Log cabin in the woods with smoke coming out of the chimney

Wellbeing Around the World: Part One

Wellbeing has shot to stardom in recent years, and with so much coverage, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a relatively new idea. The notion of wellness, however, takes us back centuries, and you can find it deeply ingrained in every culture across the globe.

Our ancient ancestors used wellness rituals for spiritual and holistic purposes, with many of the practices designed to promote balance between themselves internally or externally with nature. Here, we take a look at some of the ways in which the world promotes their wellbeing.

Denmark – Hygge

Despite their long winters, Denmark frequently appears at the top of the list of the world’s happiest countries. One of the reasons repeatedly stated is their practice of Hygge (pronounced ‘hoo-ga’). To the Danes, hygge is often cited as a way of life. It focuses on well-thought but straightforward pleasures, keeping cosy while concentrating on wellbeing and the things that bring joy to your life.

Simple Scandinavian-style interiors, cosy fireplaces, candles, blankets and hot drinks are key elements of hygge, and there is also an element of social and physical wellbeing. Long walks and inviting friends over for dinner and board games are all part of it.

Cosy socks, a book and a guitar

Japan – Shinrin Yoku

Shinrin Yoku translates to ‘forest bathing’ in English but refers to a broader practice of nature therapy whereby the presence of nature is used to promote mental and physical wellbeing. The term was coined in Japan in the early 1980s; however, the art of using nature to aid healing is deeply rooted in Japanese culture.

Connecting with the outdoors is ubiquitous when it comes to wellbeing. Recent research shows that an increased presence in nature can have a range of health benefits, including reduced stress and improved immune system health.

Russia – Banya

Thermal bathing has been used by many cultures over the years, with one example being the banya. In Russian culture, the banya, which is similar to a sauna, represents a significant meeting place for everyone from villagers to noble people and communal baths were common in villages and towns.

Not only is special attention paid to the social benefit of the tradition, but thermal bathing has a variety of health benefits. A boost in blood circulation, stress and pain relief can all be gained from the experience. Comparisons can be made to several other cultures, including Roman baths, Swedish Bastu, Turkish hammam and sweat lodges.

Norway – Friluftsliv

Perhaps it’s the long winter nights and sub-zero temperatures that make the Scandinavians so good at looking after their wellbeing. Because, despite the harsh extremes that far rival the miserable winters of the UK, all of the Nordic countries beat the UK, USA and even Australia in the UN’s World Happiness Report.

Friluftsliv (pronounced ‘free-loofts-liv’) is a term used across Norway, Denmark and Sweden which translates to open-air living, and is an important part of Scandinavian culture. It values the spiritual and physical benefits of spending meaningful time in outdoor areas come rain or shine, so much so that it is commonplace for employers to encourage their staff to spend time outside during work hours.

A small yellow house in a remote part of Norway

India – Yoga

The ancient art of yoga is an integral element of Indian culture and forms an important part of their religious exercise that focuses on spiritual, mental and physical self-realisation. The word yoga means ‘to unite’ in Sanskrit and is practised all over India by many religions as a way of uniting their consciousness with a higher power through breath, movement and meditation.

While yoga and meditation have been popularised in Western societies and no doubt contributes to the wellbeing of practisers, it is essential to remember its significance in both the religion and culture of its birthplace.

If you enjoyed reading this, take a look at part two for more.

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