Beyond Yoga: Four Alternative Relaxation Therapies

For when downward dog just isn't getting the job done.

Perhaps you’ve already mastered meditation and sun salutations or you’ve never been able to connect with your inner yogi. Or maybe you’re simply looking for some additional means of calming your mind and triggering relaxation.

Rest assured, there are other, more unconventional, forms of meditation and therapy available that you may want to try. Research shows that these emerging therapies show some major promise when it comes to altering your state of mind and improving your mental health. Here are a few alternative practices to consider—yoga mat not required.

Sensory Deprivation

If you watch the TV show Fringe you may recall Olivia hooked up to a bunch of wires while floating in a tank of saline water. Same concept here. The water is body temperature, and it contains a percentage of salt identical to the levels in the body. The salt causes you to float, and the temperature makes it difficult to “feel” the water around you. These tanks are also dark, quiet spaces, thereby depriving you of your main senses (feel, sight, sound and smell), encouraging a meditative state.

Flotation therapy has increased in popularity, growing from just 85 facilities in 2011 to over 250 today. Neuropsychologist Justin Feinstein, who operates Float Clinic, the only “float lab” in the country, conducted research on the brain’s activity during a float session. His studies found that “there is evidence that the fear-based fight-or-flight part of the brain shuts off.” Find out what exactly to expect with this first-hand experience.

Salt Therapy

Salt therapy—also referred to as halotherapy—is pretty much self explanatory. Those undergoing salt therapy either sit in a small, open room filled with salt, rest in a “salt bed,” or stand in a “salt booth.”  This type of therapy is less about the mind, though the environment is certainly conducive to relaxation, and more about healing your skin and body. Lungs, in particular, may benefit from salt therapy.

A study published in the Journal of Medicine and Life found looked at the therapeutic effects of a halotherapy chamber with an artificial salt-mine environment on patients with “certain chronic allergenic respiratory pathologies and infectious-inflammatory pathologies.” They found that those who had bronchial asthma showed a decrease in sensitivities and in the “infectious-inflammatory process.”

Sound Therapy

What if we told you that sound could affect you on a molecular level? Or that it can play a part in your mood? Gongs, in particular, have held a seat at the table in the meditation and yoga world since 4000 B.C., as it’s believed that their vibrations can be therapeutic for the body and calming for the mind. There are such things as “gong masters,” and “gong sound baths,” and yes, anyone can participate.

Writer Leigh Devine reflected on her own experience with a gong bath, stating: “Like a fireworks display that peaks in an explosion of light and colors, and then ends, the gong bath was over, and I was back in the quiet and still. I opened my eyes staring up at the ceiling … The space in my head that had opened up lasted for a good part of the afternoon. I felt relaxed but not tired, physically and mentally joyful.”

Equine Therapy

Horse lovers already know the therapeutic benefits that come with riding, caring for, and tending to the highly intelligent animal. And anyone who’s looked for ways to help an anxious friend, troubled youth, or someone living with a disability, knows that the therapy is a commonly used tool.

In my own experience, horse therapy brought my brother, who has Asperger’s, an incredible amount of joy, peacefulness, and purpose. I watched him leave our house on numerous occasions, anxious and angry and unable to deal with his own bubbling emotions and thoughts, and then transform completely as he worked with and rode horses at a nearby horse therapy center.

My anecdote is just the tip of the iceberg, though. The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) has their share of success stories, and a study published in Society and Animals on Equine-Assisted Experiential Therapy found that participants reported significant reductions in psychological distress and improvements in psychological well being immediately following treatment and that these changes remained six-months after therapy.