These days, hunched backs, double chins and strained necks are common sights during our daily commutes. Just look around you: almost everyone has their necks craned down and faces glued to their screens. The situation isn’t helped either when the majority of Hong Kong works office jobs where most of our time is spent at a desk.
Enter The Mandarin Spa’s latest fix for stressed city executives: the Digital Wellness Escape spa treatment, dedicated to tired souls who wish to break away from their unhealthy attachment to their devices.
Instead of whisking yourself away to a phone-free retreat for a few days, the digital detox session condenses it all into a 90-minute treatment. It turns out, digital detox is a whole lot more than just prying your smartphone from your hands, but also about massaging strained muscles and redirecting focus from scattered attention spans free of electronic distractions.
For my trial of the new service, I signed in at The Mandarin Spa’s reception, where the receptionist promptly asked for my phone. “We’ll clean it before the treatment,” she told me. I hesitated to part with my device, partly due to separation anxiety, but also partly ashamed at the patches of makeup and grubby finger marks that I knew were inevitably on my phone. I acquiesced, and sat down to sip my welcome tea and slip on a pair of rubber slides. Thinking I wouldn’t see my phone until after my treatment, I was surprised to see it quickly returned to me, spotlessly wiped down, and wrapped in a Mandarin Oriental phone protector case — black and opaque, so you had to untie it to check your messages. An attached card instructed me to try and keep my phone in the lockers during the spa service, and gave a few tips and tricks on continuing the digital detox at home, such as by avoiding using my phone before bed, or disabling push notifications.
I duly put my phone away in the lockers and changed into robes, following my therapist Angel into one of the spa’s spacious couple suites: a warmly lit room adorned in the hotel’s signature timeless, comfortable elegance with subtle touches of Chinoiserie.
Once I was seated, I was introduced to a curious buffet of what looked like children’s toys. For this digital escape session, the goal was to switch off from our daily screen overload and introduce good old tactile distractions instead to exercise the mind, Angel told me. Before me were tubs of colourful Playdoh, a Rubik’s cube, pick-up sticks, a metal chain puzzle, and a curious maze cube with a sprinkling of silver balls inside that I couldn’t quite figure out. I was also given the chance to do some meditative colouring. Or, if none of the toys tickled my fancy, I could create my own face mask by following one of three recipes using an array of edible ingredients, and it would be applied on me during the massage afterward.
Instead of the usual brisk foot bath you get ahead of a spa treatment, the session began with a 15-minute foot steam. I was met with a tall wooden steaming barrel — the kind that’s increasingly popular these days at local foot massage parlours, and which covers you up to the knees. Fitted with a pebbled footrest, I could roll the soles of my feet for a light massage while the steam helped me sweat and bring circulation back to puffy, stagnant legs from sitting all day. Meanwhile, I dove into a Rubik’s Cube, scrambling it and successfully solving the first layer of white tiles, before I diverted my attention to the homemade mask recipe station. I’ve always believed in the meditative power of cooking, and I enjoyed unwinding by mixing cacao powder, coffee, yogurt and other delicious ingredients for a ‘De-puffing Mocha Mask’ — though I wondered about the legitimacy of using such a mask against all the premium (and undoubtedly more potent) skincare brands The Mandarin Spa has access to.
I got so engrossed into my Rubik’s Cube that Angel came back into the room already — when I was already supposed to be lying down on the treatment bed — and ushered me to start the treatment.
Using Bloom, a relaxing house-blended massage oil made up of rose, neroli and ylang ylang essences, Angel started straight from the bottom of my spine, just above my behind, and pressed down — a soothing zap of relaxation shot up my spine, and releasing tension I honestly didn’t know I had. Working around the sciatic nerve area just in the buttocks, she worked at melting away the stress accumulated from stiff seated positions, perfect for people who spend too long in front of a computer.
Angel moved her way up my back to the shoulders, taking her time to slowly knead away knots, stretching away muscle tightness and pressing acupressure points before stopping at my fingertips. Feeling relaxed and slightly dazed, I was then told to turn on my back so that my therapist could clean my face and paint on the handmade mocha mask (I smelled a light chocolatey aroma). While the mask was allowed to sit, Angel pressed and massaged my feet, concentrating on my heels where I felt particularly sweet release, since I had a history of soreness there from overdoing it when I walk and jog.
With the richness of the yogurt-based mask, my skin emerged clean, hydrated and bright, though I have to say results weren’t astounding compared to other specialist spa facials I’ve tried. But that’s not the focus here.
At the end of the 90 minutes, I made peace with myself to keep my phone in its black case without that familiar feeling of anxiety to check Instagram or my messages. Instead, I only think back wistfully at my unfinished Rubik’s Cube. And if there was an opportunity to complete a full-body massage with more attention paid to the lower legs, this would be my ultimate spa getaway. With a targeted approach to loosening the muscles that suffer the most stress and tiredness from an electronically-dependent lifestyle, the Digital Wellness Escape is a revelatory, albeit bite-sized, breakaway from a busy cosmopolitan week.
The Digital Wellness Escape is priced at HK$1,750 on weekdays and HK$1,980 on weekends. The Mandarin Spa, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, 5 Connaught Road Central, Hong Kong, +852 2825 4888, firstname.lastname@example.org