It's not always easy to relax, no matter how good we know it is for body, soul and brain. Sometimes that goal can feel impossible, which is probably why we hear about so many ways to achieve a sense of calm, including more offbeat but applicable ideas that don't involve weeks of vacation.
In Japan's cities, where people work long hours with little vacation time, a practice once reserved for babies is now finding fans among adults. Called otona maki (or otonamaki), the basic idea is to stretch the limbs into positions to relax and loosen them — and then wrap the whole body in a breathable, stretchy cloth to keep the body in that position for 20 minutes or so.
Developed by Japanese midwife and professor Nobuko Watanabe, the wrapping began as a way to both correct minor physical issues in babies, as well as to soothe them (the wrapping mimics the feeling of being in the womb). But now it's a trend for adults, too.
Otona maki isn't the only practice in which the aim is to hold stretches for 10 minutes or more. In Iyengar, a type of yoga, the focus is on the precision of the poses, which are held for longer periods than in a Hatha or Vinyasa class. And so-called "relaxation yoga" classes encourage participants to bend gently in one way or another, sometimes using straps (which are controlled by the practitioner) to deepen a fold or bend while breathing deeply, which certainly shares some ideas with the Japanese adult wrapping.
Office workers drawn to the practice
As you can see in the video above, different people are wrapped in various configurations, depending on the physical issue they're trying to address. Legs may be bent out or up, and shoulders may be brought in towards the body or expanded out — arms might be wrapped in front or behind the torso.
The inexpensive workshops are short, making them appealing to office workers looking for a quick fix for the many issues inherent to working at a desk, especially neck and shoulder pain and spine issues. Participants say it helps with soreness, improves posture, eases aches and pains, and can be very relaxing. After all, when you're wrapped up like this, there's nowhere to go, and nothing you can do — you can't even look at your phone.
There's plenty of skepticism about the process in Japan. Some think it looks creepy, others think it looks like some sort of weird mummification, and some have said it looks anxiety-producing. This is definitely not a mainstream practice by any means, but its basic ideas are not so unusual, when you look more closely.
Just noticing how your body feels, while breathing slowly and deeply, is the key to basic mindfulness practice, which has proven benefits for stressed-out modern humans. Otona maki encourages the same kind of connection to the self, but using cloth wrapping rather than a guided meditation practice. Perhaps it's not so oddball after all.