Many would be unable to digest Lidia Oukhaneva’s belief that cancer can be cured through the correct diet. But the soft-spoken Russian woman behind Angka Cafe & Green Clinic has a strong following, showing a growing interest in complementary therapies and preventive healthcare. She tells Fiona Galea Debono the food we eat is so polluted that the body needs purification.

Today, Lidia Oukhaneva sports a semi-hippie look, dripping in long, feather earrings, lots of beading and flat sandals. She is sitting in her rejuvenation centre in Marsa – of all places – and dispensing advice on “conscious eating”, which, despite the budding hunger for anything organic, may still seem airy-fairy to some.

The food we eat is making us sick. We are dying from it! It is polluting us and, in turn, affecting our minds

But rewind 20 years and the picture is somewhat more clinical: “I was a medical doctor in Russia, specialised in psychiatry, before I quit after seven years of studies.”

Lydia was “disappointed” by the profession, but prefers not to elaborate on the reasons, simply pointing to a “professional crisis” and the founder of transpersonal psychology, Dr Stanislav Grof, a student of Gustav Jung, who “opened new horizons”.

It marked a turning point, which saw Lidia delve into Holotropic Breathwork, the use of breathing to access non-ordinary states for the purpose of self-exploration, and stress management through catharsis therapy, now practised at Angka.

Over a cup of organic coffee and a chocolate dessert that is virtually raw –a feel-good factor in itself – Lidia’s concepts could prove to be quite a mouthful.

But they are projected so matter-of-factly that they are smoothly assimilated. The holistic specialist and transpersonal psychotherapist serenely upturns the perception of the birth experience – which no one remembers, or ever really thought of – explaining that the way we were born is imprinted in our minds.

“We are marked by our traumatic birth experience; by the brutal collapse of our surroundings and by being squeezed out of our state of wellness,” she explains, consciously avoiding the use of words like ‘Nirvana’ and ‘alternative’, aware they could give the wrong idea and put the sceptics off.

In a nutshell, birth may be when life starts – but it is also the start of our troubles. A predisposition to drugs and alcohol abuse could also be traced to that moment in time, according to Lidia.

A mother of one, she describes birth from the child’s perspective, rather than from the usual point of view of the mother’s pain. Far be it from natural and beautiful. It is a “shocking rejection” from the “loving universe” into bright light, shone directly into the baby’s eyes, a sudden drop in temperature, the clanging sound of cold tools, a screaming mother and a tired nurse.

“It is like squeezing a diver’s oxygen pipe... That first inhalation is imprinted in the mind forever.”

And that leads us straight to the importance of breath and what Lidia has been practising for the last 20 years. It’s about a deep, particular type of breathing to evocative music and bodywork to avoid being programmed by that traumatic birth experience.

“Holotropic breathing is the best stress management technique for today’s world,” Lidia affirms.

But food too plays a major role in our well-being – in more ways than we can imagine...

Seven years ago, Lidia was diagnosed with cancer – a disease that killed both her parents.

“I had been dancing under the Chernobyl rain without knowing...”

She opted not to go for chemotherapy after undergoing surgery – though she does not push that alternative on anyone and is cautious about rubbishing conventional medicine, maintaining it is needed in critical situations and that the key words are “measure”, “collaboration” and “complementary” for the patient’s benefit.

Still, Lidia believes the correct diet could heal... She believes in the body’s potential for self-restoration. But first, it needs to be purified.

Food is fuel for the body. We’ve heard that one before! And with the wrong kind, the engine stops. But Lidia goes a step further: “The food we eat is making us sick. We are dying from it! It is polluting us and, in turn, affecting our minds.

“So our focus is on organic... It’s about honest food – nothing is artificial!”

The bla bexx (without pesticide) products at Angka – a term the staff has adopted to refer to organic food – is brought in from farmers, whom they trust, and cooperation on these lines is planned to continue, especially in view of the limited choice on the market and patients’ complaints.

That’s where Angka comes in, serving up mostly raw, vegan and vegetarian dishes, based on its confidence in the benefits of an alkaline diet.

You won’t find any meat at the cafe – it’s a total a no-no, the human body being created to eat it only in extreme conditions, Lidia stresses. Acidic foods increase stress, make the mind lethargic and the body swollen, so much so that it can no longer overcome a simple illness, she maintains.

“We need to start respecting our food and our bodies; we need to know what we are eating because without a healthy body, the mind does not work well either.

“It’s about conscious eating: most do not understand what they are ingesting. To decipher a label, you have to be a scientist, and because we are growing aware of it, ‘poison’ is simply being renamed.”

A prime promoter of the fact that we are what we eat, Lidia claims to be living proof that food can heal – not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

And she is not alone. People are going all the way to Marsa to pick up their lactose-free ice cream, gluten-free bread, sprouts and green smoothies; to seek help to develop their personalised diets.

The idea is to create a community around Angka and it seems to be sprouting.

Although Lidia maintains “society is sick” and based on unhealthy feelings of greed, lust and envy, she is by no means pessimistic in her outlook towards life.

“In itself, it is not stressful. We make it stressful,” she points out. “We want to build a new form of social entertainment – a new society. We are practising the ecology of the mind...”

Lidia feels Malta is ready for it – and indeed, a group of people have already embraced it, converging on the Green Clinic for their daily dosage of blended vegetables, sprinkled with the superfood spirulina, their meditation and their “life-changing” experiences...

Because it is easy to change your life. You do not need to be radical, Lidia says, advocating baby steps.

It all starts with a fresh, green smoothie...