Summer Blog: Crystals, Castles and German Yoga

INDIA BARKER’s personality leaves a lot to be desired. But, don’t worry – she’s about to get in touch with her soul. If Yannick’s done it, so can India.

India Barker, a second year student from Girton, is spending her summer with a bunch of hippies in a healing castle in Germany, for reasons we can’t quite ascertain. She has to write this blog and take photographs in secret, since neither writing nor photography are a part of the healing process she is on…

Monday 8th August

It was promised in the title of the blog, so I thought in my last entry I’d better tell you about crystal therapy. 

Just one problem. Now that I’ve tested it, I know that there is very little to say about crystal therapy, other than that it definitely doesn’t work.

This is hardly news. Everybody knows that crystals are only pretentious diamantes. Their most noble use is to help end the blood diamond trade, and to save grooms some cash. Otherwise they belong indisputably in Claire’s Accessories or on Atomic Kitten’s jeans, circa 2003.

You might ask how I can be so sure that it has failed – possibly the effects on my outlook on life and general happiness are not immediately apparent? In the interests of scientific objectivity, I guess I’ll have to keep an eye on that over the next few months. All I know is how the only feelings the therapy gave me were a) embarassment and b) nervous apprehension.

Astrid moved the bed outside for me to feel the benefit of the fresh air. In crystal therapy, you’ve got to lie down on one of those delightful couches they have at the doctors, reeking of disinfectant, as large crystals are dangled over your body by the therapist. There is only a chicken wire fence at Castle Hönefeld, so all passing cars and pedestrians got a full view of me shivering in a lilac dressing gown beneath the crystal contraption. Locals were happy to stop and stare – it was a rare opportunity for them to see what the strange turban clad lady is doing with their lovely castle. Astrid had also turned on some rather loud music which sounded like someone blowing into milk bottles. My therapy was quite the public spectacle.

The large plastic arch holding the crystals over my face was pretty rickety and I was worried the whole thing was going to topple over, leaving me permanently disfigured. With the look of extreme discomfort on my face, passers-by must have wondered whether my participation was voluntary or a form of torture.

According to Astrid, feelings are none other than “natural frequencies” and are not to be ignored, so I think they are enough for me to safely draw a conclusion. The most I can say for crystal therapy at Castle Hönefeld is that I wasn’t horribly injured by it.. Otherwise, the experience of discomfort and public humiliation was more like being put in the medieval stocks than being healed.

Thank goodness I’m leaving today, in the unhealed sceptical and sane state in which I arrived.

Thursday 28th July

Who knew that personalities could be healed?

Turns out, if you’ve got a bad case of bitterness, obstinacy, spite, or jealousy then Castle Hönefeld is the place to come. Apparently you really can learn these things. Astrid, owner and resident psychotherapist, recently assured me that through a combination of “spiritual and psychological reasoning,” which is “sensitive to human frequencies,” you can become just a little bit nicer. Of course you can.

I probably ought to have been very pleased to hear this news, considering Astrid has recently informed me that my personality “leaves a lot to be desired.” But, I didn’t. I just felt a bit wary. Just as you should avoid seeing a dentist who has bad teeth, I can’t help but think that you should avoid a mentally unbalanced, supposedly psychic, and incredibly tactless psychotherapist like the plague.

But, upon realising that I really can’t afford to argue with Astrid, since she has control over the organic brown rice, okra, quinoa. and natural yoghurt, I decided to attend her session. Plus, I needed blog fodder.

And so the session began. “You are out of touch with your soul … blah blah blah … the earth is in touch with our human frequencies … yada yada yada … reengage with the earth and/or your soul to find new peace,” Astrid advised. So far, so ignorable. Or so I thought.

Yannick, a German man sitting next to me, looked as though he were on the verge of epiphany – constantly nodding (almost as much as Tim, Apprentice fans.) Once upon a time, Yannick used to be just like me. Well, not just like me – he used to be a fellow dweller of the television watching, meat eating, non-Turban-wearing world. He drives a BMW and uses deodorant (a rare habit in Hönefeld). But, a midlife crisis brought him here, and apparently our joint therapy session really “spoke to him.”

But, even if Astrid HAS managed to help Yannick, I can’t be so sure about the other guests. A fellow volunteer told me about Lena, a friend of Bob’s who left the castle rather acrimoniously and who has since lost both her parents. Astrid is convinced that Lena’s parents died because Lena refused her infallible advice to “engage with the earth.”

Astrid is now offering poor Lena her services as a medium with the dead. I can only hope that Lena politely refuses.

Sunday 24th July

To my great surprise, I actually enjoyed the beginning of my ‘healing experience’, a yoga session taken by Bob. Bob is an old Liverpudlian with leathery skin, an emphysemic laugh, and slightly greasy hair. He spends his days wandering around a castle sporting silky, orange Ottoman pants, usually muttering something about ‘positivity’. Essentially, Bob is a stereotypical hippie; an easy going, slow talking guy with a pretty funky vocabulary and even better anecdotes.

Obviously, this wasn’t exactly the sort yoga you do at your local leisure centre. Here, the goal is Nirvana rather than toning thunder thighs. This means that a few long, drawn out ‘oooommss’ were thrown in. However, the spiritual aura was somewhat punctured by Bob farting very loudly every time he did the ‘downward facing dog’. Most of the poses were pretty unconventional, as Bob lacks a great memory these days (probably as a result of his youthful experimentation with certain contraband substances), and the incense he burnt smelt like a sanitary bin on fire. But, despite these flaws, I had a really great time.

Illustration by Olivia Vane

Having fun started to worry me. Maybe I was looking at everything in the wrong way? Does it really matter that everything Bob says is essentially bullshit, when he’s so entertaining?

Confused, I set off my my next yoga session. Astrid was leading this one. Turns out, Astrid is a charming hybrid of Glee‘s Sue Sylvester and Mrs Trunchbull; barking out orders, and insisting on calling a fellow worker from Shanghai ‘fried rice’. Excellent.

Astrid teaches laughter yoga, which she has a degree in. The name is very deceptive, as there is nothing funny about forcing fake, panicky laughter “von ze stomach, immer von ze stomach” for well over an hour. It wasn’t therepeutic, it was painful.

To make matters worse, Astrid kept me behind after the session to inform me that my performance in the yoga session had shown her the true colours of my personality: not only am I very weak but I’m also dangerously full of negative energy.

At least I know what to work on for next time…

Wednesday 20th July

Back in March, I had the bright idea of sprucing up my CV – a pitiful document in which my bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award sat pride of place. I knew exactly what I wanted: a summer internship. Unfortunately, lots of Cambridge students want a summer internship. And even more unfortunately, lots of Cambridge students are very organised people who book up their summers around Christmas time. Turns out, if you look for a summer internship in March, you simply won’t find one. Never mind, I thought. I’ve always got next year.

But, by May, my smug friends were all talking about their internships, and asking what I was going to do. Eventually, I ran out of DVD box sets to list, and decided I had to get a job. I decided to take the first one I could find. How bad could it be? A quick Google search later, and I had an answer: very bad.

I’m spending my summer in Castle Hönefeld, a hotel that specializes in spiritual healing, yoga, and crystal therapy. If you’re as confused as I was when I first heard about it, fear not. The brochure makes everything clearer: “Castle Hönefeld is open to those suffering from illness, but who reject medical intervention.” Obv. The brochure goes on to implore its visitors to: “rest and recuperate in the spiritual aura of the castle. Find your life’s purpose in a supportive place. Open your heart, love heals all.” Quite what that means, I can’t be sure.

Castle Hönefeld in all its spiritual glory

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m a particularly aggressive sceptic. Even harmless superstitious fun like fortune cookies and horoscopes annoy me. So, naturally, upon reading Castle Hönefeld’s brochure, I lol’d a bit and dismissed it as total rubbish. But, then I started to think about it. Surely, if such a place exists, some people must buy into it? But, who are these people? Where do they come from? And what do they do with their lives?

Curiosity killed the cat, and curiosity sent me to a run-down East-German village, to discover what sort of person actually spends money (€145/night), to learn about stones that bring you special powers, birth months that give you certain characteristics, and dream catchers that really do catch dreams. And so, here I am: working for Astrid and Bob in Healing Castle Hönefeld.

Before arriving, I wasn’t too nervous about my time at the “healing centre”. I thought it would be like watching those late night documentaries on Channel 4 that expose the lives of people who live like cats or fall in love with fences – satisfying my curiosity, but at a safe distance. Sadly, this is not the case. As one of very few staff members, I am very much involved with ALL of the treatments.

Owner Astrid is convinced that a higher power has sent me to her from London, in order that I find a spiritual balance in my life. She’s a stereo-typically hyper-organised German woman and has an un-shakable belief in the supernatural. Astrid genuinely thinks it is her duty to heal me, and as such I MUST attend EVERY form of treatment and therapy that this castle has to offer.

Admittedly, I was more than a little perturbed by this news, after all who wants to be diagnosed as spiritually ill? But, I have decided to accept the silver lining. I am sick of being told that my “closed mind” won’t allow me to engage in meditative chants, or “rawism” (eating only raw food) or anything tantric whatsoever.

This is a prime opportunity to sample practices which I have always dismissed. In other words, I’m pretty sure that I will soon have conclusive proof that mystic healing, apart from the minor benefit of the placebo effect, is a massive con. It’s not that my mind is closed; it’s that other people’s minds are far too open.

University of Cambridge castle honefeld crystal therapy germany india barker olivia vane spiritual healing Summer Blog