Tue 10 Oct 2023

World Mental Health Day: 5 Japanese Practices for Mental Well-Being

As a Mental Health First Aider and an advocate for mental health awareness in the workplace, I am often on the lookout for different methods to help reduce stress levels for myself and those around me.

Having recently come back from an incredible trip travelling around Japan (finally making it to Asia), I learned about some useful practices in Japan to incorporate in my daily life to help alleviate stress that I would like to share with you on World Mental Health Day.

Japan has a rich cultural heritage and ancient practices embedded in centuries old traditions. I was fortunate enough to immerse myself for a few weeks in Japanese culture by spending time with local friends who also shared tips for my travels around the country. I experienced the old and the new - from the futuristic paradise that is Tokyo to traditional towns and cities such as Hakone and Kyoto. I learned about the daily practices of Japanese people which offered a unique perspective on nurturing mental well-being. By incorporating the following practices in my life in some shape or form, I can hopefully complement my existing practices for creating a more balanced state of mind.                                  

Practice 1: Zazen - Meditation

Zazen originates from the teachings of Buddha and refers to sitting meditation. Zazen emphasises the importance of posture, breathing, and the power of the present moment. The focus is on letting go of all judgement and goals and bringing an awareness to all sensations and thoughts that come to pass. By focusing on the present moment, one becomes aware of the temporary nature of everything. I practised mediation when visiting Buddhist and Shinto shrines and I found that this practice reinforces the benefits of self-awareness. 

Practice 2: Shinrinyoku - Forest Therapy

Japanese tradition encourages the practice of Shinrinyoku ("forest bathing" or "forest therapy"). This immersive experience involves walking leisurely and mindfully in a forest, or green space, engaging all the senses. It is a practice that connects us with nature, reducing stress and boosting our mental well-being. I practised this when hiking Fushimi Inari.

Practice 3: Kansha - Gratitude Journaling

Japanese culture embraces the concept of Kansha, or gratitude. It is the practice of gratitude journaling, where we reflect daily on what we're thankful for. Alongside collecting 'eki stamps' (stamps located at various train stations), I kept a journal to reflect on the wonderful experiences in Japan. In acknowledging the positive aspects of our lives, this can lead to improved mental well-being and a sense of contentment.  

Practice 4: Sonkei and Keigo - Embracing Respect and Politeness

Japanese culture incorporates the values of respect (sonkei) and politeness (keigo) in all aspects of their lives. I observed daily the interactions of Japanese people with me and with others around me and it was refreshing to see this in practice. Mutual respect and politeness for one another leads to harmonious social interactions at home and in the workplace which not only improves relationships but also fosters inner calm and emotional well-being.

Practice 5: Decluttering

Cleanliness is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. There is a focus on tidying up and decluttering physical spaces. I noted, though, that homes and hotel rooms in Japan are small so it is important to keep things organised. This practice extends beyond a tidy home and promotes mental clarity and emotional well-being. By letting go of unnecessary possessions, we create space for a more tranquil and a clearer state of mind. For anyone who might be interested in seeing this practice in action, Marie Kondo, a Japanese Organising Consultant, has a show on Netflix 'Tidying Up with Marie Kondo' which may be worth a watch.                                              

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