July 4, 2008

10 Ways to Beat Stress

By Esther Walker

Long, hard week? Life getting you down? Don't let things become a pain in the neck. Esther Walker shows you how to give your body a treat - and relax in style


What is it? Flotation Rest (restricted environmental stimulation therapy) was developed in America in the 1950s, and is claimed to reduce blood pressure, ease back pain and stress and improve creative powers. During a flotation session you are suspended in a cocoon-shaped tank, filled with a body-temperature Epsom salts solution about 10 inches deep; the solution helps you float and has detoxifying properties.

Fans say that during the first 10 minutes of the treatment, persistent aches and pains worsen, then disappear for up to a month. You can float in the dark, or keep the lights on. At some specialist centres you can even watch TV. The tanks are particularly relaxing for those with joint or back problems and the "light as a feather" feeling is very popular with heavily pregnant women.

Cost: A single flotation session at the London Float Centre in Clapham, south London, costs 45; www.londonfloatcentre.com, 020- 7720 4952

Famous fans: Wayne Rooney



What is it? Reiki, roughly translated from Japanese as "universal life energy" is a practice started by a Buddhist called Mikao Usui in 1922. Reiki practitioners "heal" their patients by transferring energy to the patient through the palms. Usually, the practitioner will not touch the patient but hold their hands close to the body, moving over the head, the torso, knees and feet. Reiki is very popular, but its usefulness is unproven. Critics suggest that the ritual of the healing process has a strong placebo effect. Nevertheless, there is anecdotal evidence that it helps cancer patients recover more quickly and more fully after chemotherapy and it is offered in many cancer wards.

Cost: A one-hour reiki session at Victoria's Health and Beauty in Downend, Bristol is 35; www.victoriasbeauty.co.uk, 0117 957 5080.

Famous fans: Nicole Kidman, Meg Ryan and Davina McCall.



What is it? Invented by Taoist monks 3000 years ago, qigong is related to Tai Chi and Vedic meditation. It is based on the same principles as reiki and shiatsu: that of "qi", "energy" flows and pathways. With qi meaning "air" and "gong" meaning exercise, qigong is based on slow body movements that are co-ordinated with the breathing, encouraging energy to flow down the "right" pathways of the body. Qigong can be practised from manuals or learnt through DVDs, tutorials or courses.

Cost: The Simon Lau Centre offers a three-month programme in qigong for 185 in South Kensington, London; www.simonlau centre.co.uk, 020-7581 1118.

Famous fans: Julia Roberts



What is it? Meditation is a component in most religions, in one form or another, and has been practised for more than 5,000 years. The aim is to calm the mind and induce peace and reflection. In Vedic, or transcendental meditation, the aim is to make thought processes increasingly quiet - the ideal state is when the mind transcends thought. Practitioners recommend 20 minutes of meditation per day to reduce stress and anxiety.

People can achieve a meditative state on their own, by staring out of a bus window, at a spot on a wall or walking. But a meditative state can also be induced; the meditator sits silently and centres their attention by focusing on an object or a process - usually their breathing or on a mantra. Meditation can be self- taught, but the more dedicated can attend tutorials, courses and retreats.

Cost: A private 90-minute meditation session at London Meditation in Primrose Hill, London costs 90; www.london-meditation.co.uk, 020- 7449 2129.

Famous fans: Sting, Halle Berry



What is it? Swedish massage uses five styles of long, flowing strokes and is what westerners typically think of as massage. The strokes include a light touch, kneading, rhythmic tapping, compression and vibration. In Swedish massage, the patient is usually on a padded bench and stripped to the waist and massage oils are usually used. Thai massage is often referred to as "yoga for the lazy", as it incorporates manual massage with passive yogic positions, twisting and deep stretching. It is oil-free and the treatment is most often carried out on the floor, with the patient clothed. The hands, feet, thumbs and elbows can be used by a Thai masseur. An unusual part of Thai massage is trigger-point therapy, where the masseur will apply and then release pressure to key veins to "re-align" circulation.

Cost: A 55-minute Swedish massage at the Pure Spa in Edinburgh costs 55 and a 60-minute Thai massage costs 60; www. purespauk.com, 0131-561 1320.

Famous fans: Gwyneth Paltrow



What is it? Shiatsu is a Japanese word, meaning "finger pressure", and is a holistic treatment. The practice is a manual therapy, which incorporates gentle manipulation and stretches, and has a lot in common with modern physiotherapy.

Shiatsu has all the benefits of traditional massage, in that it can loosen muscles and, simply, feels nice. But a practitioner also aims to shift energy with their hands around the body to relieve tension in some areas and enliven others; the practitioner may use his or her feet, elbows and knees as well as the hands. A good shiatsu practitioner will also talk to patients about their problems and the cause of their stress, which, with the massage, can relieve stress in itself.

Cost: A 50-minute Shiatsu treatment the Holistic Centre in Neston, Cheshire costs 55; www. holistic-centre.org, 0151 336 622

Famous fans: Jennifer Aniston, Rosanna Arquette



What is it? Reflexology uses the manipulation of pressure points, usually on the feet but sometimes on the hands and ears, to relieve ailments elsewhere in the body.

Reflexologists work on the principle that there are crystalline waste products, usually calcium and uric acid, around nerve endings on the foot and feel "crunchy". A Danish trial of 220 patients with migraine or tension headache, published in 1999, reported that reflexology relieved or cured symptoms in 81 per cent of cases.

Cost: Half an hour treatment at The Angel Therapy Rooms in Islington, London, 40; www. angeltherapyrooms.com, 020-7226 1188

Famous fans: Prince Charles



What is it? Aromatherapy is an umbrella term that applies to any healing process involving the use of essential oils. The word "aromatherapy" was first used in the 1920s by French chemist Rene- Maurice Gattefosse. The classic relaxing oil is lavender. Others associated with de-stressing are chamomile, bergamot, patchouli and sandalwood.

Cost: Boots sells essential oils for 4.55 per 100ml; 55 minutes of aromatherapy massage at the Cedar Falls Health Farm in Taunton, Somerset, costs 55; www.cedarfalls.co.uk; 01823 433 233

Famous fans: Cameron Diaz, Dannii Minogue, Jude Law



What is it? Acupuncture is based on the Chinese philosophy that the body's energy, the qi, made up of yin and yang, flows under the skin. If yin or yang is more dominant, qi reserves dip and you become ill. An acupuncturist will discuss your general health to identify unbalanced areas of qi. He or she will then insert fine needles into "energy channels" in the body to restore its natural balance. There have been too few scientific studies conducted to draw firm conclusions about acupuncture, but many people find it helpful with stress.

Cost: An initial treatment is 50 at The Acupuncture Centre, Todmorden, Lancashire; www.zen81491.zen.co.uk, 01706 813 527

Famous fans: Sandra Bullock, Oprah



What is it? It is the application of heated and cooled stones to certain parts of the body. During hot stone therapy, treated volcanic stones, usually basalt or basinite, are heated in water, using temperatures ranging from 120-130F, and placed along the spine. Cooled marble stones are also used. Often the stones are coated in aromatherapy oils. As well as along the spine, some stones are placed in the palms and in between the toes. Hot stone therapists believe that the combination of warm and cold encourages the body to relax.

Cost: 45 minutes of hot stone therapy costs 45 at Thermae Bath Spa, Bath; www.thermaebathspa.com, 01225 331 234

Famous fans: Ashley Judd and Anjelica Houston


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