286.