Who wants to live forever? From Italy to Azerbaijan, those in pursuit of the fountain of youth put their bodies and minds in the hands of Henri Chenot and his famed – and feared – ‘Method’
Imagine a future where people can enjoy their eighties in the same way they enjoyed their twenties, and no longer suffer from age-related diseases,” says Dr Henri Chenot from his eponymous clinic in the South Tyrol. “The only real ‘fountain of youth’ – being healthy and functioning optimally for the long-term – does require a lot of effort, discipline and self-development from a young age. Unfortunately, we often only realize this too late.”
Chenot has spent the past 45 years honing his pioneering approach. ‘The Method’, as it’s affectionately termed by aficionados, pivots on the belief that our body is designed to live for 120 years. “We have a model for successful ageing, optimizing balance in body, mind and spirit,” says Dr George Gaitanos, the Chenot scientific director.
This ‘model’ is the culmination of Chenot’s years of study in biology, philosophy, Chinese Medicine and bio-energetic psychology, a marriage between East and West that blends state-of-the-art medical technologies, with ancient understanding of our bodies’ energetic flow for vitality and balance. Plus a clean and calorie-restricted diet, for deep tissue cleansing and resetting the body’s own anti-ageing responses.
Put simply, a Chenot Method experience is not just about detoxing the body to keep where it is now, but about stimulating it to a whole new level of healthy wellbeing. The journey to getting there is more complex and multifaceted, as I found out during my week at Palace Merano, the original Chenot clinic set amid the Dolomites.
Here, behind the regal ‘Palace’ façade – and now, too, in the brand-new 6,000sq m medical spa in the Chenot Health Wellness Hotel Gabala in Azerbaijan – a health upgrade may not print you a brand new liver or lungs, but it’s a 3D course of action nonetheless: diagnosis, drainage and diet, based on the premise that we are all toxic, simply by living. Toxicity reduces the vitality of our cells, tissue and functioning of our organs leading to imbalance that eventually accelerates ageing. And it hits us from all angles: emotional (the relationship bust-up, for example), environmental (the all-too-common, desk-bound city job), hereditary (grandpa’s alcohol addiction …. perhaps) and of course dietary: the coffee, cocktails, red meat and sugar story that we should, by now, be familiar with.
“We cannot change our genes,” says Chenot. “But we can change the choices we make: how we move, eat, think and feel, all of which shape the way we age.” Such change is a big ask for anyone, frankly, which is why the Chenot Method for kick-starting change is so mind-boggling and full on. Just like High Intensity Training (HIT), it’s high impact over a short burst of time. This impact continues to elicit change for up to three months afterwards, according to Chenot. The rest is down to us.
I spent seven days in a busy blur, scurrying between check-ups, treatments and minuscule meals, along with more than a hundred other guests, most of whom are leaders in their ‘normal’ lives: corporate honchos, oligarchs and the Milan fashion crowd who make the two-hour drive to the mountains before Fashion Week to prepare for the camera lens.
But here we are all the same. We all spend the day in dressing gowns, we eat the same food (largely) and do similar things, meeting in the lifts en route between a dietetic assessment or vitamin infusion in the medical, spa or bio-energetic departments, and in the dining room, the most incongruous scenario of all. Here, among mighty marble columns, under crystal chandeliers typical of the baroque splendour of a grand palace hotel, we rub shoulders in our statutory white robes, while eking out a dainty salad or consommé soup, sipping water from a wine glass. There is nothing more leveling than the common pursuit of health.
Our pursuit, during these seven days, is tracked via our ‘book’, our bible of health notes that is constantly scrutinized by our medical specialists as results, schedules and daily weight measurements are added.
At bio-energetics on the ground floor, I’m wired up to a bleeping monitor that measures the bio-energetic frequency through my organs and meridian lines, on the Chinese Medicine side of the programme. The printed graphs, with alarming levels of red ink, give a picture of physical and psychological stress in my mind and most compromised organs – bladder, small intestine, heart and gall bladder in my case, the areas that the cellular resonance therapy (electric-style acupuncture) and meridian massage will focus on for me. After scanning four pages of seemingly impossible data, my smiley acupuncturist Marie Pierre offers a simple solution. She tells me to go outside and clear my head with daily walks along the nearby river. It resonates deeply: how a simple lifestyle change, just as Gaitanos said, can have such positive impact on our wellbeing.
The importance of emotional balance for shedding toxins touched me again a few days later. On the medical floor, in a design-led consultation room – all Flos lights and Eames chairs – Dr Silvano scans my book for blood and urine test results along with my bio-energetic data and suggests a similar prescription: “Chill out, be happy and dance, don’t meditate.” He deduced that I was carrying too much mental weight and, at 51 years old, it was time to stop dwelling. When I told him an ex-lover was picking me up from the Palace for a romantic weekend, we spent the rest of my 30-minute session searching the internet for boutique hotels at nearby Lake Garda. He stopped me the next day to check we had booked. And winked.
Back down the medical corridor, with its column lights and glossy white decor straight out of a South Beach hotel, I’m scanned. The Palace’s latest technological device glides down my body (like scanning on an at-home printer) then spits out fascinating charts and diagrams analysing the health of my bone structure and distribution of body fat. My bulging thigh tops, it appears, are well within normal range and my bone density is that of a 35-year-old. Some good news here at least.
As I lie each morning in the hydro-aromatherapy bath and tilt those thighs closer to the nozzles spouting jets of warm water, I feel better and better. I’m then painted and wrapped up like a mummy with warm, micro-algae mud before being jetted, while naked, with a hose – with particular aim on the wobbly bits. This hour-long trilogy of treatments, compulsory for all, is the daily drainage part of the Method, designed to tone and eliminate tension in the muscles and nervous system.
With body fluids in flow everyone moves on to a daily massage, which continues the drainage process at the physical level of muscles and tendons and along specific meridian lines that relate to those underperforming organs. Then come the ‘bells’, an electrical development on Traditional Chinese Medicine cupping, that suck and pulse on the body’s energy centres to further provoke stimulation, regeneration and revitalization – all part of what Gaitanos calls “positive stressors”, designed to create homeodynamics that, in turn, leads to a lifted level of homeostasis; in other words, a younger functioning self.
The rest of the treatment programme is wholly bespoke according to individual needs. At the new flagship in Gabala, the Chenot team has added the latest cutting-edge technologies for more specific assessment and more effective treatment. Arterial stiffness diagnostics determines, via an arm cuff, the biological age of our arteries. New forms of ultrasound measure the thickness of collagen in our skin, which reflects the collagen in our bodies. Oxidative stress is measured via a drop of blood. Cryotherapy progressively exposes you, in an ice lab, to -110C (-166F) over three minutes. This punishing cold burst is a small price to pay to drop 10 years from your complexion, such is its effect on skin, as well as immune function, pain relief and blood flow. The high altitude treatment involves inhaling reduced levels of oxygen through a mask or in a chamber to improve aerobic metabolism, which allows for a more efficient use of oxygen. Chenot, while embracing the ancient, also invests liberally in the new.
Back at the ‘Palace’ Dr Silvano adds osteopathy (to release my diaphragm) and colonic irrigation (faeces’ description is always part of the consultation process) to my bespoke treatment list. I have a consultation with the aesthetic physician Dr Lakakis. His department is Disneyland for middle-aged women, with high-tech beauty treatments that run the gamut from lasers and lymph drainage to cellulite busters and collagen boosters. Outer beauty leads to inner harmony, which in turn leads to health and happiness. This place understands its clientele.
Thank goodness for these back-to-back treatments – plus exercise classes, gym, pool, saunas, steam rooms and beautiful surroundings. All this diverts from the inevitable hunger pangs that accompany a strict programme such as this. The Method’s precisely tailored diet is crucial for spring cleaning and rebalancing the body, for reducing inflammation and boosting repair at a cellular level.
All guests are in for a meat-, sugar-, dairy- and caffeine-free week, where the science of low glycaemic index foods (for balancing sugar levels), alkalinity (for reducing acidity that hardens tissue) and marination (steeping food in vinegar before cooking reduces advanced glycation end products that cause proteins to stiffen and consequently the onset of chronic conditions) are combined with the theory of calorie reduction. This dual assault, including a fasting day of clear soup only, mobilizes body fat to release the toxins that are stored in it. Such in-depth nutritional knowledge is the lifework of Chenot’s wife, Dominique. She translates her dietary expertise into tasty, if tiny, portions that are delicious enough that 70 per cent of guests return each year.
By the time I reach day seven of this, my first visit, I know that I, too, want to come back one day for more. Not only have I dropped 3kg, the mirror tells me I’m svelter. And I’m off to Lake Garda full of positive emotional frequency to support my new level of happy, healthy homeostasis.
Photography by Aldo Agnelli
Words by Sophie Benge
The story appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Baku magazine.