Yoga is another moving meditation known for its restorative powers. "Growing research shows that mindful exercises, among them yoga, decrease both stress hormones and metabolic rate," says Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD, a neuroscientist and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. One yoga spin-off might be particularly effective for the exhausted and burned out: laughter yoga. "After your first session, you'll feel happy and energized. Give it at least a month, and the hormones and endorphins you're producing will start to heal your body of ailments from asthma to depression," says Mumbai physician Madan Kataria, MD. He developed the practice 12 years ago, and it is now taught in more than 5,000 laughter clubs in 53 countries.
Kataria says that when you bust up over something funny, your body releases a whole cocktail of feel-good neurochemicals. One of them, for example, is melatonin (associated with relaxation)—at least according to a study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, which reported that levels were raised in the breast milk of nursing mothers. To see if a laughter club is for you, Kataria suggests trying a quick exercise: Smile as you stand with your hands palms down in front of your hips. Slowly raise them while changing your smile to a grin, then to a chuckle (hands at chest level), deepening into a belly laugh (hands at shoulder level), as you toss back your head to open the airways. Let the laughter build into an uproarious guffaw as you extend your arms into the sky in a Y, as though you're sending your joy out into the universe. You'll probably have to fake it at first (you'll feel silly, so a bit of natural laughter will creep in). It may be easier with another person or a group—start by making eye contact, which tends to get you giggling. When you're through, take a deep breath through your nose, hold it for two counts, and exhale. Repeat the whole sequence a few times, and notice how you feel after five to ten minutes.
The senses can also offer a shortcut to rest. Massage comes to mind. So does aromatherapy; lavender essence in particular, small studies have shown, has a relaxing effect, even reducing stress hormone levels. Visual cues can raise or ease tension, depending on what you're looking at. It's a principle of design, for example, that horizontal lines are restful while vertical ones stir up power and tension (think a bed versus prison bars), and cool colors (blue, green) are said to induce more serenity than hot ones (red or orange). Views of nature have helped hospital patients heal faster. Gazing at an aquarium has been shown to slow the pulse.
Sound, too, can be a potent relaxant, and tempo is a key player. Using various genres from classical to techno and rap, researchers found that, regardless of what music the subjects liked to listen to, an adagio (such as that from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony) and an Indian raga physically decelerated the body into a calm state, compared with faster pieces like a Vivaldi presto (L'Estate) or a song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. One reason for this may be respiratory entrainment, the tendency of the listener's breath to rise and fall with the music's beat. But another theory explains that putting on music—of any kind—can recharge you: When the tempo is brisk, it arouses our engagement; then when it slows or pauses, there's a release of attention that leads to relaxation.