Health - Alternative Medicine
By: - at May 24, 2013

15 Weird Ways People Relax Around the World

In our stressed-out society, you'd think people know how to relax and unwind. We think of relaxation as sitting on a beach with a fruity drink or playing sports on the weekend. But that doesn't quite do it for everyone. Often, the things that we think would calm us the most end up costing a lot of money or require a lot of free time set aside, and that’s not always feasible. If you're on the hunt for something new to try, take a look at what people around the world do to beat stress.

1)  Shinrin-yoku Relaxation (Forest-bathing)  (Japan)
Relaxing with Shinrin-yokuAll around Japan, the act of shinrin-yoku or "forest-bathing" is extremely popular. It's one of the easiest and least expensive ways to relax, as all it requires is a forest and a path. People walk through a peaceful wood and deliberately breathe in the air, almost in a meditative way. The trees release volatile phytoncides (wood essential oils) that have a calming effect on people who breathe them in. They reduce hostility, depression, and stress. Essentially, shinrin-yoku is a kind of aromatherapy. The practice has been documented and studied for many years. In 1982, the Forest Agency of Japan proposed it as a major part of a balanced lifestyle. Today, it's a recognized stress management and relaxation technique that can be seen all over the country. The great thing about shinrin-yoku is that it can be practiced anywhere around the world. Hikers in America's forests can get the same benefits. If you live near a state park, try walking through the paths and breathe deeply as you go. Other benefits include exposure to Vitamin D, which aids your immune system and staves off depression.

forest bathing

Many people who do shinrin-yoku also treat it as a kind of walking meditation, using the soft sound of leaves and birdsong to help them focus their thoughts into order.

2)  Relax Cuddling Up With Sexy Pillows  (Japan)

Girlfriend Knee Pillow:
Japan's Girlfriend Knee Pillow

Japan is the source for some truly unique items. Pillows in many forms offer people – usually men – a sexy way to unwind. In addition to the body-length pillows featuring images of popular anime characters, there are now a line of sculpted pillows that mimic different body parts of a woman. There's one resembling the hips and rear (complete with lacy thong), a breast-shaped pillow with a tank top, and now an elaborate cushion shaped and dressed like a kneeling woman from the waist down. This last one, the Girlfriend Knee Pillow, is marketed as being more comforting than sexy, though many versions of the lap pillow include stockings and frilly maid-type aprons. It may seem incredibly strange to Americans, but in Japan, it's marketed just like one would see any housewares.

sexy pillows

3)  Relaxing Amusement Baths  (Japan)
Mount Fuji in Japan is famous for its many onsen, or hot springs. The area is rife with natural mineral baths that have been a draw for pilgrims and tourists for hundreds of years. As different combinations of herbs, minerals, and other elements become popular, the "amusement baths" have started to rise in popularity as well. For an extra fee, you can take a dip in public baths of green tea, coffee, sake, or even red wine.

red wine spa treatment

While the practice seems to have started with Yunessun, a famous resort near the volcano, other spas are beginning to offer similar services. In addition to being fun and silly, the baths claim to be good for the skin and for releasing toxins that "normal" water might not. At very least, it's a change from the old-fashioned onsen experience. Just remember, though: don't drink the bathwater.

Red Wine Bath:
Taking a bath in red wine

4)  Relax Throwing Dinner Plates at a Wall  (Japan)
The Venting Place in JapanJapan shows up on this list more than once because let's face it, the Japanese have relaxation down to an art. The country's strong work ethic and constant push for success in business have created a society where the people play as hard as they work. At The Venting Place, located in the Akihabara shopping district of Tokyo, you can pay a small fee to throw dinner plates at the wall. Since one natural instinct of anger is to throw things. The Venting Place allows you to do that in a controlled environment. Venters don protective goggles so they don't end up with shards of pottery in their eyes and then throw different sized plates and platters. According to blogger Michael Beddall, who experienced The Venting Place firsthand a few years ago, for around a small price you can get three small dishes or a medium sized plate.

throwing plates to relax

If you want a bigger crash, you can throw a large platter.

5)  Manaka and Acupuncture  (Asian Countries)

Manaka and acupuncture are closely related in that they both target pressure points on the body. They can be found all over China, Japan, India, and Korea as well as other Asian countries. In acupuncture, which is gaining popularity in the West, superfine needles are inserted into the skin. Light motion of the needles, such as waving a hand over them or creating a soft breeze, causes vibrations that help align the energy pathways of the body.

Facial Acupuncture Procedure:
Facial Acupuncture Procedure
By mscaprikell [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Acupuncture is used to remove pain, aid with addiction, and of course to help a person relax. One thing that many adherents of acupuncture report is that there is little to no pain from the needles. The extreme fineness of the needle slips into skin and a skilled acupuncturist will be able to do it with almost no pain at all.

If, however, the idea of sticking pins in your body still makes you shudder, you might try Manaka. Named for Dr. Manaka, a famous acupuncturist and author of many books on the subject, this technique may be less intimidating for people who are afraid of needles. In this practice, a small wooden mallet and a narrow wooden peg are used to tap the pressure points.

Manaka Hammer:
Manaka Hammer

It's more gentle and not as common as acupuncture, but it's a good alternative therapy that can relieve stress just as well as massage. It targets the areas that need extra help unwinding, and works extremely well for back and neck pain.

6)  Doctor Fish Spa - Foot Massage  (Malaysia)
In Kuala Lumpur's Kenko Spa, you can get both a foot massage and a pedicure at the same time … from fish. Tiny Doctor Fish feed on dead skin cells. Hundreds of them are placed in a tank in which you dip your feet. The fish swarm over your heels, toes, and ankles to nibble away, and when you remove your feet, the skin is soft and clean. It's a natural way to exfoliate without harsh products. The process has been described as "ticklish" and is considered kind of cute by people who have experienced it. Fish spas are beginning to crop up all over the world as an alternative skin cleansing therapy.

Relax by Letting Fish Nibble at Your Feet:

By yamada kazuyuki from Higashi-betsuin, Japan (doctor fish) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Spas in general are well-known to be an excellent way to relax. The warmth of the water, the pressure of a massage, and the skin-clearing properties of mud baths all help to loosen muscles and ease your mind. By cleansing your skin, you feel better and more flexible in your body. Pain you didn't even notice until its gone, at least temporarily, leaving a more revitalized you in its place. Spa treatments also serve as a way to force yourself to calm, as you often can't move for some time. You might not even be able to open your eyes. You then can meditate, pray, or otherwise devote some uninterrupted time to working out solutions to problems in your life. Or if all else fails, you can actually catch up on some sleep, which has healing properties of its own.

By Dina Middin (originally posted to Flickr as Doctor fish) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

7)  Active Meditative Relaxing Capoeira  (Brazil)
Brazil is a large country with a long, mixed history. The national martial art, Capoeira, was developed by slaves who could not fight with weapons and who might have chained hands and feet. The style is acrobatic, almost balletic, and relies heavily on dodging, weaving, and fluid, unpredictable motion. It can be difficult to fight against in actual combat, as your opponent can't predict where you'll be next. Because of the acrobatic aspect, a head might suddenly be replaced by a foot, and directions change from moment to moment. It's intuitive, and even the basic steps look like a dance.

By Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom via Wikimedia Commons

Today, Capoeira has become a kind of active meditation that is practiced by young and old alike. At family get-togethers and festivals, a circle called a "Roda" forms around a cleared area. Drums and other instruments come out and people take turns playing them and sparring in the circle. The idea is not to beat up your opponent, nor to touch him or her at all, but to create a kind of story or dialogue between the supposed fighters.

Capoeira in the Streets:
Capoeira in the Streets
By Adam Jones Adam63 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Capoeira has become a philosophy much like T'ai Chi, and physical contact is strongly avoided. The group also sings together, and the whole experience is one of joy and happiness. Remembrance is another theme that comes up, as well as strength and perseverance. Despite its dark roots, Capoeira today is enjoyed as an aerobic workout and a way to express one's grace and strength.

Check out a video of Capoeira in action:

8)  Relieve Stress With Taarab Music  (Zanzibar)
In Zanzibar, an island country located off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, Taarab is the music of the indigenous people. The word is an Arabic one that essentially means "joy and pleasure brought by poems and music." Each day, Taarab music is performed by a live band while the people gather to drink tea together. Though the concept of listening to live music is nothing new to Western audiences, Taarab takes it a step further. The band becomes a kind of live jukebox, as people will approach the stage, offer a small donation, and request a certain song. The band might play a song about love for someone who wishes to communicate his feelings for someone he admires. It might also play a song about the government for a person who is annoyed at a bureaucrat. The whole experience is a way for people to express things they are unable to say themselves, and it serves as a lighthearted way to relieve stress. Complaints can be couched in less threatening terms, and the people can let off a little steam without hurting feelings.

Taarab Music

9)  Relax via Belly Dancing  (Middle East)
Contrary to what many believe, the art of belly dancing is not just a seductive one. In the Middle East, it's a traditional folk dance that includes men and women of all ages. Every social gathering, party, and family event is likely to involve some form of belly dance. Someone will sing or pick up instruments to play traditional songs, and then men and women both will dance. To think that every form of belly dancing is the kind you see in movies is the same as thinking a waltz is the same as a tango. There are similarities, and of course there are seductive versions, but the style goes much deeper than that. Belly dancing helps the dancer work internal muscles that promote relaxation throughout the body. It's also an excellent cardio workout, which helps blood circulation and strengthens your core.  Many people even relax being a spectator at one of these events.

By Frank Kovalchek [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

10)  Siesta (afternoon naps)  (All over the world)
Countries all over the world have embraced the siesta, or afternoon nap. It began as a tradition in hotter places where the midday sun is too harsh for people to work. Nowadays, it's still in practice in South America, Asia, and Africa as well as several European countries around the Mediterranean like in Greece. Whole towns will shut down for an hour or two after the noon meal as people retreat indoors to refresh themselves. The siesta doesn't need to involve sleep, but it does promote quiet time to unwind, reflect, and plan the rest of the day. Not surprisingly, many communities who practice the siesta also report longer lives, less stress, and even fewer cases of diseases like cancer. In North America, companies are only beginning to experiment with allowing a similar afternoon break, but it has yet to catch on.

Spanish Siesta:
Spanish Siesta
By Hector Garcia from Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain (Siesta) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

11)  Pub Crawling  (Europe mostly, with some other countries)

By David Wilson from Oak Park, Illinois, USA [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It seems like an obvious choice that a pub crawl could aid relaxation, but it's not just because of the alcohol you drink. The distinctly social aspect gives participants a way to connect and catch up in an unhurried setting. By going from one pub to another, you support local businesses and the walk from place to place gives some mild exercise. By the end of the night, if done right, you can go home feeling refreshed and without being too drunk to stand, quite the opposite of the urban clubbing scene in America. The difference between the two is like night and day. Pub crawls usually are quieter and more casual, without the glitz of a nightclub.

By Rafaelcarvalho1987 [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Though it's popular in the United Kingdom, it's in Holland that the pub crawl really gets refined. On Saturday mornings, the local villagers gather by one pub and separate into two groups. Each group gets a stick and a ball. The group can only advance to the next pub as the leader hits the ball with the stick. The leader hits the ball, the group reaches the point where the ball stopped, they stop, and the leader hits the ball again. Only then can they move forward. The route takes them all over the countryside, past neighbors' houses and local shops until they reach the other pub at the end of the day. It's a fun way to enjoy a beautiful day off, hang out with friends, and get a little fresh air while you're at it. And at the end, you know you'll have a cool refreshing pint waiting for you for your efforts.

12)  Fun in the Snow  (Antarctica)

Snow in Antarctica is Amazing!
Snow in Antartica is amazing

Antarctica isn't exactly known for its relaxing lifestyle. For one thing, there's a very limited number of people who live there, and they're all researchers and support staff. Quarters are often too close for comfort with few opportunities to have alone time or even a place to read a book in peace. Summertime is especially busy, with all the wildlife to study, ice and water levels to measure, and the long sunny days that never seem to end. Much of the work is done in the summer when the wildlife is there, but in winter, after all the reports are written and the data has been analyzed, there's more time for leisure. And that means it's time to go out and have some fun in the snow.

People will go skiing, snowboarding, and hiking all over the area. Antarctica is pretty much the ideal place to ski and snowboard, as it's entirely snow in some places. Some people dig snow caves and build igloos for fun. But there's plenty of calming things to do, too. Photography is a favorite hobby, and some residents have built their own darkrooms to develop the photos on their own. After all, it's not like they can run to the one-hour developer on the corner. The team eats lunch together and sometimes play board games. It may seem simple, but the very location makes these ordinary activities into something extraordinary.

Make Sure Hang With the Locals:
local wildlife Make Sure Hang With the Locals:
By Ian Duffy from UK [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The research teams enjoy the more relaxed pace as they get ready for summer to come again, when the animals return and their hectic life starts all over from the beginning.

13)  Fika and Festivals  (Sweden)
Relax with FikaIn Sweden, you'd better be prepared for the fika, because it's an integral part of the culture. Do you fika? – (pronounced fee-ka) Luckily, the fika is all about taking a break during the day to enjoy some tasty refreshments. Loosely translated, it simply means "coffee break." Sweden is known for having healthy, happy people, and the fika is a big part of that. Though similar to the British tea time, the fika is far less formal and usually far more social. Coffee and pastries come out and are shared with friends and family. There are even cafes specifically dedicated to the fika. In Northwest Skane, there's one called Flickorna Lundgren that was opened all the way back in 1938 and still remains popular today. They serve their coffee and pastries in an idyllic garden surrounding. Whole towns will stop what they're doing so they can participate in the fika.

Fika-inspired Gathering:
Fika-inspired Gathering

Sweden also celebrates the Midsummer day, the longest day of the year. It falls on a Friday between June 19 and 25. It's the midpoint of the sunniest season, which is well-loved because the country is plunged into darkness all winter long. A Midsummer pole is erected and decorated with flowers and leaves, then the whole town dances around it while local musicians play favorite folk tunes. Some of the dances include songs about a frog while the whole crowd hops around the pole. The celebration can last for days, as at this point of the year, the darkness never really comes. People eat and sing, dance and laugh, and by the end, the whole town is much happier about life in general. The long winter doesn't seem so bad when you have a celebration like that to look forward to.

14)  Watch Relaxing Historic Sports  (Italy)
At Italy's Lake Garda near Venice, a long-standing tradition involves a weekly regatta of Venetian gondoliers. The rowers come from all over the area, mostly from the towns and cities surrounding Venice but some from further afield. From late June to mid-August, teams of gondoliers gather at various towns around the 32-mile-long lake to compete. Then, in the first week of September, they have the historical final bout right in Venice herself. As the gondoliers row, spectators gather and watch from the beaches and the towns, even from cafes with a view of the water. The whole spectacle is colorful, with long-standing rivals who engage in teasing and boasting. By the end, spectators cheer for everyone. It gives the crowd something to talk about and look forward to for next year.

Venetian gondolier:

By Jikael via Wikimedia Commons

Elsewhere in Italy, in Florence, there is a yearly festival involving a highly unusual sport that is part soccer, part rugby, and part free-for-all. "Calcio" has been around since the 1500s. It's played between Epiphany and Lent. It was originally played by young noblemen but today anyone can participate if they make the team. In front of cheering crowds of thousands, they arrive in very stuffy-looking uniforms in two teams of 27 men. But once the game begins, the uniforms are quickly shredded until the players are reduced to their pants and shoes alone. While some actions are banned, such as sucker punches and kicks to the head, pretty much everything else is allowed. It's a wild and crazy celebration, and while tempers run hot during the game, the upshot is that everyone has a chance to let off some serious steam before the season of Lent begins. Everyone from the players to the spectators goes into this serious holy time feeling more relaxed and focused.

Italy's Calcio Sport:
Italy's Calcio Sport
By Lorenzo Noccioli [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

15)  Laughter Yoga  (Mostly India)
yoga balance stonesPerhaps laughter really is the best medicine. In the mid-1990s, Dr. Madan Kataria of India had an idea to experiment with laughter as a cure for disease. He recruited four people, complete strangers, who joined him at dawn in a park near his home in Mumbai. They told jokes and funny stories and encouraged each other to laugh. Within just a few days, more and more people came to experience the same fun. When some of the people didn't care for the not-so-kid-friendly jokes being told, they did away with them altogether and started physical games instead. The group pretended to be airplanes, tickled each other, and did other silly things that would incite a laugh.

It wasn't long before other clubs began popping up all over India. A walking club leader asked Dr. Kataria to speak to his group and then started his own club in South Mumbai. This area contains some of the most expensive land in India and is the playground of the wealthy from all over the world. Of course, once it caught on in celebrity circles, it spread around the world like wildfire.

yoga and laughter

Today, laughter yoga is practiced all over India and the world. There are over 500 clubs in America alone. Laughter yoga lowers blood pressure, helps exercise core muscles, and reduces stress. Practitioners feel calmer and more able to face their lives after they've had a laughter session. While traditional yoga brings to mind stillness and serenity, laughter yoga encourages bright action and noise, all in the name of good health and fun.

Final Words
Relaxation around the world takes many forms. It isn't always about peace and quiet; in fact, often it's quite the opposite. But that's the beauty of looking around the world for inspiration. Find a new way to look at what you really need in order to unwind. You might find a new sport or a new activity that you hadn't considered before. Or you might see your coffee break in a new light, not as just a way to work on something else but as a way to lower your blood pressure during a hectic day. Many of these activities are done as a community. Reconnect with your neighbors. Set up a regular time for everyone to get together to have fun. Play music, dance a little, and get to know the folks in your town. You might find that everyone benefits from a little rest and relaxation, too.





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