The Lowry Hotel’s so peaceful it’s a surprise to discover you’re only a short stroll from the city centre via a bridge over the River Irwell. Its glass-and-steel structure has been part of Manchester’s buzzy hotel scene for more than a decade and, while the five-star’s spa has long been a little oasis, it’s rarely made headlines until now.
RE:TREAT's had big bucks investment and is looking super zen with plenty of blonde wood, floaty curtains and a wall of plants. However it’s the range of new treatments that have got northern (and beyond) spa-goers interested, including a meditation pod, sensory deprivation tank and chryotherapy chamber, dubbed the ‘The Holy Trinity of Hollywood treatments’ due to all the A-listers they attract.
Tell me more about the meditation pod….
Well, it’s like a large, futuristic white egg/spaceship that opens in the middle to reveal a comfy padded chair. Created by Somadome, it’s worth more than £20,000, is the world’s first technology-enabled meditation pod and there are only a couple of spas in the country offering the treatment (Re Place in London’s Notting Hill and another at Avalon Wellbeing Centre in the Yorkshire Dales), so is quite a coup for The Lowry.
The science behind it combines colour therapy and sound therapy (binaural beats) to access varying stages of consciousness and there are also magnets in the base of the dome to unblock harmful frequencies plus a crystal strip along the spine to activate the body’s seven main chakra points.
Okaaay. So what’s it like inside?
I took a seat inside and my therapist showed me which buttons to press so I could select a tailor-made 20-minute meditation session. I chose ‘Manifest’ and pink illumination, popped on a pair of headphones and sat back as the capsule lid closed until I was sitting in a fully-enclosed egg with only my slippered-feet sticking out. So far, so comedy.
Despite appearances it didn’t feel claustrophobic, partly because there’s quite a large space at the bottom and the roof is way above my head, also I’d been told to close my eyes and lie back, which I didn’t need telling twice.
The next 20 minutes was an extraordinary journey, where I began by feeling slightly annoyed at the American woman’s voice continually talking in my ears through to a sort of soporific stupor where words seem to slide seamlessly in and out of my mind, such as ‘power’ and ‘capable’, which I barely noticed. I also didn’t register any light changes. When the lid was lifted, I’d genuinely forgotten that I was in a spa in Manchester.
If you struggle with meditation normally, the fact this is guided throughout is a key factor because it constantly brings your mind back to the present - I didn’t suffer from thoughts like what to have for dinner, which I have in meditation at the end of my regular yoga class. I felt calm, happy and a little disorientated as I left the pod, and also secretly wished I could buy one.
And the sensory deprivation tank?
Next up the Isopod flotation tank, also new to The Lowry Hotel and a very different vibe. Tucked away in its own low-lit room, it looked slightly sinister, very futuristic and my session lasted an hour (though you can book a 30-minute treatment).
The science behind this high-tech capsule is that when your body is deprived of gravity, touch, sight and sound you’re no longer using huge amounts of physical and mental energy so are able to fully switch off and conserve it.
I changed into a swimming costume, put in the ear plugs provided, stepped into the tank and lay down, then my therapist shut the lid, assuring me she’d be back to check on me. Despite being considerably bigger than the egg, it actually felt more claustrophobic. Dark and womb-like inside, the water was warm and I lay back, closed my eyes and tried to switch off.
The feeling of floating, buoyed by the incredibly salty water (you’re advised to cover any cuts for obvious reasons), is at first pretty amazing - like when you get in the ocean on the first day of holiday, stare up at the sky and feel your worries float away. However after (who knows how many?) minutes, my neck started to ache which confused me, wasn’t this meant to be incredibly calming and relaxing?
It was then I realised I hadn’t been fully letting go at all, I’d actually been craning my neck. A couple of deep breaths later and I finally managed to release all my muscles and the back of my head was fully immersed. Only then did start to feel some real benefits. At one point I was so out of it and disorientated my head bumped into the side of the tank and I was brought back to reality with a jolt. Weird memories popped up during the session, also multi-coloured lights and a feeling of tiredness then tranquillity.
By the end I couldn’t remember if I’d been in there for a few minutes or a day, but I guess that’s the whole point - freed from the constraints of everyday living, your body can simply bliss out and concentrate on other stuff.
Best of the rest
The Cryotherapy Chamber was booked out when I visited, but I’ve tried this treatment before and can vouch for the benefits of stepping into a -110˚C chamber for a couple of minutes, boosting everything from your skin to your mood.
There’s more to RE:TREAT than space-age looking facilities though, with a Technogym and plenty traditional treatments, like massages and manicures from decent brands like GAIA and Grown Alchemist. I booked an Elemis glow brilliance facial, which left my skin noticeably plumper and more radiant, to the extent that when I went to dinner in the hotel’s River Restaurant, the only coverage I felt I needed on my face was a dab of concealer.
I loved that, despite this being a city centre hotel rather than Champneys, I could still pad out of the spa and head in a robe back to my room, a cocooning, welcoming space more comfy luxury than stark minimalist - junior suites have dreamy sofa seats so you can gaze at the river below, the presidential suite has a piano!
More river views available at the sceney restaurant, where the menu’s loaded with delicious dishes, I ordered healthy beetroot salad, whipped goat cheese, walnuts, orange and watercress and pan fried halibut - though I couldn’t resist ordering a side of parmesan fries too.
Best of all, magnificent Manchester’s right on your doorstep, so be sure to leave at least a morning to wander round the shops and discover new places like House of Books & Friends, where you can browse the shelves and treat yourself to a coffee.
I’d like to try a different programme in the meditation pod, in fact I’d like to invest in one. As a mum of two boys, 20-minutes listening to calming affirmations in a pod that nobody can break into and ask me where their PE kit is, is worth every penny. I can see this being attractive to local city workers, as you could easily fit a session into your lunch hour and return to the office calmer.
Need to know
Twenty-minute meditation pod session, £35; 30-minute flotation tank session from £35; rooms from £139pn.
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