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Indoor plants on a shelf
Photograph: Nicole Reed

20 ways to switch off the stress

Give yourself a fresh start this spring with these 20 anti-stress ideas

By Time Out editors

There’s something symbolic about the change of seasons. If you're feeling inspired to make a change to your routine, we've got a list of the best yoga studios around town. On a health kick? We've got suggestions for the best healthy breakfasts and lunch deliveries. Plus, you could get away from it all with these yoga retreats in New South Wales or take a short break from the city with these weekend getaways

Flotation tank at Sydney Float Centre
Photograph: Supplied

1. Sydney Float Centre

Health and beauty Spas Brookvale

A floatation tank is a large pod filled with ultra-salty water to a depth of 25cm (think Eleven from Stranger Things). You lie inside it nude with your ears plugged (to prevent the water getting in), allowing the dense solution to cradle your body. There’s soothing music, then silence, then the lights go off, and you’re left floating for an hour. The sensation is very relaxing – magnesium in the water releases the tension in your muscles – and, deprived of external stimulation, many people report entering a meditative state where they seem to be floating in space. Time Out did not encounter David Bowie when we tried it at the Sydney Float Centre, but we did emerge feeling rejuvenated and even a little reborn – although that could have something to do with the pleasantly sticky consistency of the salt water that’s a bit like amniotic fluid. We’re told that it can take a couple of attempts to achieve what floatation fans call the “magic float”.

2. Hang upside down

Sport and fitness Yoga, pilates and meditation Surry Hills
A Rush of Blood to the Head isn’t just a Coldplay album you’d like to switch off, it’s also the physical consequence of rolling yourself up in a mesh hammock and hanging upside down for a few seconds at a time. That’s what happens in aerial yoga. You’re suspended in nets that hang from the ceiling, and – at least in our beginner’s class – guided through a series of poses that look neck-breakingly dangerous, but are surprisingly easy once you’re in them. Surprisingly not easy? The hanging upside down part – called an ‘inversion’, and the first time we tried it, we felt like our head would explode after about three seconds. That sensation abated with repetition, but it never quite went away. Aerial yoga’s unique selling point is the way it lets your whole body stretch out and decompress, sans the usual pull of gravity. It’s also said to help with circulation and lymphatic drainage, as all that blood that’s been pooling in your toes rushes back through your body. The nicest part, however, comes at the end of class, when you spend time hanging out in the foetal position, cocooned in a white veil, and gently rocking like a baby. We came out feeling a little taller, and much better rested.

3. Walk the Royal National Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Royal National Park
It's less than an hour's drive from the CBD, yet so many Sydneysiders haven't stepped foot in the pristine 15,091 hectares of bushland that lines the coast south of Sydney. Whether you want to swim in pristine water holes, hike along the jagged coastline, chase waterfalls or just GTFO of Sydney for the day, the Royal National Park is the perfect place to get grounded. And bonus switch off: there’s little-to-no reception along the headlands so you’ll be foot loose and screen free!
People in a room talking to one another
Photograph: Supplied

4. Get your shit together with the Indigo Project

Health and beauty Surry Hills

These no-nonsense workshops offer practical advice and tools for slowing your mind down and de-stressing. The focus is mindfulness – a practice that trains you to pay attention to your thoughts and slow down using techniques like mindful meditation. If you have the attention span of a goldfish (this writer may have checked her email three times and started writing two other stories while writing this) there are very real benefits of slowing down and switching off. If personal testaments aren’t enough, mindfulness has been scientifically proven to help lower stress and anxiety levels too.

Guide with raised hand on a tour
Photograph: Emily Lloyd-Tait

5. Connect to country in an Aboriginal-led tour

Things to do Walks and tours

A lot of people might be broadly aware of Australia’s Aboriginal history but the mistake is in considering it just that: history. The spiritual practices of our first peoples are still part of their daily lives in 2016, and through Splendour Tailored Tours you’ll get a glimpse into the world’s oldest continuous culture, as it is lived, not how you imagine it to be. Prepare to get up early because you’ll be meeting Aboriginal elder Aunty Margaret Campbell under the pylons of the Harbour Bridge for a welcome to country and to acknowledge the ‘grandfather sun’. Aunty Marg’s stories will transport you a time and place before colonization, when people could watch the whales from the lookout that existed long before the bridge and bring their fish to the cooking fires built on the same sandstone they used as a foundation for Sydney.

Woman relaxing in spa bath
Photograph: Supplied

6. Take a bath at Nature's Energy

Health and beauty Balmain
Balmain Bath House has to be the best bang for buck when it comes to sweating it out and scrubbing up. Hidden behind the Nature’s Energy store on Darling Street, the Bath House is larger than you would expect and the experience includes fluffy robes, slippers and herbal tea on tap. They offer specialised massages, spa facials, waxing and spray tanning, but the main drawcard is the hot spa, steam room and sauna. Using the Bath House costs $28 per person for 30 minutes. On Time Out’s visit, one of the most popular treatments was the Turkish Body Scrub (15 minutes, $36). The full-body exfoliation uses a seasonal body wash and leaves you with skin as soft as a baby’s.
Three women in yoga positions at the Salt Rooms
Photograph: Supplied

7. Surround yourself with salt

Health and beauty Bondi Junction

Ever fantasised about walking into a cave made of crystals, then chilling out under a blanket for an hour? That’s what Salt Room therapy is all about, and the salt-crystal cave in question has been built in the corner of a Bondi Junction parking lot. Salt therapy, also known as halotherapy or speleotherapy is meant to help ease the symptoms of allergies, skin conditions and asthma. On the day we attended, we were lead into a chilly room, its walls lined with translucent white bricks of salt, its floor covered in fat chunks of the stuff. There was a halotherapy machine tucked into the wall next to us, whirring as it filled the air with tiny salt particles. Within five minutes, having rubbed our bare feet on the salt, and licked the wall, just to see (it tasted salty), we’d become bored so we snuck out to grab our phone. Fortunately, texting doesn’t change the efficacy of the treatment. Speaking of efficacy, the Lung Foundation does not recommend Salt Rooms as a proven fix for, well, anything, but it could be a fun way to switch off from your daily routine. This asthmatic patient detected no discernable difference in breathing ability post-treatment, but our face was covered in a thin and pleasant coating of salt afterwards, like a trip to the beach with the volume turned down.

The Letter Writing Project 1998 ongoing by Lee Mingwei
Photograph: Jessica Maurer

8. Get something off your chest


There’s a reason the Greeks invented catharsis: so you could purge those pesky emotions and get a little peace. ‘The Letter Writing Project’, currently at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of their free exhibition Telling Tales, offers visitors the chance to get something off their chest by writing a letter to a deceased or absent loved one. Within the gallery space are three petite plywood ‘pavilions’, each fitted with a writing desk at different heights, corresponding to the three poses of Buddhist contemplation (sitting, kneeling or standing). Choose a pose/pavilion, remove your shoes, and enter to write your letter, then leave it (unsealed if you’re happy for other visitors to read your words) in one of the slots along the pavilion walls. Letters with valid addresses will be posted by the MCA, free of charge; unaddressed letters will be delivered to artist Lee Mingwei, who created the work in 1998, at the end of the exhibition.

People singing in a choir
Photograph: Supplied

9. Sing in the Welcome Choir

Things to do Games and hobbies

As Choir of Hard Knocks and Sydney Street Choir founder Jonathan Welch says, “Singing for an hour a week in a choir has now been scientifically proven to help build your immune system and fight cancer, build neural pathways for those who’ve had strokes and can't speak ... the list goes on.” It’s also anecdotally proven to make you feel happy. Inner Westies can check out Newtown’s Welcome Choir, which meets weekly and is open to people who love singing and are willing to learn the lyrics – you don’t need to audition, you don’t even need to be able to read music. “We want to offer a place that is also safe for greater diversity,” says co-founder Betty Judd. Lead by musical director Bek Jensen, the 30-or-so regulars have a feelgood repertoire that includes Adele, Fleetwood Mac, Outkast, Prince and Madonna.

Books on a window shelf at the School of Life
Photograph: Hilary Walker

10. Find meaning at the School of Life

Things to do Classes and workshops Sydney
Spring is a time for renewal, and philosophy can be a big help when it comes to finding your way around who you are and where you want to go. This month, the School of Life is running a workshop called Making Meaning: Spring in which Dr Kirsty McGeoch, a certified facilitator with the Center for Courage & Renewal, will lead an exploration of how we can learn about ourselves through the lens of the seasons – incorporating personal reflection, engagement with others, as well as poetry, music and art. If seasonality is not your jam, they’re also running courses in Understanding Mindfulness, How to Realise your Potential and Living with a Creative Mind.

11. Find this oasis of calm

Things to do Sydney

Waterfalls, weeping willows, lily pads and blossoms make this one-hectare garden a charming and calming place to visit. The garden transports visitors from Sydney's city of sin into a world of tradition and calm – a refreshing change from exhaust fumes and traffic. The garden is dotted with hidden treasures, including an ancient cyad (fossil plant) and the red silk cotton tree (a floral symbol of Guangdong). A highlight is the Lake of Brightness, which is full of chubby carp. Savour the peace and quiet and be cocooned from the crazy city.

Woman resting in a sleep pod
Photograph: Virgin Active

12. Take a nap in the city

Sport and fitness Sydney
Sometimes the only cure is sleep. Hangovers, work stress, relationship issues can all feel very different after a long nap. Luckily, city workers can hibernate at any time of day in the Sleep Pods at Pitt Street Mall’s Virgin Active gym. The pods recline to promote blood flow and reduce pressure on the lower back, and they block out sound from the surrounding workout studios, letting you drift off during your lunchbreak. Need to keep it brief? Subtle vibrations in the pod bring you back to consciousness in time for that boardroom meeting.

13. Volunteer on the farm

Attractions Farms Camperdown

When you’re getting stuck into a dirty job there’s no time for texting. Put your phone away and lend a hand down on the urban farm. Not-for-profit organisation Pocket City Farms have turned a former disused bowling club into a fully operational urban farm, called Camperdown Commons, and they need people like you to muck in and help keep the project running. They have regular volunteering slots that run from 10am-noon, and tasks include weeding, planting, chicken coop cleaning, mulching, compost turning and many other day-to-day duties. Sign up to help on the Pocket City Farms website and farm manager Michael Zagoridis will be in touch with the days they have available for helpers. 10am-noon. Free. Various days.

Indoor plants on a shelf
Photograph: Nicole Reed

14. Exercise your green thumb

Things to do Classes and workshops
Turn your house into a jungle with a crash course in Creative Indoor Gardening. The Planthunter founder Georgina Reid will teach you how to propagate plants, how to be creative with plant design and how to make sure you don’t kill them within the first week. From watering to fertilising, you’ll walk away with the basics as well as a collection of indoor plant cuttings so you can start building your botanical empire. There’ll be wine, a chance to get hands-on, and plenty of like-minded plant lovers to chat to.
Sky Carter from Free Form Weaving
Photograph: Viviane Perenyi

15. Concentrate on something fiddly

Things to do Classes and workshops

Spin some yarn, literally and figuratively, at Work-Shop’s Free Form Weaving class. It’s social and you’ll learn a new skill, plus we’re pretty sure you can’t check work emails as you craft your wall hanging. Teacher Sky Carter will run through simple techniques to create a woven masterpiece, and you get to take home your own loom so you can repeat the skills you’ve learned in front of the TV. Other courses at Work-Shop in September include Introduction to Sculpture, Shibori: Indian Dyeing, Creative Fine Line Illustration and Cheesemaking.

People sitting on chairs meditating
Photograph: Supplied

16. Experience a guided meditation

Things to do Sydney

Meditation is said to improve sleep patterns, reduce anxiety and improve rational decision making, but it’s not easy to achieve on your own. If you struggle to switch off without a bit of guidance, drop into Centred Meditation in the city for a half-an-hour calming experience in an armchair. Each session is free of chanting, prayer or religious affiliation and you can book your slot in advance or simply show up. They offer three different types of meditation, called ‘clarity’, ‘confidence’ and ‘calm’ which means you can choose the one that suits your frame of mind whether you’re anticipating a big day ahead or want to zone out after hours. There are cushions, blankets and tea to help make the experience more snug.

Newtown Sydney - 11th August 2016. The City of Sydney is supporting a new Street Libraries project. These mini libraries are being installed across Sydney
Photograph: Katherine Griffiths

17. Build yourself a street library

News City Life
Unwinding with a good book is always going to be relaxing – so what if you could give that gift to total strangers? Street libraries have been cropping up across the city, and anyone can join in on the pop-up literary community hubs, by either donating books, borrowing books or making your own library. Find a local pop-up library in your ‘burb, or head to 107 Projects to learn how to build your own. 107 Projects, Redfern 2016. Noon. $146.25. Sat Sep 24.
The Cipher Room Espionage escape room
Photograph: Supplied

18. Concentrate on one thing: escaping

Things to do Games and hobbies Erskineville
This escape room in Newtown is brilliantly challenging and entertaining, and a great way to forget the real world for 60 minutes. Try the debut escape room in Newtown, the Cipher Room. You and your co-players have just one hour to locate the secrets that Agent ‘M’ has hidden somewhere in the room. To find them, you’re going to have to look for clues, follow a bunch of hints and crack a bunch of codes. Time Out sent a trio of players to solve the room’s mysteries, but up to six people can play at once. This is a game that has been cleverly conceived to provide a variety of tactile, visual and aural experiences.
Generic Tai Chi 01
Photograph: Flickr/Edwin Lee

19. Try meditation in motion

Tai Chi has been described as meditation or medication in motion because the gentle movements between postures are thought to massage the internal organs, increase strength and flexibility, improve circulation and produce a sense of calm. If you’re new to the exercise, the Tai Chi Society in Sydney is a good place to start. You’ll find beginners’ sessions at locations like Annandale, Waverley Primary School, Chatswood and at Argle Street in the city. Come dressed in comfortable clothing and flat shoes. 02 9954 7266. Eight weeks $85-$105.

Bliss out

Exercises at Bondi Yoga House
Exercises at Bondi Yoga House
Photograph: Supplied

Yoga retreats in New South Wales

Health and beauty Massages

Whether it’s a luxury getaway that you crave, or a peaceful place to practice, there are yoga retreats in New South Wales that cater for different budgets and experiences.


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