Maybe 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.
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?
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.
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.
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….
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.
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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