The Phone's Ringing.
The Boss Is Yelling.
The Report's Overdue.
Could Be the Salve You Seek
By Wendi Kaufman
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 14, 2003; Page HE01
Not all the heavy breathing on the Internet comes from sites you don't want
your kids to see. Some is prompted by sites you'd rather keep from your boss and
Dozens of online meditation and relaxation Web sites promise frazzled souls
relief from the daily grind, provided right at the desktop. They offer
at-the-click-of-a-mouse escapes to nature (or its simulated sights and sounds)
and desk-chair exercises (deep breathing, meditation and yoga) aimed at
restoring that sense of well-being you lost at the fax machine.
But isn't it counterproductive to try relaxing in front of the same computer on
which you've been working all day?
"Not necessarily," says physician Martha Howard, an online presence at a leading
relaxation site and director of the Wellness Associates of Chicago, a center
that combines Western and non-Western approaches to health and medicine. Howard
explains that people tend to hold their breath while working and concentrating,
becoming tense and tight, robbing brain and body tissue of oxygen. "Taking a
break to do deep-breathing exercises, like those demonstrated online, could
actually increase productivity," she says. Convincing your boss may be another
Howard, along with 22 other medical practitioners including wellness gurus
Andrew Weill and Bernie Siegel, doles out soothing advice at Desktopspa, a
mega-site for meditation and relaxation, guided imagery, breathwork and yoga.
Filling Howard's prescription, I decided to log on and zone out. Here's what I
experienced at six sites, including Desktopspa.com and some of its smaller
cousins. A note: While all the reviewed sites are free, several aspire to become
subscription services paid for by employers. All have links to commercial
• Desktopspa (www.desktopspa.com) A newcomer to the expansive site, I am invited
to answer a questionnaire to help identify my work-related hazards, like eye
strain, stress and wrist and hand pain. As a writer, sitting and typing at the
computer for long periods is a way of life for me. My personalized program,
crafted from questionnaire responses, returns a full range of audio-visual
remedies promising to help me feel "more energized, balanced and, most
important, happy at work."
Desktopspa recommends I try five "treatments" for energy and concentration,
three for eye strain and easily a dozen more for neck, shoulder, back, head and
general health issues. I clearly need lots of work.
Treatment recommendations include acupressure, guided imagery, yoga, meditation
and relaxation, presented by 14 practitioners in short video or audio segments.
Cyndi Lee's "Yoga for Tense Shoulders" intrigues me. With a click, Lee, director
of the Om Yoga Center in New York, pops cheerfully on-screen and then warns me
of something dire she calls "phone and monitor neck." I am quickly convinced I
Lee invites me to follow along as she rotates her shoulders in "big juicy
circles." Then she folds her arms behind her head and begins to inhale and
exhale deeply, all the while rolling her shoulders forward and back.
For the next two minutes and 40 seconds I try to replicate Lee's motions, until
I have my arms crossed in front of me and I am rotating from the waist in large
circles, my head bouncing like a bobblehead doll's. After the exercise, my
shoulders and neck feel looser, warmer. But I was glad I was doing this in my
Desktopspa visitors are invited to tour a demo of treatments or register free
(by typing "guest" at the password prompt), which allows you to schedule "spa
time" -- an e-mail reminder 10 minutes before it's time to log on -- and send a
"well-o-gram" e-mail, directing friends to your favorite treatment site.
• Canyon Ranch (www.canyonranch.com/spa_experience) Can't find the time or funds
to steal away to any of the exclusive Canyon Ranch Spa locations? You can have a
virtual Canyon Ranch come to you.
The shortest of the seven guided meditations offered by the site's meditation
room to "soothe my soul" is a three-minute, 40 second combination of breathing
instructions -- "exhaling tension" -- and guided visualization to help me find
my "inner retreat." I am instructed to find a place in my mind that soothed and
calmed me, a place where I could simply "let go and let be." I was so relaxed by
this shorter mediation that I was hesitant to try to the 12-minute versions (one
a progressive full-body relaxation), worried they would leave me in a stupor at
• My Daily Yoga (www.mydailyyoga.com) Yoga instructor Ellen Serber demonstrates
14 poses to help alleviate stress and get the circulation going. With simple
graphics and text descriptions, her tiny animated double demonstrates how to
move the head from side to side or shake out tension from arms and wrists.
Serber offers RSI yoga, for repetitive stress injuries, and everyday desk yoga,
with a few poses that actually called for me to leave my chair for standing and
• Grace Cathedral (www.gracecathedral.org) Seeking mind relaxation in a more
spiritual context, I let my fingers do the walking through the on-screen
labyrinth at Grace Cathedral. Using my mouse, I slowly and mindfully negotiated
the circular maze, a replica of the pattern on the floor of the Chartres
cathedral in France. As I went, I tried (per instructions) to empty my mind and
relax, concentrating only on the path in front of me. The problem is that the
graphics on this "finger meditation" look a bit like a video game. I had to
remind myself several times that "solving" the maze is not the point.
• Unwind (www.unwind.com). If you prefer to have your meditation and relaxation
served up in the great outdoors, Unwind might fool your senses -- or remind you
what you're missing. No guided meditation here, just nature sounds and slide
show graphics along five themed options -- "whispering waterfalls, soothing
seas, meditation mountains, relaxing places and serene skies." Featured
photographs are from popular travel destinations around the world; the unspoiled
vistas of Thailand beach sunsets were beguiling.
• Beliefnet (www.beliefnet.com) A one-stop mart for spirituality and world
religions, this site offers almost a dozen guided meditations, including one for
teens -- "how to chill the Buddhist way." After a hard day of relaxing online, I
found "A Moment of Calm," the 10-minute Buddhist mindfulness meditation led by
Tara Branch, a good way to cool down, leaving me calm and refreshed and ready to
call it a day.•
Wendi Kaufman is a Washington area freelance writer.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company