In my 10 year stay in Japan, one of the things I learned was that a healthy and happy life is not a destination, it’s a habit. For centuries, the Japanese have been turning everyday activities into powerful practices of self-care and self-cultivation. Whether it’s cooking, bathing, walking, drinking tea or arranging flowers, any daily activity may become a form of meditation that invites health and happiness into your life.
The secret? Bringing attention to everything you do. Here’s how.
Paying attention to the moment may seem simple. But life is speeding up, and with it, our way of living. We stumble from one task to another task on autopilot, so caught up in our smartphones that we fail to notice the small joys of life. We’ve become more and more disconnected from ourselves and people during these recent times and the natural world around us, which is hurting our health and happiness.
In Japan, the antidote to autopilot and the secret to a happy and healthy life has long been known to be mindfulness. In the West, we tend to think of mindfulness as that which the Japanese call “zazen” which is meditating cross-legged on a cushion. But to the Japanese, mindfulness can take the form of just about anything, from eating a meal to taking a bath. Everyday practices of self-care and self-awareness have been ingrained into the Japanese culture for centuries.
Here’s a list of typical Japanese traditions I learned while living in the ancient Japanese capital of Nara. I hope these will inspire you to deepen your immersion in the moment, bringing greater health and happiness to your life.
I have created a “Week of Wellness & Mindfulness” with a Day by Day introduction of each activity, so you can actually prepare and take part in introducing these to your weekly self-care rituals.
Kintsugi, which means “golden joinery”, is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold seams. Shattered cups, mugs, bowls and plates are repaired into beautifully resurrected masterpieces, using a mixture of powdered gold and lacquer. Kintsugi is based on the belief that breakage and imperfections are part of life and that what is broken can be mended into something uniquely beautiful if treated with the love, care and attention. It’s believed that the fixing of shattered objects—and the celebration of their uniqueness may also help the healing of wounds to the self.
This is a beautiful metaphor as it teaches us that when we show a few cracks, we can have gold radiating through the cracks instead.
I learned the art of Kintsugi with my pottery teacher in Nara who I took lessons from for 4 of my 10 year stay.
My Teacher taught me the ethos of Japanese pottery and here are just a few points of this:
Always do you best
Make your talent a gift to others
Recipe – this can be sipped out of a cup you have repaired with gold.
GOLDEN TURMERIC CHAI LATTE RECIPE
2 ½ cups non-dairy nut milk
1 cup water
1 tablespoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
2 Rooibos tea bags
1/2 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
Pour water and milk into a pot and warm over medium heat. Place rooibos tea bags in and add to the milk/water mixture. Add spices and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat before it comes to a full boil.
Stir in your choice of sweetener. Pour golden chai tea into your cup, sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg and enjoy! Serves 2.
Shojin ryori, which can be translated as “food of devotion”, is a vegetarian cooking tradition practiced by Buddhist monks since ancient times. Shojin cooking is all about simplicity and harmony. A shojin cook uses fresh ingredients of the season and makes sure not to waste anything—every last bit of an ingredient is somehow incorporated into the dish. For the monks in the temples, the very act of preparing and eating shojin ryori is an exercise in appreciation and mindfulness. And for non-monks, the simple recipes and well-defined procedures of shojin ryori make it totally achievable to bring this beautiful cooking tradition to their own kitchen at home.
Don’t feel like cooking? That’s okay—there’s a wonderful Japanese tradition for eating out too. Omakase, which means “I’ll leave it up to you”, is a dining tradition in which the selection of dishes is left entirely to the chef and customers eat whatever they are served. A common practice at sushi bars, omakase dining revolves around trust, respect and appreciation.
If you choose OMAKASE, then please make sure it’s a healthy option using the principles of clean eating.
I often make this simple miso soup and you can add different ingredients like prawns, sauted chicken instead of tofu or just add more vegetables.
Turmeric Miso Soup With Ginger, Garlic and Tofu
Turmeric Miso Soup With Ginger, Garlic and Tofu. Kick that cold with this soothing, anti-inflammatory, brothy soup. Vegan Gluten-free Nut-free Recipe.
1 tsp oil
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 to 1.5 inch piece of ginger peeled and minced
1/2 hot green chili optional
1/2 cup grated or shredded carrots
1/2 green or red bell pepper thinly sliced
7 oz 1/2 a block of tofu, cubed small
2 tsp tamari or soy sauce
2.5 cups water or more, to preference
1/2 tsp or more turmeric
1 tsp apple cider or distilled white vinegar
1/2 tsp salt less or more to taste, depends on your miso
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper divided
1 tbsp or more white mellow miso
scallions for garnish
Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger and chili and cook until translucent. 4 mins.
Add the carrots and peppers and cook for 3 minutes.
Add tofu and mix in. At this point you can also add in chopped veggies (chopped small) such broccoli.
Add water, 1/3 tsp black pepper and rest of the ingredients except miso and bring to a boil.
Simmer for 4 minutes. Then add the miso and mix in. Taste and adjust salt, sweet and tang(vinegar). Simmer for another few minutes.
Garnish with scallions and black pepper.
In Japan, perhaps no daily habit is as sacred as soaking in a steaming bath at the end of a long day. The Japanese bathe daily, whether in their own private bathroom, a public bathhouse or a communal hot spring. They don’t just plunge in the tradition of Japanese “ofuro” is carefully crafted to cleanse, heal and relax. Settling into a cradle of soothing warm water and simply experiencing the sensations of the bath, which is the water, steam, heat and fragrances which all bring both the body and mind into a profound state of well-being.
I thought it might be nice to make your own body scrub in this section.
Make your own body scrub
There’s some scientific evidence that caffeine may help diminish the appearance of cellulite.
Coffee is a popular ingredient for many DIY body scrubs. The tiny granules are gentle on the skin, while still being effective at removing dead cells from the skin’s surface. And who can’t resist the aroma of a cup of coffee?
1/2 cup coffee grounds
2 tbsp. hot water
1 tbsp. coconut oil, warmed
Add the coffee grounds and hot water to a mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly with a spoon.
Add the coconut oil. If needed, add more coffee grounds or more oil to get the consistency right.
When you’re satisfied with the consistency, spoon the mixture into a container.
Brown Sugar Scrub
Brown sugar is an inexpensive and accessible ingredient that also does a great job of exfoliating your skin.
Brown sugar is gentler on skin than sea salt or Epsom salt. This makes it an ideal ingredient for sensitive skin. The sugar granules might make your skin feel sticky, so be sure to rinse thoroughly after you’ve exfoliated.
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oil of your choice, such as coconut, jojoba, olive, almond, or grapeseed
essential oils (optional)
Combine brown sugar and oil in a mixing bowl.
Mix thoroughly. If needed, add more sugar or oil to get the consistency right.
If desired, add one or two drops of your favourite essential oil, and stir it into the mixture.
When you’re satisfied with the consistency and fragrance of your scrub, spoon it into a container.
Sea Salt Scrub
Salt has antibacterial properties that can be helpful for some skin conditions. Salt is also a preservative, so the sea salt scrub will be able to naturally preserve itself.
Use ground sea salt, as coarse sea salt can be too harsh on your skin. Sea salt scrubs may be too abrasive for sensitive skin. Also, be careful if you have a cut on your skin as the salt can sting.
Because salt has no fragrance, you may want to add your favourite essential oils to your DIY salt scrub.
1/2 cup sea salt
1/2 cup oil of your choice
essential oils (optional)
Combine sea salt and oil in a mixing bowl.
Mix thoroughly. If needed, add more salt or oil to get the consistency right.
If desired, add one or two drops of your favourite essential oil and stir it into the mixture.
Once you’re satisfied with the consistency and fragrance of your scrub, spoon it into a container.
Green Tea Sugar Scrub
Rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and Japanese Green Tea may benefit your skin in several ways.
Also, according to a study I read, topical use of green tea may be able to reduce harm to the skin caused by sun damage.
Green tea can easily be added to a homemade body scrub together with other nourishing ingredients.
2 teabags green tea
1/2 cup hot water
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
Add teabags to hot water. Let the tea steep until it cools.
While the tea is cooling, add brown sugar to a bowl.
Add coconut oil and mix thoroughly with the sugar.
Once the tea has cooled, add it to the sugar mix. It’s important that the tea is cool so the sugar doesn’t dissolve.
If the mixture is too crumbly, add more coconut oil. If it’s too soggy, add more brown sugar.
When you’ve reached the desired consistency, spoon your scrub into a container.
These homemade scrubs are only intended to be used on your body, not your face. The skin on your face is more sensitive than the skin on the rest of your body.
Avoid exfoliating skin that is:
chapped or broken
red or swollen
recovering from a chemical peel
If you want to add essential oils to your body scrub, do a patch test the diluted oil on your skin first to make sure you’re not allergic to the oil.
If you have sensitive skin or very dry skin, talk to your doctor or dermatologist to find out if exfoliation with a body scrub is right for you.
Ikebana – Flower Arranging
Ikebana is the Japanese tradition of arranging flowers. Dating back to ancient Buddhist flower offering ceremonies, ikebana is a centuries-old art form. It’s based on the idea that the process of working with nature to create something beautiful can be meditative and healing. Rather than throwing some flowers in a vase, ikebana is about attentively and mindfully arranging flowers, stems, twigs, leaves, moss and grasses into a composition that highlights their beauty. Pieces are traditionally created in silence, so that you can focus all your attention on the harmony of nature.
For this day, please buy yourself some fresh flowers and use this simple method to arrange them:
Pick 5 Stems With Varying Textures
To create a professional-looking flower arrangement on a budget, pick up five stem varieties from your local grocery store. Make sure to vary the colour, texture, and size of each flower.
To Get Started
Place the largest bloom first. This will act as your focal point.
Add accents, greenery, and a pop of colour until you reach the desired look.
NOTE: this is not traditional Ikebana, but will produce the same mindfulness effects of arranging flowers and admiring them every time you walk past.
To find peace and recovery, the Japanese practice something called Shinrin-Yoku or “forest bathing”. Taking a forest bath means immersing yourself in a forest for several hours and soaking up its sights, smells and sounds. Simply being in a forest and absorbing its atmosphere has a restorative effect on the body and mind. The science-backed mental and physical health benefits of this popular wellness ceremony include reduced stress levels, improved sleep, increased focus and creativity, accelerated recovery from illness, a strengthened immune system and a higher sense of overall happiness.
Your task today is to go for a walk. Breathe in the fresh air, admire the trees, name the trees you see and notice the leaves, buds, flowers, pollen, fragrance and many different shades of colours.
Japan’s ceremonial tea drinking, known as chadō, is a beautiful practice rooted in Zen Buddhism. Tea ceremonies are still an important part of Japanese culture today and the ceremony still involves a lot more than putting on a pot of water to boil. It’s a carefully choreographed ceremony of preparing and sharing a bowl of finely powdered green tea, called matcha, served with traditional Japanese sweets to harmonise the tea’s bitter taste. Fully engaged in the ceremony, the tea master and his or her guests temporarily withdraw from the mundane world to share a moment of beauty and serenity.
Your task for today is to try some green tea and sip it slowly and take a few minutes for yourself.
There are many kinds of green tea from leaf green tea to powdered matcha.
The health benefits are incredible and a few are:
May improve brain function.
Increases fat burning.
May protect the brain from aging.
May help prevent type 2 diabetes.
May help prevent cardiovascular disease.
I think that’s worth a cup a day!
Shodo, or “the way of writing”, is classical Japanese calligraphy. It’s an ancient art form, but it’s still widely practiced and considered an important way to foster a meditative state of mind in Japan. The careful preparation of the ink and the gentle brush strokes require complete focus and tranquillity, fully grounding the shodo practitioner in the moment.
I have chosen Paint By Numbers as my style of Shodo at the moment, but you can simply write a letter of gratitude, or sketch, paint, make fun labels for the freezer…..whatever gets you putting ink to paper!
A healthy and happy life should not be thought of as a goal—it’s created through habits.
Consistently making small changes will have a big impact over time. With these little habits of ritualized mindfulness, we can build daily routines that bring more happiness and health into our daily lives.