With a growing fascination towards healthier living and being forever youthful, a trend that is fast spreading from the East to the rest of the world, IKIGAI- a Japanese concept/ way of living.
The word IKIGAI is made by combining two Japanese words: Life + To Be Worthwhile. The latter can be further split into Armour + Beautiful/ Elegant. This, for me, is the best way to understand the essence of a word that means ‘The Happiness Of Always Being Busy’. It is a process that helps one find their ‘Reason For Being’.
The Japanese are known for many things, some of them being their discipline, healthy habits and their highest number of centenarians (1). The island of Okinawa is famous for its longevity. And this longevity is usually attributed to Ikigai, along with a few other factors:
- Healthful Diet & The 80% Rule (2)
- Simple Life In The Outdoors
- Green Tea & Warm Water
- Subtropical Climate
Surprisingly, the Japanese language doesn’t have a word that directly translates to the word ‘retirement’, can you imagine that? Which, to me, seems to have something to do with ‘The Happiness Of Always Being Busy’, or so, I would like to believe!
A commonly known and addressed factor leading to ageing is stress. Yes, STRESS! We experience it in varied proportions each day. So do the people of Okinawa. Then how is it that we show signs of ageing while they continue to glow, you wonder? Well, I did! So, to develop a perspective and with hope to find some mystical secret, I started reading about Ikigai, and here’s what I could understand.
They believe that we age in two ways: physically and mentally. And to better handle these signs, they have a set of practices. But before getting to prevention,they like to remain Mindful against stress. Here are a few steps on how:
- By noticing responses, even if they are conditioned by habit. Its not about over analysing, its just about knowing how we react in various situations and why
- By connecting with the here and now and avoiding presuming and assuming the cause and effect of things that may or may not happen. This helps in managing thoughts that have the potential of spiralling out of control and further elevating our stress levels
- By avoiding working on autopilot mode. People who work on autopilot also tend to be mindless about some tasks such as an individual eating/ snacking while watching the television or talking on the phone usually is not sure of what and how many portions has he consumed.
The most effective way to avoid physical ageing is by keeping active at all ages and times. The Japanese are believers of minimalism, so to be involved in mild physical activities on an everyday basis is what keeps them moving at an age when the world retires. Our sedentary lifestyles, that include sitting for the better part of the day, are also considered responsible for physical ageing. There are a few simple lifestyle changes that could help all of us:
- Take the steps as often as possible instead of escalating and elevating your way up.
- Walk to your colleague’s desk once in a while instead on using the intercom.
- Walk the short distances for completing your chores.
- Actively participate in social and community activities to reduce screen time on a daily basis.
- Use pen and paper every once in a while instead of typing and swiping. This will help your fingers maintain their dexterity.
- Stay hydrated. Regularly consume water (preferably warm) by sitting down instead of standing. Sometimes the brain perceives thirst as hunger and sends faulty signals.
- Replace the junk intake with fruits and other healthier alternatives. (3)
- Get the right amount of rest; seven to eight hours is ideal. (4)
- Interact with kids and spend time with pets; they almost always make you move around.
- Be Mindful! Be aware of your daily routine in order to convert counter productive habits into fun activities.
However, not all signs of physical stress lead to physical ageing. This is because stress is psychosomatic (5) in nature. So basically, mental ageing also shows through physical signs of ageing? (double doomed!)
It is a known fact in the nervous system student community that in our 20s our neurons begin to age. While this happens at an alarmingly slow rate, our sedentary and high stress lifestyles play catalysts in this process. The process of mental ageing cannot be stopped but it can be slowed down through mental workouts.
Mental workouts are as important as physical ones. While it could sound intimidating, the neural connections can be activated and put to work by making simple habits.
- Regularly present your brain with new information. It could be by changing the genre of books or the school of music that you read.
- Learn a new language. Practice a different accent.
- Change the hand with which you perform simple mundane tasks, such as brushing your teeth, pulling out a hanger, turning knobs, etc.
- Solve puzzles and riddles. Play mind-benders.
- Learn how to use a new gadget.
- Get out of your comfort zone and talk to people from different social, historical and cultural groups.
Just experiencing new situations can work as an anti-ageing strategy for the mind. And a positive outlook towards it all will generate better mental benefits.
“A healthy mind in a healthy body”
to me now seems like the Ikiagi way of healthy ageing
*Picture credits to the very talented photographer Francisco Rosário and my friend Pei. They were graceful in sending me a fitting picture.
** This article is based on my knowledge and understanding of the concept thus far. Any form of suggestions, corrections and conversations are welcome!
1: People who live upto 100 years of age and above
2: To eat only to the point where you start to feel full and not until you feel stuffed
3: Refer to http://www.thehazywhisperer.com/2018/10/10/sugaring-it-down/ for some tips on healthy eating.
4: During sleep our body produces an important antioxidant called melatonin which helps in immunity system strengthening, delayed onset of Alzheimer’s, fighting heart diseases, protection against cancer, etc.
Post 30 years the melatonin production naturally reduces but can be improved by consuming a balanced diet, soaking moderate amount of sunlight regularly, avoiding alcohol.
5: A mental situation that manifests through physical signs such as acne, indigestion and ulcers.
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