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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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February 19 2015

6 Foreign Health Concepts from Around the Globe

By Mark Sisson
58 Comments

Yamadera Mountain TempleMaybe it was running across the word Kummerspeck (literally translated from German as “grief bacon,” meaning weight put on through emotional eating). A strange term if there ever was one… The fact is, I’ve always been fascinated by how languages can reflect particular feelings or phenomena most of us would never think to put a word to. When it comes to the language of health and well-being, I think certain terms have the unique power to literally shift our perception. They make us think differently about the choices in front of us and the ways we interact with the the world. What health concepts can we learn from other cultures? How might they change our understanding of the choices we make every day – or how we view our options for living in general? Perhaps you have your own foreign terms that come to mind. I think these six concepts offer some intriguing food for thought.

Waldeinsamkeit

This German word (a mouthful, right?) means woodland solitude. As a combination of Wald (forest) and Einsamkeit (solitude or loneliness), the term evokes the quiet and seclusion we can feel in the wilderness. With so many of us living in crowded cities or suburbs these days, the feeling of Waldeinsamkeit can almost be a nostalgic experience.

When was the last time you were alone in the forest – secluded with nothing but the sound of the wind through the trees and bird calls from various corners of the wood? It’s a rarer instance these days, and I think that fact suggests there’s something endangered about this aspect of the human spirit. The statement might sound draconian, but perhaps Waldeinsamkeit as a concept underscores a certain core experience to primal humanity, an experience that fewer of us have these days and most of us have less often. Who’s up for changing this?

Shinrin-yoku

While we’re on the subject of forests, here’s a tangible reason to get lost in the woods this weekend. Translated as “forest bathing,” shinrin-yoku is a growing trend and research-backed medical practice in Japan. The Japanese government has even partnered with the medical community to offer free check-ups in park areas and to designate official “forest therapy” sites.

Research on the effects of shinrin-yoku has demonstrated the power of a 3-day trip to the forest to decrease blood pressure, pulse rate, and cortisol levels. But the real kicker is the impact on the body’s NK (natural killer) cells, lymphocytes that fight off infection and cancer growth as well as anti-cancer protein expression. The benefits, studies show, can last up to a month!

As the Primal logic suggests, activities that mirror the best of our evolutionary upbringing will prompt the best hormonal and cellular responses, which then support the best mental and physical outcomes. When you have the chance to get to the wilderness, for the love of Grok go! If you don’t have the chance, create the opportunity for yourself as soon as you can.

Friluftsliv

Try saying that five times as fast as you can…. Translated literally as “free air life,” it encompasses the emotional and spiritual well-being to be had by being/living outside. However we choose to spend our time outside (e.g nature photography, hiking, trail running, Tai Chi in the park, picnicking, bike riding, Ultimate Frisbee or even napping), there’s something to the outdoor experience that’s unique and works on our mental mood.

As I’ve mentioned here before, time outdoors works on our emotional, hormonal and overall physiological responses as well. Exercising outdoors, for one, has been shown to offer better stress relief than working out indoors.

Koyaanisqatsi

A Native American term from the Hopi culture, koyaanisqatsi means “crazy life” or even life out of balance. The larger sense behind the word suggests a way of life that is falling apart, a state of affairs that calls for another way of being.

We might be tempted to see the concept in our personal lives, and I can certainly see the applicability there. When we find ourselves overrun with insane commutes and overwhelming commitments, we eventually hit a point of critical mass. When we live in tune with our physical bodies, we realize we’re being called to find a new way of life, a better life balance.

Truer to the original intent, koyaanisqatsi refers to larger cultural conditions that can make life unsustainable – at both a sociological and ecological level. It’s not hard to see the applicability of this term to much of modern times. For all the benefits, much of modern life confounds our primal psychologies, not to mention the natural order of ecological balance. I think Primal can have something to do with that new way of living in response….

Uitwaaien

After getting into the walking series a couple of months ago, I was taken in by this Dutch term, which means to take a break to walk outside and clear one’s head.

Clearly, this concept hits on the need for outdoor time, but it also suggests something essential to the primal picture. Modern life drains us with such emphasis on directed attention. The result? We get emotionally irritable and mentally fatigued. The opposite of this is involuntary attention, the kind of unfocused but attentive presence that would characterize Grok’s scanning of the horizon. Yet, this kind of attention plays such a small role in our day. We, being creatures of free will, have a choice.

Instead of hopping online at night or doing a crossword, we can give ourselves time to not think (an earth-shattering concept, no?). How about watching the dog play like a fool in the yard or going for a walk where we don’t have to watch for traffic? Daydreaming, anyone? Even mindless chores or creative hobbies that get us into a flow can offer enough cognitive variety to ease our weary modern brains.

Arbejdsglæde

This Danish word translates as “work happiness” or the satisfaction we feel with fulfilling work. How many of us have felt this? When was the last time we did? Although we may situate our vocational vision outside of the work that pays the bills, do we experience this kind of joy in our professional, volunteer or hobby endeavors?

In a culture that can perseverate on money, prestige, and comparison, Arbejdsglæde is one more reminder that vocational fulfillment is a means of genuine happiness – and inclusive well-being.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Which of the above grab your interest, and how do they speak to you? Do you have health concepts from around the globe to add to the list? Enjoy the end of your week.

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58 thoughts on “6 Foreign Health Concepts from Around the Globe”

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  1. I am a huge fan of Waldeinsamkeit! I’m lucky enough to live about 2 miles from a nice wooded area with trails and a huge lake. I walk there a few times a week for exercise and to take a mental break from the world. I never feel more at home in my own body then when I’m in a forest.

    1. Native Dane here 😉

      Arbejdsglæde: “R” – “bites” – “glay” – “the”

  2. Waldeinsamkeit makes me want to find a cabin in the woods one weekend every month. Loved playing in the woods as a kid, and enjoy them when able as an adult. Great article, thank you!

  3. Holy cow! You go over Koyaanisqatsi but don’t mention the titular film with music by Philip Glass!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koyaanisqatsi

    Okay, so using a light-speed-fast, global, intercommunication network to complain to you mere moments after a blog posting is rather…koyaanisqatsi. But I stand by it despite the hypocrisy. The film expresses where the world has been, where it is, where it is going and how humans have fit into each stage. The first scene is a slow-pan over a cave painting of a family of Groks!

    I think you’d dig it.

    1. A fantastic movie. I prefer to play Pink Floyd music myself, while watching.

    2. Yes! I thought about the movie as soon as I saw the word… it definitely requires a mention!

  4. It’s hard to get out to the forests for any extended amount of time, which is why I’m hoping to turn my little 1/3 acre lot into my own private Garden of Eden where I can immerse myself in nature after a hard day at work. I’m thinking of incorporating many edible fruits and veggies into it and calling it my “Garden of Eatin’.”

    nyuk nyuk nyuk

  5. How about including a guide to pronunciation? Words like these serve a anchors for ideas and can remind us of important life choices we can make.

    Another favorite word of mine that (even though it’s English) belongs in your list is susurration. It’s the sound of the wind through the branches of trees and the murmuring of a brook. Since that became part of my vocabulary I often go on walks in search of susurration!

    1. Susurration, my new favorite word. Love the illiteration of susurration, btw. So glad there is a word for two of my favorite sounds! Thank you! Will teach it to my kids today after school as one is, again, no matter what the weather, sticking half her body out the car window (not quite the same thing, but possibly a primal need for the same thing?)

  6. Interesting collection of words. I just wanted to point out that friluftsliv is a Norwegian word.

  7. Actually, Kummerspeck translated to English is closer to “worry/sorrow fat”

  8. I can personally relate to the first 3 terms. Every year I take at least 3 trout fishing/hunting trips, varying from 3-5 days. This involves living in a tent, eating over a fire, walking the woods, napping on riverbanks, and generally just recharging. Few things compare to the joy of bathing in the sunlight on a riverbank after landing a nice brown trout!

    Another fun, english word: Borborygmus – a rumbling or gurgling noise made by the movement of fluid and gas in the intestines.

    Let your borborygmus guide when you eat!

  9. I think I need to incorporate all of these words into my vocabulary, learn to pronounce them, and then put them into full effect!

  10. Here’s another German word my family used: Gemutlich, meaning cozy, comfortable feeling all sitting around together.

    1. Ein Prosit der Gemuetlichkeit!

      And now I have a beer drinking song in my head…

  11. All you have to do to find out how to pronounce these words is to select them and right click and do a Google search. You will find plenty of website talking about these topics and you will inevitably hear or see the proper pronunciation.

    Tiff

  12. Mark, you forgot SALINATION! Whenever I feel some sniffles and tingles in my nose that used to preceed a cold or flu I now SALINATE, which is simply going for a 30 minute swim in the ocean. Much more primal than a Saline Nasal Sprayer and it works everytime! Salination is the cure: sweat, tears and salt water!

  13. I love the concept of the word – Uitwaaien. I’ve been trying to be more mindful about my evenings and getting ready for sleep. For too long, I’ve been too stimulated and active before trying to get rest. Needless to say that both a lack of sleep (and a lack of quality sleep) have been catching up to me.

    So – now, in the evenings, I actually do get outside – I walk the dog. It kind of refreshes me at the end of the day. Then, I leisurely (what is that?!) read. I also like to crochet because it keeps my hands a little busy while my brain can wander.

    This has been working wonders for my ability to fall asleep and then feel refreshed in the morning.

  14. I wish you would add that ‘Friluftsliv’ is a Norwegian expression.

    1. It’s actually Scandinavian. It means the exact same thing in Swedish.

  15. I’m reminded of the Danish legesyg. The first part means ‘play’, the second part means sick/ill. It’s used to describe a person or animal that is in a very playful mood, or rather, in ‘play mode’. I guess it could be translated to ‘infected with playfulness’.

  16. I grew up in The Netherlands and I used to go “uitwaaien” on the beach all the time. Almost every Sunday. Keep in mind, we are talking temps in the 50s/60s most of the year and really strong wind, which makes it even more refreshing. I truly miss it.

  17. Great article, love it and want to implement the insights as much as possible for self, family, and friends.

    I remember the Ken Burns documentary on National Parks. I can’t remember the gents name but he was very instrumental in shaping the Park Service. Usually a bundle of productive energy. Then depression would take hold.

    He literally knew the only way to bounce back was to go into nature for weeks or months. I’ve found since going Primal on sunny day’s I HAVE TO GO outside. I feel this irresistible pull. It wasn’t like that pre-Primal.

    I think we will move up the next family camping trip because of this article. Thanks Mark. Grok On everyone.

  18. Koyaanisqatsi sounds like an awesome concept. There is so much to be learned from cultures that have been around much longer than our own!

  19. From watching NHK World TV, the Japanese have words for everything and every combination of everything. Wabi Sabi anyone?

    But I still thing the Germans have the best word in “Schadenfreude” taking delight in other people’s misery.

  20. I noticed a number of these words are from Scandinavian countreis. Having just returned from a trip to Denmark, Sweden, and Finland (missed Norway, unfortunately), I have to say I was thoroughly impressed. Loved it. I like the Swedish word lagom, which I understand translates to the cultural mindset of being in balance and having just enough. My more competitive streak likes the Finnish word sisu, which I understand means something akin to “having grit” in the face of adversity.

  21. How about Lebensmude, German for “life-tired”, or “tired of living”, that feeling of stepping on the gas pedal……. and nothing happens. The “out-of-fuel” feeling we use Paleo to escape.

  22. “Kummerspeck” is not really grief bacon. Kummer means grief and sorrow, but Speck has two very different meanings. In the sense meant by Kummerspeck, it is bodily flab. Speck as a food does mean bacon. So Mark had it right in that it refers to sorrow-induced flab.

    If you live near a real German deli, try the Griebenschmalz or seasoned lard. Delicious!

  23. I find diving in a kelp forrest or a tropical reef to be the most therapeutic activity. I wonder if there is a formal word for that? I usually refer to being in the ocean as hydrotherapy.

  24. Waldeinsamkeit…..an experience very beautifully expressed by German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich.

    1. There is a great Schubert lieder called Waldeinsamkeit. If you look for it on YouTube, pick the version by the wonderful Dutch singer Elly Ameling.

  25. Once or twice a month I retreat for a couple of days, to the woods on a mountainside. You can take away anything I own, but not my waldeinsamkeit.

  26. This just makes me really eager for summer and more outdoor time, especially camping, biking, hiking, and fishing!

  27. Love this topic and was stoked to learn about Waldeinsamkeit and Friluftsliv! Another one I love is the Danish word/concept “hygge” which has connotations of coziness, comfort, and togetherness. It can be a noun or a verb and is very open to the definition of the person using it. For example, I think lighting candles and having a glass of wine with my sweetie or snuggling on the couch with a nice kitty is very hygge.

    1. The danish “hygge”/”hyggelig” is the german “Gemuetlichkeit”/”gemütlich” mentioned before

  28. I ran these past my housemate. Asked him the question about being in the woods with the sound of the wind in the trees. His answer was “yesterday”. But then he’s a craftsman whose workshop is tucked away in woodland.

    I work in an office but i do get to walk in woodland, next to a small river, when i walk the dog, and get to garden in a lovely big garden (not mine) which has rather good views across the general landscape. Yes i know im lucky. Yes i live in europe.

  29. It is proved in many researches that spending some time with nature is good for our mental as well as physical health. Even a short morning walk is very refreshing.

  30. I do have a few places around here in some parks or trails that are usually without many people. Both are very special places to me and I do like being there alone to take in the peacefulness. At the same time, being female, I am always a little wary and on guard. But then, us females are usually a little wary and on guard no matter where we are when we are alone. Maybe I need to get a large attack dog that loves me.

  31. “Uitwaaien” isn’t just going outside. It has to be windy. “Waaien” is what the wind does (blowing I guess?) and uit=out so “uitwaaien” could be translated as having the dust blown out of your head by the wind 🙂
    The term is associated mosty with the beach, where it is almost always windy, so there’s always an opportunity to go outside and be blown clean. People specifically go to the beach for the “uitwaaien” aspect, even in bad weather. And when you are plodding down the beach with the wind in your face, forcing tears from your eyes that are blown backwards horizontally, with the salty smell of the sea in your nose and only the sound of seagulls and waves in your ears, your head really gets emptied out of everything.

  32. A couple of months ago I wrote a blog post on the Japanese term “yankii zuwari”, meaning literally “Yankee sitting”. It’s basically an Asian squat, indigenous peoples’ squat, full squat, ATG squat, Grok squat, etc. (An alternative term means “poo squatting”.)

    I love the (unintentional) irony of the term — how many Yankees can squat ATG — and its early 1970s origin is quite interesting.

  33. No matter how messy our life is and how techno friendly our generation become when its come to peace of mind people always search a lonely place full of natural things. Nature is the source of peace. A nice morning walk in a near by park with a bright smile is enough to boost our day.

  34. I really Loved this article!
    Well, in my case, I really enjoy going to the beach, walking on the sand, when it´s empty, only to hear the sound of the waves, feel the wind that comes from the ocean and breath deeply is a like recharging my energies, I usually combine it with Daydreaming… each of them are good, but when I get to do both at the same time, is fantastic!