Relax, it's just another hard day at the office

Every working person in the UK takes three days off a year as a result of stress. You can avoid this, say Melanie Rickey and Holly Davies, by making time both in and out of the workplace to indulge in some serious relaxation through yoga, Pilates and on-site massage.

Yoga

Latest figures show that this 5000-year-old Indian discipline is regularly practised by 250,000 people in the UK with numbers expected to grow by 20 per cent in the next year. There are several different types of yoga, but all have the same general aim - to increase oxygenation of the blood, stretch muscles, increase suppleness outside and in, and achieve a sense of mind/body/ spirit union.

This in turn increases concentration, and helps reduces toxin levels, a key source of skin problems and mood swings which compound stress. It also stimulates internal organs, particularly the heart and lungs, and slows the ageing process.

For those wishing to unwind after work and de-stress there are two suitable options. Hatha yoga involves the use of body positions, sequences, breathing techniques and meditation to create balance between mind, body and spirit. Astanga Vinyasa, or power yoga, attracts those who need more vigorous exercise but still need to relax. Astanga is also very proving popular with celebrities such as Frank Bruno, Jodie Foster and Rob Lowe who are taking it up in place of aerobics, or personal training.

Half an hour of power yoga uses the same number of calories (300-350) as jogging for the same length of time. Ditto physical yoga which uses the same number of calories (200-250) as a step class, or sex.

The British Wheel of is the offical governing body. Call (01529) 306 851 for a nationwide list of qualified teachers and general information.

Biomedical Trust, Cambridge is a research faculty set up in 1983 which focuses on the medical benefits of yoga. It also carries a nationwide list of qualified teachers, call (01223) 367 301 for information.

for Health Foundation, Ickwell, Bedfordshire runs classes for all levels from beginner to experienced but also has special courses for people with ME, MS, Arthritis and other health problems, call (01767) 627271.

The Life Centre in West London runs classes at all levels, one-to-one sessions and also arranges yoga weekends. Send an SAE to The Life Centre, 15 Edge Street, London W8 7PN and request an information pack.

City Centre in East London has a full range of classes and workshops, call 0171-253 3000 for information.

Pilates

This technique is more than 80 years old and, although it was invented by a German, it has now emigrated to the US where it is popular with dancers, sports stars and celebrities - including Madonna, Patrick Swayze, and Pat Cash - and has picked up many devotees here too since being introduced in 1981.

Joseph Pilates developed his fitness regime while in confinement during World War I. He was a weak child who grew up to be a fitness obsessive. When there was no opportunity to run, box or wrestle in confinement he developed an exercise routine which required little space, but which was strengthening, yet subtle and gentle. The core of the Pilates method is a combination of eight key principles: relaxation through breathing, concentration, co-ordination, alignment, flowing movements, centering and stamina. It involves mind and body control, but unlike yoga there is no meditation, though breathing technique is very important.

At first many of the exercises seem similar to traditional aerobics classes, but the Pilates Body Control approach is different. As Joseph Pilates said "It is the mind itself which controls the body", and Pilates requires deep concentration to perform, as opposed to simply expending energy. This concentration helps banish stressful thoughts and create positive ones, a key element of stress relief. The exercises concentrate on specific regions, particularly the lower abdomen which Pilates believed is the centre of bodily strength. Most of the workout is done on a mat, and on specialist machines, and includes working with wrist and ankle weights when required. One of the most enticing things about Pilates is its relaxing nature. The aim is not to sweat it out, but to get your body in touch with your mind. Those who take up Pilates seriously swear by it.

Body Control Pilates Association, 17 Queensberry Mews West, London SW7 2DY, send a self addressed envelope for full details of your nearest centre and list of instructors. Alternatively visit the website on www.bodycontrol.co.uk

Pilates Foundation provides a full list of Pilates studios around the country, call 0171-584 0680.

Body Control The Pilates Way, pounds 9.99, by Lynne Robinson and Gordon Thomson, is a good way to become aquainted with the discipline. Both authors teach Pilates at various London studios where clients includes Tracy Ullman and Wayne Sleep. The book, published by Boxtree, is available from good book shops, enquiries and mail order (01256) 302 699.

The Pilates Centre, 1 Broadvent Close, 20/22 Highgate High Street, London N6 runs beginners courses. pounds 95 for three lessons. Call 0181-348 1442 for enquiries.

Gordon Thomson's Body Control Studio in Kensington: classes start from pounds 25. Call 0171-581 7041 for a full list of services, including one-to- one training.

On Site Massage

Carol Scott is part of a growing band of practitioners who have taken their work from the treatment room to the office.

Her philosophy is that there is no better way of dealing with stress than on the spot, and she spends her time visiting corporate clients in their offices with an orthopaedic chair which supports the back, face and neck while she works on stress points. Scott and her team specialise in acupressure, which works on100 stress release points around the neck, shoulders, arms, hands and scalp.

The massage lasts 20 minutes, is done with the subject fully clothed and uses no oils. It is designed first to relax and then energise the employee before they return to work. "When people are spending up to 8- 10 hours in front of computer screens, circulation reduces and creates muscle tension," Scott says.

Acupressure is designed to combat these effects by boosting circulation to the muscles and increasing their suppleness, it also promotes the movement of lymph around the body which diminishes the chances of catching a cold or flu. "In the offices I visit, staff have mentioned a reduced incidence of colds and flu," she says. And people admit they find it easier to recognise over-stress once they've been treated by an on-site therapist.

Scott already works for the BBC and several City firms, who allow employees to take time out for a massage during working hours. All she needs is a quiet area. It costs pounds 15 per person and can be paid for by the individual or the company.

Call 0181-440 8773 to make an appointment with Carol Scott, who may also be able to put you in touch with a local practitioner in your area

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