Viva Mayr – good health starts with your gut

Are spas going soft? Lately the word ‘spa’ has come to mean little more than a holiday at a smart hotel with a few massages and facials thrown in. You only need to see pictures of Kate Moss on ‘detox’ at Chiva Som, cigarette in one hand, cocktail in the other, to figure out that most spa trips are hedonistic rather than truly healthy. I’m not knocking the sybaritic spa – heaven only knows we all want a bit of pampering now and again. But let’s be brutally honest – if you really want to kickstart a new health regime you’re not going to do it on gourmet cuisine and some hybrid uber-massage with hot rocks and flowers. Sorry, but you need something a bit more hardcore. That’s where Viva-Mayr comes in.

Mayr Therapy has been around since the 1950s – the brainchild of Austrian physician Dr Franz Xaver Mayr. Mayr discovered that the majority of his patients’ problems could be traced back to poor digestion. Sort out your guts, he insisted, and the rest of your system would fall obediently into line. It was a tough process though, involving fasting, endless chewing of stale bread rolls and stringent hydrotherapy (lots of freezing cold water and the odd colonic). But those who survived Mayr trumpeted their cures: not just the inevitable weight loss and clear glowing skin you would expect from any detox, but freedom from all kinds of chronic health problems (from IBS to joint pains; from allergies to migraine. Even infertility often caved in when faced with Mayr).

I loved the idea, craved the results but, coward that I am, baulked at the process. Then I heard rumours that Mayr had changed. There was mention of a lovely 5-star hotel, of sumptuous treatments, of (heavens be praised) ‘real food’. It turned out that Dr Harald Stossier, president of the International Society of Mayr Doctors, had been experimenting and found that he could achieve equally impressive results with a far less draconian system. I was on the next flight to Austria.

Arriving at Viva-Mayr was a bit of a let-down. I’d imagined the hotel in splendid isolation amidst the lakes and mountains but, in truth, it’s bang splat in the middle of a village, with another hotel right behind it and a building site round the corner. But once inside the hotel it doesn’t really matter because the rooms are fabulous, with floor to ceiling windows opening out to balconies peering over the crystal-clear waters of the lake. In the summer, apparently, everyone lazes by the water, swimming out to floating islands or doing that specifically northern European thing of getting hot and bothered in the sauna before jumping into the cold water.

Every visit starts with a medical consultation from one of the doctors (who are all fully qualified in traditional medicine alongside Mayr diagnostics). I explained that I hadn’t really felt right since having my son, ten years ago. I suffered from chronic insomnia, bloating and headaches; I was constantly tired, irritable and depressed and I possessed a far from elegant wodge of fat around my abdomen. Dr Stossier nodded sagely and prodded my abdomen. My blood pressure was checked, blood was taken, and tongue, eyes and throat went under scrutiny. Finally I had to lie down on the couch for applied kinesiology. This is a diagnostic tool to test for intolerances and allergies (that can cause poor digestion). I fully expected to be told I had the full spectrum but Dr Stossier shook his head. I had absolutely no problem with wheat, dairy or soya. I could even tolerate yeast. My problem, he said, was fruit – or, to be specific, fruit sugar (fructose). It was this, he explained that was causing me to bloat and keep on excess weight. In addition my adrenals were burned out due to chronic stress and my liver was tired too. I felt like crying. It all made sense (and I’d suspected the adrenal bit for years) but no other doctors had even considered it.

So started the cure. At normal spas you get to pick your treatments and peruse the menu when it comes to mealtimes. At Viva-Mayr it’s all on doctor’s prescription. The day kicked off with Epsom Salts and I very swiftly discovered the meaning of ‘it goes through you like a dose of salts’. Morning ‘gymnastics’ sounded terrifying but turned out to be a pleasant enough half hour of stretching and strengthening. Then it was time for breakfast and an unpleasant surprise: the dry bread rolls haven’t vanished from the Mayr system. We were taught that digestion starts in the mouth and so every mouthful should be chewed 50 times to allow the saliva to get to work, and to send the appropriate messages to the gut, to prepare the necessary enzymes and acids. The idea of two-day old spelt rolls is that they help you learn how to chew. And you know what? They aren’t actually that bad. There was still some pretty draconian dieting going on and some poor souls undertaking the full cure (three to four weeks) were fasting with nothing but herb tea for the first week. So I learned to be damn grateful for my spelt rolls, sheep yogurt and avocado spread.  The funny thing is that I really truly didn’t feel that hungry.

Treatments ranged from the blissful (lying in a scented bath watching lights under the water and above me in the ceiling play through the colours of the rainbow) and the accomplished (some of the best massage I’ve experienced) to the strange (sitting in a cubicle breathing in ‘sea air’) and the downright unpleasant (having medicated cotton wool buds poked right up my nose). Inbetween I had my abdomen poked and pulled on a regular basis to ascertain how my guts were getting on with it all. On the second day I felt like death. I had a headache so crashing I could barely see and I felt like throwing up. The medical team said it was a common detox reaction (most probably to caffeine withdrawal) and gave me a couple of tablets. I figured they were some kind of arcane herb, but it turned out they were simply strong painkillers (sometimes you need a bit of the orthodox stuff). But by the third day I was starting to feel the benefits. I was sleeping long and deep, my shoulders were nearly returning to their rightful position and I’d lost a thumping five pounds.

Rest is considered essential at Viva-Mayr and if you want to hang out doing nothing in particular that’s fine – and there are plenty of suntraps and cosy places to hide with a book. But equally there is a small but well-equipped gym, with that same stunning view out over the lake. Or the state-of-the-art stainless steel swimming pool. Or a friendly soul to teach you ‘Nordic walking’ and march you up into the hills with a pair of poles (surprisingly good fun). At the old clinics you were forbidden television or computers but Dr Stossier is more pragmatic and while you’re advised that the less stimulation you have, the better, every room has TV and an Internet connection. By the end of a week I’d lost half a stone and was feeling almost human again. Many people come back year after year (some even several times a year), giving their bodies a bit of a tonic and their stressed-out souls some blessed respite. I’ve started saving already.

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The Ten Golden Rules for healthy living

1. Always eat slowly – the more slowly, the better. The key strategy is ‘souping’ in which you chew each mouthful fifty (yes, fifty!) times so it becomes a liquid mush of saliva and food. This allows digestion to start where it is naturally intended – in the mouth.

2. Pay attention to how you feel and stop eating when you feel comfortably full. If you are chewing properly you will simply not be able to eat huge meals – you will get too full.

3. Always take time to eat, and eat sitting down without distractions. That means no TV, no reading the paper, no stressful conversations.

4. Only eat at mealtimes – no snacks allowed. There should be an interval of four to five hours between each meal – frequent snacks disrupt digestion.

5. Make breakfast and lunch your largest meals. Don’t eat too late in the evening. Ideally your evening meal should take place before 6pm. It should be small and comprise only easily digested foods (no raw vegetables or fruit).

6. Have yourself tested for food intolerances.

7. Make time for yourself. Try to spend at least part of every day just being rather than doing. That means just quietly sitting – not reading, listening to music, watching TV or talking. It’s quite a challenge.

8. Drink plenty of liquids (between meals) – water, herbal teas, clear vegetable broth are ideal.

9. Take plenty of gentle exercise – outdoors if you can. Walking, hiking, cycling, swimming, golf are all recommended.

10. Take a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral. Plus extra vitamin C and an EFA (essential fatty acid) supplement.


Water treatments are an integral part of the Mayr detox, helping to stimulate the immune and lymphatic systems, and encouraging expulsion of toxins through the skin. Try to:

• Steam or sauna whenever possible.

• Have massage – Manual lymph drainage (MLD) is the superb detoxer, gently stimulating the lymphatic system so it can function at its optimum level.

• If this isn’t possible, choose a gentle aromatherapy massage (tell your therapist you are detoxing so appropriate oils can be used). Reflexology is another great option, frequently prescribed at Mayr.

• Skin brush before showering every day. Use a natural bristle brush and always brush on dry skin moving towards the heart (ie from toes up to groin, from fingers to armpits).

• Shower using first hot water then a blast of cold water, then another few minutes of hot. Keep this up for about six cycles to stimulate your immune and lymphatic systems.

• Add a handful of baking soda to a warm bath. Rest in it for about 30 minutes, gradually increasing the temperature.

• The Mayr Liver Wrap encourages detoxing and supports the liver: soak a cotton cloth in cold water and wring it dry. Fold twice and place it smoothly over the right side of your upper abdomen. Place a hot water bottle on top of the cloth; wrap your upper body in a bath towel and rest with the wrap in place for at least 30 minutes (an hour is ideal).

Want to read more on cleansing?  Check out my books The Detox Kit (Hay House) and The Detox Plan (Gaia) (published as Detox for Body, Mind and Spirit in the US).