Phil Hogan: 'Why, it's meditation for the body!'

For many of us, relaxing has moved on in recent years from the traditional Roman model (lying around on chaise longues all afternoon, being fed larks' tongues on toast by slaves), more towards the mind-body-spirit aesthetic of the ancient east.

Take tai chi, for example. Are you not quite as chilled a person as you'd like to be? Would you like to be more tolerant of people that you currently tear your own head off to avoid speaking to? Do you have bad dreams? Tai chi is good for all these things, and very popular.

Just look at China, with entire communities up at dawn and flocking to city parks and squares for an hour or so of slow movement in the early smog. I remember watching an elderly couple at it from my hotel window in Shanghai - the man caught in the attitude of dancing with an invisible bear, the woman leaning forward with a hand outstretched as though attempting to halt a runaway train the hard way.

In tai chi, there's an unnatural-looking position for every occasion, each devoted to the cultivation of internal energy or chi (sometimes spelt qi for the benefit of Scrabble enthusiasts).

I attended a tai chi class in the Caribbean once, attracted by its promise as a curative for bad posture, gastric disorders, muscular toning and road rage - plus, of course, there's no heavy lifting. I wasn't quite a natural.

I began to wonder if it helped if you were a relaxed sort of person to start with. And it wasn't as easy as it looked. There was one bit where I had to stand, unaided, on one leg, while the rest of the class watched pityingly; perhaps rightly suspecting that I was only there because my kayaking had been cancelled because of high winds.

I quite liked the look of chi kung, though, which has less movement - quite often none. If you see someone in your local park pretending to be holding a bow and arrow, this could be what they're up to. All the action happens on your insides, stimulated by idiosyncratic breathing techniques geared to providing benefits for lungs and colon.

The Germans' idea of relaxation, meanwhile, is a bracing country stroll without shoes and socks on. "Barfuss walking", as they call it, was apparently invented by a 19th-century Bavarian priest, though presumably cavemen had the idea first. Anyway, now it's a branch of reflexology and if you can't be bothered to visit the Black Forest, it is available in Stoke. I myself tried a particularly austere urban version of it in Macau.

Barfuss might not sound very relaxing (what if you stand on a hedgehog?) but don't worry - the Germans set up trails that take you through only the best water, gravel, mud, tree bark, pebbles, grass and whatnot. By all accounts it's good for your blood pressure and at the end of it all, your feet have never felt so tinglingly alive; a feeling that communicates itself to your entire being (just be sure to maintain those low stress levels when you get back home by not walking mud across someone's clean floor).

For those still hankering for the classical virtues, what better than a touch of basic hydrotherapy in the form of a nice soothing bath? But forget the Radox; it's time you sorted out those jangling nerves with a few hours in a floatation tank! You can buy your own if you have money to burn and a large sitting room; otherwise just pop down to your local float centre, get your kit off, immerse yourself in the drown proof 25cms of warm water (it's kept at body temperature) and let your senses go. The super-saturation of Epsom salts keeps you gravity free, and once you've killed the lights and got your earplugs in, why it's ... it's meditation for the body!

Remember Altered States, the '80s film in which the boffin played by William Hurt loses his mind from being suspended in that tank for days on end? Well, it's not like that, though floatation tanks do boast a proud history in the service of experimental psychology. But here it's just the ultimate in relaxation. Your brain, having nothing better to do, releases a tonne of endorphins and ticks down to a state of simultaneous alertness and dreaminess in which the left side discovers its right.

It is said (by floatation tank sales professionals) that it takes Buddhist monks years to get this in touch with themselves. "Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream," as John Lennon sang - though of course he may have been talking about heroin. We won't be recommending that.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.