Cultures all over the world have their own set of rituals, some religious, some celebratory, and some connected to wellness. To achieve long-term health and wellness goals, consistency is essential, which is why creating our own set of daily rituals can be so powerful. This could be as simple as lighting a candle when you wake up and prepare for your morning yoga routine or having a cup of herbal tea before bed to help you wind down. In this series, sponsored by Rancho La Puerta wellness resort, we explore ancient traditions from around the world that can enhance you modern wellness practice.

Wellness in Japan

Japan has one of the highest life expectancies in the world thanks to a traditionally light and well-balanced diet that includes foods that are high in antioxidants like seaweed, sweet potatoes, miso, and green tea, along with small portions of protein like fish. Perhaps most important are the wellness practices that focus on the mind-body connection.

It all starts with Kaisen or ‘forming the habit’, which underscores the belief that making small, but continuous changes will have major impacts over time. Start small with your wellness rituals and you’ll be amazed at what can happen.

The Tradition: Ikigai (busy, but not rushed)

This idea is about finding purpose in our daily actions. In Japan, people of all ages are almost always in motion, but rather than trying to multitask, they devote their entire attention to the job at hand.

A great example of this is the exacting tradition of making tea or constructing a delicate, and thoughtfully plated meal or bento box.

By dedicating yourself to the task at hand, the actions take on greater meaning and can even become a kind of meditation.

Modern Ritual: Stop multitasking for one day. Sit and enjoy your coffee before moving on to the next thing on your to-do list. Switch your phone to silent while you finish the project you’re working on. When you do check back in with your phone or email, do so with intention. End your day making dinner without the distraction of the television on in the background. You might be surprised how much more you get done, and how much less stressed you feel.

The Tradition: Hara Hachi Bu (80% fullness)

The concept of hara hachi bu is to eat to satisfaction, but not fullness. Studies have shown that there is a lag-time between when our stomachs have reached capacity, and when our brains realize it.

By eating only until you feel mostly full, you give your brain time to catch-up with your body. This prevents the stretching of the stomach and that uncomfortable “overly-full” feeling we sometimes experience after eating.

Modern Ritual: Learn to listen to your body. Try eating half or three-quarters of your plate and then waiting 30 minutes to see if you are still hungry. This practice will make you more mindful of your body’s signals, and may even help you to enjoy your meal even more.

The Tradition: Shinrin-yoku (Forest Bathing)

Shinrin-yoku literally means "taking in the forest atmosphere". The stress-relieving technique was developed in Japan during the 1980s as part of a preventive health initiative for the increasingly urbanized population.

The results included improvements in cardiovascular health and metabolism and a reduction of depression and anxiety. Reconnecting with nature has become an essential part of Japanese wellness practices.

Modern Ritual: Go outside, whether in your garden, on a walking trail by your home, at the beach, or on the beautiful trails at Torrey Pines.

Though some Japanese traditionalists spend over an hour engaging in shinrin-yoku, start with just 15 minutes of being totally silent. During that time, use all your senses to experience the nature around you. Listen for as many sounds as you can, from buzzing insects to the blowing wind. Feel the ground under your feet, pick up a handful of sand and feel the textures, focus your vision on a tree, a blade of grass, or the waves. Breath deeply and be completely present.

The Tradition: Matcha

Green tea is an essential part of Japanese culture, both as a way of honoring guests, and as an everyday ritual for the population.

Matcha is a little different from the green tea you might be used to. Rather than steeping green tea leaves, to make matcha, the leaves are finely ground into a powder that is mixed about one teaspoon to a third cup of hot (but not boiling) water. You literally end up consuming the entire leaf, which provides you with 137 times more antioxidants per serving than a cup of regular green tea.

Drinking matcha is believed to boost the metabolism, help ward-off certain diseases and cancers, and increase focus. Though it does contain about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, the “buzz” is described as being more calming and focusing, which might be why Buddhist monks drank it to aid in their meditation practice and Samurai had a cup before a battle.

The Modern Ritual: Add a cup to your morning beverage rotation a few times a week. Though making matcha tea traditionally involves a bamboo whisk and a sifter, you can make it the easy way. Heat water to just below boiling. Add a teaspoon of matcha to a glass and mix with a few drops of the hot water until a paste forms. Add ⅓ to ¾ of a cup of hot water to paste mixture and stir until combined. Play with the ratio of water to matcha until you find a level that suits your taste.

The Tradition: Wabi-Sabi (embracing imperfection)

In Japanese culture, wabi-sabi is process of celebrating imperfection and accepting life’s ups and downs. What we perceive as good or bad are just parts of life.

This philosophy is at the core of the kintsugi art movement, which takes broken pottery and repairs it using gold or silver to fill the cracks, and making it more beautiful in the process. One can bring wabi-sabi into his or her life through forgiveness and minimizing materialism.

Modern Ritual: Change your perspective. When life gives you disappointments, look for the opportunities rather than focusing on what you feel you have lost. Instead of focusing on the things about yourself that you aren’t happy with, celebrate all the amazing things you are able to do with the body you have. Be quick to forgive, others and yourself.

The Tradition: Yuimaru (your circle)

The philosophy of yuimaru translates to "circle of the people" and is all about connecting with those around you. This involves being open and vulnerable with “your circle” in order to forge deeper connections.

Intimacy and human connection are at the heart of emotional and physical wellness around the world, and the importance of the small-but-mighty connections of yuimaru are no doubt a factor in the long, healthy lives many Japanese people enjoy.

Modern Ritual: Make time (regularly) to connect. Remember Kaisen or ‘forming the habit’? This concept applies to relationships as much as it does to health and fitness goals.

Make a standing date with a good friend for coffee or a walk. Deepen relationships by planning to have dinner with a few of your favorite people each week. Or simply make the decision to text or call someone important to you every single day.

When you are with the people you love, really be there. Turn off the distractions, and be open and honest about how you are doing and what is happening in your life. Intimacy only comes from vulnerability, and relationships require investments of our time and emotional energy, so choose your circle wisely.

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