Could something as simple as a sound soothe pain? Or Chinese massage ease a baby’s colic? Can crystals really be a stress-buster? Meet the women who say these treatments are the perfect tonic...
A fun celebration of wellness and alternative health treatments is expected to draw crowds to the Titanic Quarter next month, when Northern Ireland stages its first ever Tonic Festival.
One of the largest gatherings of complementary therapies and health shows ever to be held here, it aims to get kids, families and people of all ages participating in fun new ways to improve their wellbeing.
The festival will feature highly qualified therapists and both complementary and traditional consultants from across the spectrum, with the ultimate aim of allowing visitors to rebalance their lives.
Tonic is the brainchild of local businesswoman Tessa Greer, who turned her own life around at the age of 40 after years of “neglecting” her wellbeing while running a busy company.
Tessa was working 18 hour days, eating on the hoof and taking no time to herself when she says she became “burnt out”.
She was also being treated for a tumour on her pituitary gland, which was playing havoc with her hormones, while trying to maintain a relentless working pace.
“I just got up one morning and couldn’t function, it was like my brain had frozen and I knew I had to make some lifestyle changes,” says Tessa.
That was three years ago and after launching what she called ‘Project Me’ to get back to some quality living, she has gone on to open Northern Ireland’s first Sound Healing Spa.
She has transformed the quality of her own life through alternative therapies and is passionate about bringing their many benefits to others, which is why she is staging the Tonic Festival.
Tessa (43) is from Bangor and her husband Neil (42) works as a sound engineer. They have one son Daryl (23).
In 2003 she set up the highly successful Beat ‘n’ Track Music Education Centre, specialising in the areas of sound, music and personal development.
Tessa provided music workshops to people in community settings, as well as running charity and music events to bring people together through music.
Ten years ago she was diagnosed with a tumour on her pituitary gland, which is being managed with medication, but its symptoms combined with her hectic lifestyle eventually caught up with her.
“With Beat ‘n’ Track I had a team of people working with me but I still did a lot of the work myself instead of delegating and, in fact, work took over so much that I forgot about myself,” Tessa adds.
“It was inevitable that something would give and it was my health, so I knew I needed to make changes. I had just turned 40, so I set up what I called ‘Project Me’ which was a vision board of all the things I really wanted to do in my life, such as sound healing and dancing, and other things I had enjoyed, which I had forgotten about.
“Three years later, looking at my board, I have done most of what is on there.
“The journey I have been through and the things I have accessed over the years to improve my own wellbeing have given me the idea for the festival, as I believe that people don’t realise what is available to help improve their health.
“I wanted it to be a festival, as opposed to a health fair with just stalls, so that people could experience wellbeing in a fun environment.
“From my own experience I know that in today's busy world, it's important to take time and focus on the things that are essential in life - looking after your mind, body and soul.
"We want to provide people with choices to help make decisions on how they can feel great."
The festival will have different zones, with therapy tents, a creativity section, arts and crafts, a kids' area, play therapy, a healthy eating area and much more. Visitors will be able to take part in numerous workshops and talks as well as meditation, yoga, dancing and many other therapies.
Tessa points out: "The kids' area is about getting the whole family involved, so that wellbeing isn't just down to mum or dad taking responsibility, but will hopefully also show kids the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and make them want to get involved too."
These days Tessa's own life is dedicated to helping others improve their wellbeing and reduce stress through the Sound Healing Spa, delivering a range of sessions to individuals and groups, as well providing it as a relaxation zone during festivals and events.
"I use my voice and different instruments to produce vibrations which work with the body's own natural vibrations to bring areas of the body back into balance again," she says.
"Every organ in the body has its own vibration which it will resonate at to be in a healthy state.
"For a number of reasons, that can be altered and disease and illness can set in and the organ won't function properly.
"During the sound healing, the organ automatically picks up the vibrations and draws it into the body, helping to get it back into a healthy state.
"People tell me they feel automatic relaxation as they become immersed in the sound and some people feel pain lifting immediately. It is also really good for stress and people say it gives them real clarity of mind."
Fiona Jennings (60), from Lisburn, was a senior manager in the health service when she retrained six years ago as a complementary therapist, opening her own clinic, Acupuncture and Tuina, on the Lisburn Road in Belfast.
Tuina is a very effective form of Chinese medical massage treatment which is still relatively unknown in the West, especially in Northern Ireland.
It is used in hospitals in China to treat a range of conditions and Fiona trained for five years to perfect the art, including working for two weeks alongside consultants in a hospital in China.
Her teacher was trained by the therapist who famously vowed to make Yohan Blake the fastest man on earth through Tuina massage, and to treat a hamstring injury which made him miss the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Fiona has treated a range of conditions including a six-week-old baby for colic and a child with autism. Her oldest client is 91.
“It is such an effective treatment and yet it is still quite unknown here. It is a bit like a sports massage and is used for lots of things, from sports injuries to frozen shoulder and sciatica, as well as stress, anxiety, insomnia and fertility issues,” she says.
“I’ve been doing Tai Chi for over 20 years now and trained in acupuncture, but felt that I needed to offer something more. I had been in China and experienced Tuina for myself and felt how good it was and how energised it made me feel.
“I found a really good teacher in Dublin and the more I studied it, the more I realised the depth to it and how much it could treat. I’ve found that it helps people to heal more quickly and it is also very relaxing and people enjoy it.” It was because of the stress of her own job and the pressures building up within the health service that Fiona started to do Tai Chi as a way of relaxing.
She found it so helpful that she became interested in Chinese medicine and decided to train in acupuncture, eventually leaving her job to set up as a therapist.
“I’ve never regretted it and I do feel that I am doing a lot of good with people and getting results, it is such satisfying work,” Fiona adds. “I think the National Health Service is wonderful, but at times it is difficult to access and also limited in what it can do and that’s where complimentary therapy can make such a difference.”
With her Tuina she has helped people with a whole range of health issues. Her youngest client was a six-week-old baby suffering from colic. As well as treating the baby, who enjoyed instant relief, Fiona trained the parents in what to do, so that they could continue to help their son at home.
Fiona also treated a young boy who suffered aggressive outburst as a result of autism.
She recalls: “He actually bit my ear the first time he came in. He has had a few sessions and now he asks his parents to do it for him at home and they have been amazed at how much it has helped him.”
Sharon Bingham (55), from Glengormley, runs Rainbow Therapies, a complementary clinic that specialises in helping to rebalance an individual’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs through the use of crystal therapy, flower therapy, Bach Flower Therapy, Metratron Colour Therapy and her own unique Rainbow Therapy.
She is also trained in herbal remedies.
Her mission statement is to empower a person to take responsibility for their own health.
Sharon, who is married to Mervyn (57), an electrician, has three daughters, Joanna (30), Amanda (27) and Victoria (24).
She became interested in complementary therapy after the birth of her first child.
“When Joanna was born, I started looking at alternative things because I didn’t always want to be reaching for the medicine cabinet and it has progressed from there over the past 30 years,” she says.
“I first became a crystal practitioner, but in Northern Ireland it was a bit ‘out there’ for people and they didn’t really know what I was doing with the crystals.
“I started then to work with flower essences and studied my level one, two and three qualifications, and I am now qualified at practitioner level. “I’ve also introduced the Metratron Colour aura sprays and now I use whatever I think the person needs and would benefit from most.”
Her service is based on the ancient Indian belief that our body is made up of seven Chakras, which are energy centres which function to vitalise the physical body.
They are associated with physical, mental and emotional interactions.
Through her therapy, Sharon can identify if one of these energy points is out of balance and help to restore it.
She says: “Our bodies are so good at telling us what is going on, but we don’t understand how to read them.
“I can help people to look at what their body is telling them and suggest things they can do on a daily basis to help.
“Depending on what colour or what crystal a person picks, it suggests to me what part of the body needs attention.
“For instance, the rose quartz crystal will be drawn to the part of your body that deals with your emotions and anything that is getting you down — just holding it can make you feel safe.
“It is great for children who have nightmares and you can put it under their pillow or beside their bed and they will feel safer.”
All of Sharon’s therapies are designed to promote physical and emotional well-being and she treats people for a range of symptoms, as well as for stress, insomnia and even addiction.
She adds: “People come to me for all sorts of reasons and I want to empower them to not only have balance in their lives, but to maintain that on a day to day basis.”