Slow Down: Relaxation Practices Across the Globe

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feeling groovy…

~ The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy), Simon & Garfunkel, 1966

Here in the United States, it’s no secret that life moves “too fast” these days. Many wake up to an alarm; drink coffee to overcome the lack of sleep; juggle work, family, and home demands; and fall into bed exhausted, only to do it all again the next day. This constant running has led to an epidemic of stress and stress related illness in this country.

In previous blog posts we have discussed how stress can exacerbate autoimmune diseases, and we have talked about many stress mitigation strategies including, but not limited to: making better food choices for stress reduction and sleep promotion; practicing abdominal breathing, laughter, green light therapy, music-enhanced meditation, and gratitude; getting exercise; and getting plenty of restorative sleep.

The more we slow down, relax, and explore inner space, the more self-aware we become and our perspective, productivity, vitality, and problem solving all expand and improve.

Time magazine posted an article this week about how people relax in other countries, and we thought it might be fun to look at a few of them and see how they compare to our Nature’s pHarmacy® principles, practices, and recommendations.

JAPAN

Shinrin-yoku is the practice of forest bathing, which is a popular pastime in Japan. Nearly 25% of the Japanese population practices shinrin-yoku, which involves getting out into nature, under a forest canopy, and “taking in the atmosphere” through all of the senses. The Japanese government has earmarked an increasing number of trails for Forest Therapy, as the benefits have become more evident. Benefits include a reduction in stress, stress hormones, and stress-related diseases, an increase in disease-fighting white blood cells, and an increase in focus and concentration, among others.

At Nature’s pHarmacy, we promote and recommend forest bathing and getting out into nature. We also recommend green light therapy, which was part of a color theory taught by Bhanté Dharmawara, Dr. Jaffe’s mentor. As we noted previously, “green, at the middle of the light spectrum, brings harmony and balance to the brain and body. Green is also the color of the heart chakra (love).”

NORWAY

Friluftsliv is the practice of getting into nature, but in all kinds of weather. The focus is less on the green, and more on immersive nature experiences of all types, regardless of the weather or the season. Friluftsliv translates to “open air life,” and is the most preferred leisure activity in the country. It includes activities from hiking, to skiing, to berry picking, to lying in a hammock, and is about disconnecting from the daily stresses and plugging in to nature. Norway’s national commitment to wellbeing through nature may help explain why they rank as one of the happiest countries in the world.

At Nature’s pHarmacy, we want you to fall in love with nature, nurture, and wholeness. We’ve talked about getting out into nature in our article on the mood boosting power of flowers, and we often refer to forest bathing, as noted above.  Outdoor air is always better than indoor air. We love the idea of Friluftsliv and highly recommend it!

MEXICO

Tamazcal (translated loosely as “house of heat) in Mexico is a sacred practice led by a trained healer, that takes place in  a mud-or stone lodge heated with hot lava stones to induce sweating. The stones are covered with water and herbs, and the ceremony includes drums, flutes, chanting, and meditative practice. Historically, the practice began as a cleansing ritual thousands of years ago, and the culture persists in modern times. Benefits purportedly include toxin removal as well as physical and spiritual healing. There can also be risks to exposure to extreme heat, so adequate hydration is imperative, as is knowing when to step outside if feeling lightheaded or faint.

At Nature’s pHarmacy, we prefer a low temperature sauna that facilitates toxin removal  through the sebaceous glands, over a high temperature sauna or sweat lodge that removes toxins through sweat. For detoxification purposes, we recommend a temperature of 105-110ºF in either a standard or far infrared sauna.  After an hour or two, you’ll notice an oily sheen on the skin. At that time, you’ll want to shower with Castille soap to remove the oils before they reabsorb.

We also highly recommend mindfulness meditation as well as movement practices, not only for pain management as discussed in this earlier blog post, but for physical, mental, and spiritual healing, as well as relaxation.

Focusing on the breath is also helpful. Breathe slowly and deeply, especially when under stress. Abdominal breathing lowers stress hormones and increases helpful, anabolic hormones.

FINLAND

Finland is considered the happiest country in the world, and that could be attributed to their sauna culture, with nearly 90% of the population visiting a public sauna on a weekly basis! A 2018 review article found that the benefits of sauna bathing compare to those of moderate physical activity, and include a reduction in inflammation, pain, and musculoskeletal issues, as well as decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, among others.   

Dr. Jaffe prefers a dry Finnish sauna to a wet sauna. As mentioned above, we prefer a low temperature sauna rather than high temperature one.

Also at Nature’s pHarmacy, we recommend an Epsom salt and baking soda bath, at a temperature to make you “pink like a baby; not red like a lobster.” Magnesium and bicarbonate can be taken up by the skin, and help to reduce stress, decrease musculoskeletal pain, and promote relaxation. If you don’t have a tub, Dr. Jaffe recommends sitting in a personal sweat cabinet, with a foot bath containing Epsom salt and baking soda.

ITALY

In Italy, they have a saying, “il dolce far niente,” which translates to “the sweetness of doing nothing.” It’s not intended to translate literally, but rather to mean something more akin to “slow down and appreciate the nature and people around you.” In Italy you will find people lingering over a meal, and taking time to just “be,” rather than running to the next thing.

At Nature’s pHarmacy, we espouse mindfulness, which is the practice of being in the present moment and paying attention to the things that you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Being fully present (number 3 in this blog post) can result in a reduction in stress, and an improvement in health and well-being.

Live in the moment; in the now. Living in the moment brings equanimity, peace, and repose. What we think about matters. Set time aside to do what we enjoy. Taking pleasure also includes enhanced benefits. Make moments for gratitude, reflection, relaxation, and pleasure. Consider our gratitude journal.

INDIA 

Abhyanga is a self-massage technique practiced in India, to promote not just relaxation, but balance and harmony of mind and body. In this technique, warmed, herbal-infused oil is massaged into the skin, starting with the scalp, face, and ears, and continuing down the body, to the arms, chest, abdomen, legs, and feet, prior to a warm, relaxing bath or shower. This practice is said to enhance circulation, reduce stress, improve musculoskeletal and skin health, boost immunity, balance body energies, improve emotional wellbeing, and more.  

At Nature’s pHarmacy, we have recommended massage therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care, as well as other bodywork techniques to promote repair, healing, and overall wellness. Learning more about the Ayurvedic self massage practice, including which oil to select for your individual constitution, and making it part of your daily or weekly routine may be another beneficial tool for your self-care toolbox. Self-care is an investment in life quality. May we all be self-aware, well, and at peace.

SPAIN

In Spain, it was historically common to take a mid-afternoon nap, called siesta, dating from agricultural times, when it was common to need a rest after a long morning of working in the fields. These days, a 30-minute nap is still common in some parts of Spain, while other parts of the country have moved away from the practice. According to WebMD, studies have shown that short naps of 10-30 minutes in duration, may decrease stress, improve memory, and increase focus and mood. 

At Nature’s pHarmacy, we recommend getting 8 hours of restorative sleep per night, as we know that even a small disruption in sleep patterns can lead to negative effects on overall health and wellbeing. Adequate restorative sleep is necessary for proper immune function, cell repair, metabolism, cognitive functioning, and more.

If your body craves a mid-afternoon nap, feel free to snooze, but look into improving your nighttime restorative sleep, and it may become less necessary.

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We hope you have enjoyed looking at some relaxation practices around the globe. While they all differ slightly, they do offer the same benefits: slowing down, decreasing stress, enjoying the present, and helping to counteract our fast-paced 21st Century existence.  The principles of Nature’s pHarmacy are very much in tune with most of these practices, and we want you to thrive, not just survive!

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