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The Smash Room

- Bandana Shah

Middle East’s first The Smash Room (TSR) in Dubai is offering a safe space to scream and shout and let the anger out while shattering glasses and demolishing an entire car with your choice of weapons

It is said that anger tempts people to do what is forbidden. Surely, quite a few of us have had the urge to smash our mobile phones or a television remote control in a fit of anger. Instead, we may have slammed the door or punched a pillow while tearing up and even cussing (often not out loud). 

The toxins released in the body due to bottled up emotions, especially anger, could not only harm us mentally but also physically in the long run. Clinical psychologist and the managing director of The Lighthouse Arabia, Dr Saliha Afridi explains, “There is a mind and body connection. If the mind is not healthy, the body will not be healthy and if the body is not healthy the mind will suffer. When you suppress emotions, you are keeping that emotion (energy in motion) trapped inside you which can result in physical illness. More than 80% of all primary care doctor visits are a result of stress-induced difficulties – from hair loss to heart disease, emotional, mental or physical stress can be very detrimental for the body.”

Many may dismiss the idea of investing both time and money seeking help to resolve complicated feelings while some spend days lying on the shrink’s couch. Could there be an “alternative” that is also “enjoyable”?

Middle East’s first The Smash Room (TSR) in Dubai is offering a safe space to scream and shout and let the anger out while shattering glasses and demolishing an entire car with your choice of weapons.

The idea of rage/anger/smash rooms may likely have roots in Japan. They were set up around 2008 to help people deal with unemployment and recession woes. In these rooms, people could vent their rage by destroying objects. The concept has now spread to several cities across the world. Kuwaiti Canadian psychologist Hiba Balfaqih along with Jordanian entrepreneur Ibrahim Abudyak (both pictured above) set up The Smash Room at a warehouse in Al Qouz early 2018. TSR hosted more than 6,000 smashers within the first year of its launch. “On an average we receive 600-700 a month,” quipped Ibrahim. In what the founders call the “world’s largest” rage/smash/anger room set up, there are four rooms where the action takes place. While its website promises that your time at TSR is a badass version of a spa day, according to the duo you can call it a recreational, workout or even a therapy space.

You can smash items varying from glass cups and plates to DVD players and washing machine. One can even take his or her own objects, such as gifts from an ex, to smash. The items up for breaking are mostly donated by local e-commerce website Melltoo that facilitates buying and selling of used items. Furthermore, a share of every item that you purchase for smashing is donated to buy food for refugees.

Why break stuff? “It is an alternative way to release stress. A lot of people take the initiative to speak to therapists or coaches, but not everyone is verbally articulate. This second lot tries to suppress their feelings and go on about their lives. We help them break that taboo in this room and make them comfortable by providing a safe environment where they can express themselves in any way they want, without any judgment,” explained Hiba.

“We get people from all walks of life here. Though we had imposed age restrictions of 16+ earlier, we have clients as young as five and as old as 60. Majority of our clients are aged between 15-34. Recently, we had a granny smashing away with her daughter and grandchild. We have hosted families and tourists from across the world. We are quite popular among locals, particularly young women. About 75% of the clients are ladies,” informed Ibrahim.

He added that most people visit TSR by word-of-mouth and seek fun. “But many have stories. We lend ears/shoulders trying to understand if they have any specific requirements such as background music or themes. We see people cursing, sobbing and crying out loud. Sometimes they need comforting or a hug post sessions. Some people even come to smash after their yoga sessions,” he said.

Hiba added, “We never market smashing as therapy but, we do promise stress relief. The sessions are a good workout as you can burn 80 calories in five minutes. You also release endorphins that are responsible for pain relief. Thus, post session you are left feeling lighter.”

The TSR team also feels that smashing is a great way for corporate team building exercises. “We hosted a group for around 50 people from one company. We can accommodate four to five people in a room, so some 20 people can smash at once. The ones not smashing can be a part of other sessions in the common area. Our team is trained for such activities.”

What if people who have never let out their frustration by smashing an object even if they have had the urge to, as they have been socialized otherwise, take part in a TSR session only to realize their “aggressive” side? Hiba: “Better out than in. Imagine what damage such toxins can do to your body. All that bad energy caused by the stress and anxiety running through our blood and organs will harm you within. So, when it’s out there, you can tackle it. That awareness is the first step towards helping yourself with other tools such as therapy or yoga or meditation.”

Is it possible that people would carry on the aggression outside smash rooms? “So far we have not seen anyone do that. The basic psychological need of humans is safety and security. Plus, we are living in a country (the UAE) which is well regulated. Our clients visit TSR to have a good time, experience something new and release stress. For instance, you do not turn into a vegan after eating one bowl of salad, and neither do you transform into the Hulk after smashing a few objects.”

However, Dr Afridi feels that smashing objects in a room does not actually release the negative energy from its source. “If you are angry about the death of a loved one, smashing things might give some temporary catharsis, but it will not heal your pain or lessen your suffering. Contrary to popular belief, hitting and smashing things only increases the aggression. Whatever you focus on, will grow. So if you focus on anger, there will be more anger.”

Even Hiba, who is also a hypnotherapist, an NLP (neuro linguistic programming) coach and a theta healer, feels the need to smash. “I feel the need to release the stress energetically. The best way to get it out of body is

movement. Go to the gym, do kickboxing or take a swing at the TV here. This is part of the holistic wellness approach. This is how I take care of my body and soul.”

The hypnotherapist also takes her coaching clients to TSR. “Some of the visitors to TSR are referred by Dubai-based psychologists,” said Hiba, adding, “One of the techniques that psychologists use is letting people punch a pillow put up on the wall. The idea of smashing objects is same.”

One of Hiba’s Emirati client’s, Aisha Al Hafeiti, shared: “I was curious to try out a session at TSR as I would get the urge to break stuff whenever I got angry. Once I had hurled my cellphone after a heated conversation only to regret it later because repairing an iPhone burnt a hole in my pocket. At TSR, I booked a single session and enjoyed breaking a keyboard as most of my stress comes from long working hours. I’m planning to take my brother for the next session to smash our worries away.”

Such activities can’t be considered a complementary therapy for psychiatric patients feels Dr Afridi. “If someone struggles with anger, depression, and/or anxiety, I would not recommend them a visit to the Smash Room. It would not help them in any way. Instead, I’d suggest that they learn mindfulness techniques of stopping to breath and observe their thoughts, feelings and sensations in order to get to the root of the difficult emotions. People can release negative energy by engaging in rigorous exercise or intense, hot yoga because these lighten the body through sweat and movement.”

What about the clumsy lot that could hurt themselves with weapons like hammers, crowbars or axes? Ibrahim: “We brief people before they enter the room, provide safety gear and also teach them how to swing. Our team, which is trained in first aid, closely monitors the CCTV cameras and interferes immediately if need be.”

TSR got a car to be smashed on their first birthday bash. It took a huge team to strategize plus borrowing more tools from the garage next door to demolish it over some four days.

Gabriella Khaled from the UK was trying to smash the car with two of her friends on the first day. She commented, “It was a tough BMW. We spent four to five hours trying our best to damage it. We were already feeling hot covered in the safety gears and adding to that was our hard work. For me, the activity was both workout as well as stress release.

“People annoyed by road rage love to smash vehicles, feels Ibrahim. “If a similar room were to open in South Africa, the highlight for the smashers would be the opportunity to demolish an ‘outrageous’ local taxi,” he chuckled.

Smash founders Hiba Balfaqih and Ibrahim Abudyak

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