A busy life is inescapable. All of us are constantly setting goals, reaching for the stars and perhaps even getting there. Achievements and ambition are, of course, praiseworthy in our society. But in the process of it all, let’s not allow work to consume us to the point where we forget about genuine self-care. In its basic form, self-care is an individual practice that helps a person preserve their physical and mental wellbeing. It’s an integral part of a balanced and joyous life.
Each one of us knows best which activities are beneficial for our unique selves. It is important to regularly practice self-care whether it’s physical exercise, meditation, writing your thoughts in a journal or spending time in your garden. This will allow you to avoid feeling exhausted, burned out, unproductive, and even depressed. Here is a compilation of several ancient rituals as well as modern practices from various cultures that can help you slow down, restore your inner balance and maybe even feel a little happier.
One such ritual that has a history dating back many centuries is the Kava ceremony in Fiji. Kava (what the locals call grog) is a drink made of the yaqona (pronounced as yang-go-na) plant. This ritual consists of passing a bowlful of the drink around for all those who have gathered to taste. A pleasant feeling of calm and peace will start settling in as you take a sip of this slightly numbing drink. A lot of times this ritual is used to settle issues between people or clans and to welcome guests.The true greatness of such a ceremony is that it brings people together and gives each individual a sense of community and belonging.
In Argentina, people enjoy a similar tradition by passing around “mate” — a South American tea blend. Groups of friends or family members can be seen all around chatting and sipping on this hot beverage together. Here again, people gather and pass around a drink, talking to each other and enjoying each other’s company. Sometimes, in our busy lives, we can feel isolated and alone in our struggles. Simply sharing a meal or a drink with those we love can help us feel connected and heal.
How can you implement these two traditions into your life? Think about your talents: maybe you cook really well; invite your friends over for dinner. Or maybe you’re good at skiing — why not get your family on board and spend time together bonding around this sport. Whatever it is you choose, it doesn’t need to be overly complex by any means. The best things in life are simple.
Shinrin Yoku or “forest bathing” is another great practice you can adopt from Japan. Essentially, this is a ritual of unification between us and nature. Most people think of hiking, jogging and other activities when they hear the word “nature”. But this is different. Ideally, for this ritual you’d put your phone away and take a walk in a forest alone, taking in all that you see and hear, all the smells in the air. It’s a kind of meditation where no one interrupts your tête-à-tête with nature.
Of course, not many of us are so lucky to live near a wooded area. So to incorporate this into your life, you could locate a park that you like or a botanical garden and take a walk there to leave your worries behind.
Another ancient ritual practiced by various Indigenous cultures in North America is the Sun Dance. For North American tribes this was a sacred celebration of life, renewal and mother earth. It is said that the dance took place over several days. To symbolize the tree of life, the tribesmen would cut down and set a tree in the middle of the ceremonial circle. Shamanic dances would follow over the course of the whole ceremony. This ritual is still an active practice among some tribes.
The Sun Dance allows people to feel closer to the source of life and feel gratitude and joy for all that is. Expressing those emotions through dance is perhaps one of the most natural ways for humans to do so. You don’t need to cut down a tree and go into a self-induced trance for this ritual. You can get really creative with your version — dancing in your own backyard, around a tree in the forest or before a body of water like a lake or river at sunrise or sundown; these are just a few options. The point is that you let go of the chains that bind you and dance freely without self-consciousness while feeling grateful that you are here.
Numerous cultures around the world have a wellness ritual centered around water. Everyone has heard of Turkish hammams — relaxing and regenerating baths after which you feel like a newborn. Russian banya or saunas are also world-famous as are hot springs in Iceland and the onsen in Japan. It is believed that warm water cleanses not only the body, but also the soul.
Scientifically, there are immense benefits to bathing in the style of these cultures. The minerals in hot springs are great for the skin. The most obvious benefit of taking the time to practice ritual bathing is that you allow yourself to put all the tasks and worries away for a little while and take care of yourself. One way you could do this at home is by making a salt bath or bubble bath and giving yourself permission to relax.
You may choose one or several of these rituals based on what feels right and what is available to you. Remember that you can’t expect results doing something once or twice. A ritual has to be practiced consistently over time and you will most assuredly reap the benefits of any form of self-care.