Café culture is booming, but they are not all the same……

Ji-hoon opened the door and walked in. He ordered his usual jasmine tea, sat on a bean bag and read the menu. “What about a heated bed, the oxygen generators, a massage, or, perhaps, a little bit of mind-massaging counselling?” After some thought and a few sips of his tea; “No, I think I’ll try one of the hammocks today.”

His regular haunt is a stress cafe in Seoul, South Korea. He is not alone. South Koreans who have lived with an unpredictable neighbour for many years have a reputation for working long hours especially in high tech. They have enthusiastically accepted these cafes with their curious menus. In fact, Seoul has a vibrant café culture offering all sorts of themed cafes from Lego, jewellery making, and a kitty café.

Another chain focusing explicitly on taking time out and relaxing is called Mr Healing’s Relaxation Cafes. This is a chain of 110 throughout the country opened since 2015.They offer private vibrating massage chairs that can be hired for different time periods. The price seems reasonable; a little over £5 for 30 minutes, including a drink.

massage chair

Relaxation is clearly important in our modern ultra-connected but disconnected lives. Taking time out from busy schedules helps us unwind. But there is more to relaxation than taking time out and doing relaxing things. Although relaxation is a natural process most of us could benefit from a little relaxation training. It has become part of many approaches to helping people who have become psychologically distressed. Methods include such things as; meditation, mindfulness, and visualisation, to help us still our minds; and Yoga, Pilates, relaxation exercises which focus more directly on the physical side.

All these methods are useful even when we are not distressed. They are all based on our natural ability to relax. You could argue that learning to relax when we have a so-called mental health issue is leaving it too late. It’s harder to relax when our situation has become complicated and we are concerned about our psychological health.

Some time ago I met Paul who practiced relaxation exercises three times a day. He believed he had to do this to stop himself becoming anxious and distressed. He explained that if for any reason he couldn’t do the relaxation exercises he became quite uptight and tense simply because he felt he hadn’t done something he needed to do. We don’t know what he had been told about doing the exercises, but Paul had become technique dependent and was not making any progress.

Doing the exercises cannot magically make us feel better. What matters is how we do them and what we learn from them. The essence of relaxation is about clearing our mind and relaxing our bodies. It’s a natural process and something we all know how to do whether it’s a deep breath and a sigh, stretching or rubbing tight muscles, telling ourselves to park our thoughts with “not now” or “wait and see”. Sighs matter. But for most of us we could do it better.

From time to time most of us get caught up in day-to-day stuff. We forget to pay attention to our thoughts and how our bodies feel. For this reason, it’s a good idea to practice relaxation exercises now and then. These tap into your natural ability to relax. With just a little practice you become more aware of tension building up in your body. You can use this as a signal to clear your mind and let go of the tension in your muscles.

But don’t make Paul’s mistake; don’t become technique dependent. Don’t do them only when you are really wound up. What you are trying to do is re-establish and extend your natural abilities; to learn to be more aware of how you are feeling physically. This awareness will mean you can do everyday things in a more relaxed way. You’ll use less energy, feel fresher and be less tired at the end of the day. Perhaps, then we wouldn’t need massage chairs and stress cafes even if some of it sounds good.

A set of relaxation exercises can be found under “Thinking Tools”. (The exercises are based on a set introduced by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the 1930s; they have stood the test of time.) Make a recording of them or get someone with a calm voice to read them to you. Most people are amazed at how good it feels.%MCEPASTEBIN%%MCEPASTEBIN%