Why embracing ancient cultures from around the world could be the key to unlocking your emotional fulfilment and optimum health
With on-going restrictions still grounding most forms of travel, heading off on a far-flung break right now seems like a distant dream. But, bookmarking destinations for when the world reopens could help to temporarily cure your itchy feet – and seeking out the world’s hottest wellbeing secrets is sure to spark your wanderlust. From living life in the Balkan slow lane to finding forgiveness in the Tropics, there’s plenty to learn from taking a globetrotting trip across the continent (if only in our minds). Here, we explore the cultural ways of life that make for some of the happiest and healthiest nations.
Feel-good secret: Slow living Famed for its golden beaches and untamed landscapes, Bulgaria is a treasure trove of natural gems. However, did you also know that it’s a dedicated custodian of slow living? Ayliak (meaning slowness) is deeply engrained in Bulgaria’s culture and empowers its people to live calmly and free from worry – something most of us could benefit from at the moment.
The premise of ayliak is based on mindfulness, and many incorporate this practice into their routine in order to focus on the positives and live in the moment.
“To give this a go, place little coloured stickers around your living space – so, the bathroom mirror, your desk, and so on as a reminder to stop and take a few conscious breaths. If your exhale is longer than your inhale, your heart rate and blood pressure drop to calm your body,” explains mindfulness expert, Julie Potiker (mindfulmethodsforlife.com). “Our brains are hardwired to ruminate and worry, so anything that can break that discursive loop, bringing us into the here and now, is beneficial for brain and body health.”
Feel-good secret: Forgiveness When it comes to forgiving ourselves and others, we can learn a lot from the ancient indigenous tribes of Hawaii. Ho’oponopono (which translates as ‘to make right’) promotes the idea that when you make amends with others you become right with yourself. Holding a grudge is bad for your body, mind and soul because it fills your brain with stress chemicals like cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine which, over time, puts you at risk of depression and anxiety.
“When we have been wronged, or have wronged someone, the difficult emotions that arise from the wounding – like anger, pain or shame hurt us. First, we need to feel safe, then we need to ‘feel it to heal it’. The timing needs to be right, too, so don’t move to forgiveness if you aren’t ready,” explains Julie.
As a first step, keep track of your feelings by writing down your positive and negative thoughts in a journal and then reflect on these once a week.
Feel-good secret: Being cosy Gazing at the dramatic landscape of the Scottish Highlands will take your breath away, but most of us would agree that Scotland isn’t exactly known for its balmy temperatures – even during the warmer months of the year. The Scots, however, don’t let the weather stop them from getting a nature fix, and wild swimming and hiking up rugged mountains are a key part of Scottish outdoor living. However, once back inside, many Scots enjoy a spot of coorie.
Whether you’re snuggled up next to a roaring fire or creating a comforting home-cooked meal, if you’re feeling cosy, you’re living in the spirit of coorie, which is essentially the act of feeling cosy and comfortable in your surroundings.
Springtime coorie could mean going for a weekend forest walk and returning to a nourishing home-cooked roast. “Go out and listen to the sounds in nature,” advises Julie. “If the mood takes you, feel the texture of a tree, or a rock or the grass, and allow yourself to gently rest your awareness there. Once you head indoors, take a moment to think about the sights, smells and sounds you experienced on your walk whilst nurturing yourself with a hydrating drink.”
Feel-good secret: Contentment If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s probably the importance of being grateful for what you have. In Sweden, this philosophy is called lagom. “Lagom [which literally means not too much, not too little] also encapsulates the concept of gratitude, which countless studies have shown to reap mental health benefits in all areas of our lives,” says Julie.
For the Swedes, lagom is also about enjoying life’s experiences rather than simply focusing on financial gain, too. “Lagom decreases social comparison, which can make us feel inferior. I love that it elevates the core value of humility – the idea that ‘no more than my space, no less than my place’ is good for the community,” Julie adds. “Humility feels good and gives your mental health a boost.”
Feel-good secret: Self-care It’s just over a year since many of us started working from home due to the pandemic and whilst WFH certainly has its perks (no costly commutes or cantankerous colleagues to face on a daily basis), it comes with some drawbacks too. For starters, the line between work and play has become increasingly blurred, and many of us find it hard to muster up the energy for a daily walk after yet another day hunched over the kitchen table. Cue the Finnish tradition of kakkukahvi.
Loosely translated as ‘having a treat’, kakkukahvi is all about not letting the pressures of life get to you – and, for the Scandi nation at least, this is inextricably linked to taking a break for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake when the going gets tough. Think of it as self-care with a slice of something sweet.
Liking this already? “Make a ‘joy list’ that details all the things you’ve enjoyed that day,” advises Julie. “It might include something like listening to your favourite song, or having a great cup of coffee and cake, or reading something inspirational. The point is, once you realise that you’re enjoying yourself, the good feelings will fill you up and wire positive neural bridges in your brain.”
Feel-good secret: Heal from within Kintsugi is the Japanese art of fusing the pieces of broken pottery back together with a golden-dusted seam of lacquer to create a more beautiful, meaningful object. The idea is that fixing what is broken in the material world can also help to heal what may be broken inside you. “Emotional wounds get stored in the brain and the body. We need to feel them to heal them, so internal reflection is necessary in releasing the stress and trauma caused by the wounding,” explains Julie. Celebrating imperfections allows us to celebrate our strengths and acknowledge our weaknesses, leading to a more positive mindset overall.
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