Relaxing as a sport? I took part in Europe's first Extreme Relaxing Championships in London, to see if I could become the ultimate chillaxer.
I've never been the most athletically inclined individual. And mastering a musical instrument or even cooking a carbonara without scrambling the eggs has always been beyond my grasp.
However, those acquainted with me can vouch for my prowess in one area: the art of relaxation - especially when it comes to napping.
Give me a cosy, warm bed and a couple of plush pillows, and I'll show you how to reach peak lounging performance.
So, imagine my excitement when I caught wind that the UK was hosting the first-ever 'Extreme Relaxing Championships' in all of Europe. This was my shot at glory.
After a successful application, I journeyed to London's Oval Stadium, the venue for the competition.
Against the fierce competition of 19 other relaxation warriors, I entered the arena (which was more of a comfortable sofa zone) to determine if I could out-chill them all.
The birth of the UK's Extreme Relaxing Championships
The Extreme Relaxing Championships, or as the organisers put it, the pursuit of “perfecting doing absolutely nothing other than relax”, was the brainchild of the renowned sport psychologist and Senior Lecturer in Sport & Exercise Psychology at Loughborough University, Dr. Jamie Barker.
South Korea has already hosted its own competitive relaxing competitions, but Barker was inspired to create his own version following the alarming findings of a March 2023 study, that indicated nearly half of the British workforce was teetering on the edge of burnout.
"A lot of my research has been around trying to find strategies to help people relax. And so I was curious to see how we could create a Championships like this and determine how effective people were at doing it," Barker told me during the event.
"There is an ever-growing need for people to find ways to relax to aid recovery from every-day stress and increasing demands on individuals' time. Evidence clearly indicates that taking time to be present, mindful, and relaxed on a regular basis does positively contribute towards positive mental health and wellbeing along with mitigating the negative effects of stress," he added.
My experience competing in the games
Upon arriving at the Kia Oval cricket ground in London, with only a vague sense of what lay ahead of me, I was handed a heart rate monitor by one of the officials and told to strap it around my upper body.
Their briefing outlined the upcoming challenge: a sequence of three unique rounds, all to be experienced while seated, with the fluctuations of our heart rates under constant observation by their team of fitness experts.
The winner would be the individuals who could keep their heart rate as low as possible throughout the rounds. It sounded simple enough...
I plonked myself down onto one of the 20 incredibly comfortable Snug sofas in the epicentre of the competition area. And no, this is not a sponsored article - although Snug, if you happen to be reading this, I wouldn't mind of those comfy bad boys. Feel free to get in touch!
As I awaited the grand showdown, I couldn't help but eyeball my fellow contenders. There was Mr. Chillax in front of me, rocking the sunglasses and baseball cap combo, practically becoming one with the armchair, and just behind me, a man-bunned yogi-looking dude, deep in Zen mode with his eyes serenely shut.
Doubts began to creep in. Had I underestimated the challenge? Was I ill-equipped for this endeavour? How could I hope to contend with these seemingly master relaxers?
Guided by Barker, and complemented by commentary from former footballer Jimmy Bullard and esteemed sports broadcaster Seema Jaswall, the competition was structured into three distinct rounds: Fast Relaxing, Deep Relaxing, and the Obstacle Course.
As the first round began, I closed my eyes and concentrated on my breathing – inhaling through my nose and exhaling through my mouth. Unexpectedly, a cacophony of blaring car horns erupted from the surrounding speakers. Certainly vexing, but not irritating enough to jolt my heart rate into overdrive. I was doing alright so far.
Round two commenced, accompanied by the tranquil sounds of woodlands and a gentle rainstorm, played for five minutes. The challenge here was to see if we could lower our heart rates below resting levels. I found this round fairly comfortable.
And then came the third and final round – the mysterious 'Obstacle Course.'
Cue ominous music.
I had no clue what was in store, and the suspense certainly bumped up my heart rate a few notches.
Out of nowhere, like a character from a horror film, a violinist entered the arena.
Her eyes exuded a manic intensity as she delved into an all-out assault of screechy, dissonant notes.
The pain in my face was clear. Our eyes met, and she seemed to read my discomfort like an open book. Next thing I knew, she zeroed in on me and cranked the volume even higher. Suffice to say, my heart rate increased drastically and at this point the idea of victory seemed like a distant dream. If I'd just kept my my eyes closed...
Further challenges in this round were thrown at us to keep us on our toes. One instance involved an actor portraying a fire warden, simulating an urgent evacuation scenario while advising us not to panic. The organisers even decided to subject us to visual torture by projecting images of nails being scraped against a whiteboard.
The results of the competition
As the three rounds of the competition came to an end, we arose from our slumbers and gathered to find out the results of the competition.
Three participants ascended the podium, though regrettably, none bore my name.
Instead, it was Londoner, Nicola Richardson, who ascended the throne as the overall champion, snagging the title of ultimate relaxation guru.
The 30-year-old champion shared, "I felt like I had some good experience in relaxation, because I do a lot of deep-breathing techniques at home and that really helped in a competition like this. I still can't believe I won the trophy."
"I've worked in the hospitality sector for a long time, including fast-paced restaurants which can be stressful. It's another reason I like deep breathing and understand the need to relax," she added.
Nicola is the first to have her name etched onto the coveted Extreme Relaxing Championships trophy, and also claimed the winning prize - a Snug sofa worth £3K (€3,500).
Lauren Hannifan, the Head of Brand at Snug, commented: "The home sofa should be the one place where you feel you can relax, so being able to provide competitors with individual sofas to achieve their best relaxed state was really fitting."
She hopes that this will be the first of many Extreme Relaxing Championships: "The event had thousands of entries and there was media interest from the UK, and across Europe, so we’re confident this will be the first of many events.”
Although I fell short of clinching the title for the UK's supreme chillaxer champion, I had an incredibly enjoyable day and it reaffirmed my passion for relaxation.
Following the whirlwind of the competition, I headed home for a well deserved nap.
Check out the video above for a closer look at the competition.