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.
Relaxation (Forest-bathing) (Japan)
All 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.
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 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.
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.
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:
4) Relax Throwing
Dinner Plates at a Wall (Japan)
Japan 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.
If you want a
bigger crash, you can throw a large platter.
5) Manaka and Acupuncture
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
Meditative Relaxing Capoeira
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.
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 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:
Stress With Taarab Music
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.
9) Relax via Belly Dancing
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.
(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.
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)
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.
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
Snow in Antarctica 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
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
In 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.
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
Relaxing Historic Sports
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.
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.
15) Laughter Yoga
Perhaps 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
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.
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.