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What is the Japanese art of wellness?

What is the Japanese art of wellness?

Japanese wellness practices could lead to a healthier, happier and more fulfilling life

Are you ready to discover the secrets of longevity, happiness and fulfilment? Look no further than the ancient wisdom of Japanese wellness practices. From the concept of ikigai (finding your purpose in life) to the beauty of wabi sabi (embracing imperfection) and the transformative power of kintsugi (repairing broken objects with gold), these time-tested principles may offer a path to a healthier, happier and more fulfilling life. 

"Are you ready to discover the secrets of longevity, happiness and fulfilment?"

While we've been busy embracing the hygge and lagom of Nordic countries, the Japanese have been quietly honing their approach to wellness for centuries, and with more than 65,000 centenarians among their population, it's clear that they're onto something. 

Diet 

One key factor is diet. In Japan, the average person eats more than 87kg of vegetables per year. The Japanese perspective on life is also deeply influenced by the teachings of Zen Buddhism and Shinto which focuses on mindfulness, meditation and intuition to create a unique approach that is a fusion of natural, historical, social and cultural practices. 

Mindfulness in Japanese wellness practices

Mindfulness and meditation is an important part of the art of wellness

We spoke to Erin Niimi Longhurst, author of Japonisme, who explained to us what Japanese wellness is, how you can embrace it and the importance of a holistic approach. 

Longhurst believes that one of the most important concepts in Japanese wellness is the idea of embracing imperfection and change which leads to a more fulfilled life, but she begins by explaining the importance of ikigai which is thought to be a key driver of Japanese longevity

Ikigai 

“Ikigai is a word that means purpose, or your reason for being," says Longhurst. "It's the thing in our life that gives it that delicious richness and meaning, our raison d’être.” 

She adds, "We can find our ikigai by taking a holistic view of our lives, not overburdening or focusing too heavily on one area, but by taking a look at what we do for ourselves, for others, and for the environment."   

"It is thought that ikigai may not only hold the key to fulfilment, but also longevity"

According to Longhurst this involves asking yourself four questions: "What are you good at? What do you love? What do you think the world needs? How do you sustain yourself? Where these things converge is where you will find your ikigai." 

And it is thought that ikigai may not only hold the key to fulfilment, but also longevity, because research shows that having a sense of meaning or purpose in daily life is associated with better sleep, healthier weight, higher physical activity levels, and lower inflammation.

Wabi-sabi 

Crucially, it debunks the age-old notion that we should all be striving for bigger and better because perfection is an unattainable goal, and its pursuit can lead to feelings of inferiority and shame as we effectively never measure up. The stress caused by not achieving perfection, or pushing ourselves to our absolute limits, can lead to burnout, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. 

Longhurst believes that we need to break the habit of only valuing the things we typically categorise as “good”, such as perfection, beauty and youth. Instead, we should learn to appreciate the beauty, character and story behind any imperfection, and welcome the growth, development and change that comes with it. 

Cherry blossoms in Kyoto, Japan - Japanese wellness practices

Cherry blossoms in Kyoto, Japan

The Japanese call this wabi-sabi, and it is the philosophy of embracing imperfection and transience. “Wabi-sabi refers to the transient nature of life, its beauty and the impermanence of it," says Longhurst.  

The roots of wabi-sabi come from the Buddhist teachings of the “Three Marks of Existence”. The first teaching is that of embracing impermanence; a principle observed in Japan’s festivals around the transient beauty of the seasons, such as those celebrating hanami (cherry blossom season). The second teaching is finding solace in the personal growth that results from suffering. The third is the separation from self-centred thinking and a realisation that we are always in a state of flux.

"Wabi-sabi can teach us to find more joy and inspiration throughout our perfectly imperfect lives"

From reframing failure to ageing with grace, wabi-sabi can teach us to find more joy and inspiration throughout our perfectly imperfect lives. But this isn't merely accepting imperfection, as countless lifestyle gurus would have us do. The imperfection is the point.

Kintsugi 

The wabi-sabi philosophy is embodied by kintsugi, an art form that repairs broken pottery with gold to celebrate its flaws. It’s a bold illustration of resilience, strength and beauty in imperfection, and a useful metaphor for human healing. Instead of trying to hide the flaw or break, kintsugi turns that damage into a thing of beauty, into something that can be appreciated in its own right. 

Hands holding a ceramic bowl with kintsugi art - Japanese wellness practices

The art of kintsugi involves turning signs of damage into signs of beauty

"Our differences are what make us unique," says Longhurst, "And our lived experiences (and the scars they might bring) become a key part of our identity. The beauty of kintsugi comes from highlighting and illuminating the cracks we may have gained during the journey and celebrating them." 

Longhurst believes incorporating these concepts into your life can be as simple as, "Finding beauty in simplicity and taking a 'less is more' approach." She suggests, "giving yourself the space and time to be mindful. Whether that's meditation or even just protecting your time to allow for quiet moments of contemplation." 

Embrace the journey 

So, the next time you feel like you’re treading water and unsure of your purpose, take a step back from the constant hustle and bustle of everyday life and remember that true fulfilment and happiness can be found by discovering your purpose, embracing the twists and turns of your journey and celebrating the strength you've gained along the way.

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