According to the United Nations, there are 195 sovereign states in our world today. That’s a whole bunch of different countries with different cultural practices — and that number doesn’t even account for unrecognized cultural groups (like indigenous tribes)!
Despite hundreds of different cultural, ethnic groups that exist out there, one thing is sure: everyone practices wellness rituals. Maintaining one’s health and well-being is such an essential part of life, and we can certainly learn from other nations. That’s why, for this 21 for 2021 Series post, we are taking you across the world for some fun and unique wellness rituals!
1 | Japan :: onsens
As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsens (hot springs) scattered across its major islands. Onsens come in many types and shapes, ranging from outdoor geothermal baths to indoor baths located in ryokan inns.
2 | France :: apéritif & Digestif
In France (and many other European countries), apéritifs and digestifs are alcoholic beverages that one drinks before and after a meal, respectively. You drink the former to stimulate the appetite, so it’s usually dry rather than sweet; you drink the latter to aid digestion, so the French drink it neat.
3 | Denmark :: Winter/ice swimming
In Denmark (and across the Nordic countries), these cold submersions originated from religious celebrations like the Epiphany. But today, they are a fun, nonreligious way to cool off your body after visiting a hot sauna and quickly relieve some stress!
4 | Norway :: friluftsliv
Translated to mean the “free air life,” friluftsliv is an ancient Nordic practice that allows people the freedom to roam the land. It suggests that exploration and appreciation of nature will lead to greater happiness. And the best way to practice this? Camp out to watch the Northern Lights!
5 | India :: Laughter yoga
You may have heard of meditation yoga, but what about laughter yoga? The practice originates from Dr. Madan Kataria’s 1995 article, “Laughter – the Best Medicine.” This type of yoga involves combining breathing exercises with forced laughter. I tried it once, and trust me, its health benefits outweigh the initial awkwardness!
6 | China :: Acupuncture
The traditional Chinese treatment of acupuncture entails inserting needles into the body to balance energy. Acupuncture should only be practiced by trained professionals. Depending on the needle placement, acupuncture can treat and cure headaches, back & neck pain, allergies, and blood pressure problems.
7 | Russia :: banya
The banya is a Russian sauna or steam bath that cleanses the body and fights sickness. Bathers first warm-up in a wooden room heated with firewood. Then, not unlike ice swimming, they jump in a pile of snow to cool off. Finally, they return to the banya for quality conversations among friends and family.
8 | Iceland :: Geothermal springs
Known as the “land of fire and ice” due to its unique mix of volcanic activity and glaciers, Iceland is a popular wellness destination. The geothermal energy heats bodies of water, creating naturally-occurring hot springs! Benefits include pain relief, anti-aging properties, increased endorphins, and improved blood circulation.
9 | Hungary :: Medicinal baths
Hungary — and its capital Budapest in particular — is known for its medicinal baths. The largest one in the entire continent of Europe, the Széchenyi thermal bath, contains thermal waters with vital minerals like metaboric acid. On certain days, there are the “sparties,” or evening parties at the spa!
10 | Turkey :: hamman
Otherwise known as a Turkish bath, the hammam has roots in the Islamic world due to its double benefits: they were performed for ritual ablutions and provided general hygiene. Its popularity spread across the Islamic world, reaching as far as Andalusian Spain and Morocco. Besides the actual practice, you should visit the bathhouses to admire their beautiful celestial ceilings.
11 | Sweden :: fika
Fika is a Swedish coffee break, where people decompress and sincerely appreciate the good things in life. The Swedes enjoy their coffee (or tea substitute) with some pastries or cookies. It’s such a widespread practice that the country institutionalized it in their work culture; many businesses allot some time for fika, and some even have a dedicated fika room!
12 | Tibet :: Tibetan singing bowls
Tibet, an autonomous ethnic region spread across both China and India, has used singing bowls to heal in meditative rituals for centuries. The singing bowls produce energy known to treat stress disorders, pain, depression, and other forms of unease.
13 | Guaraní tribes :: Mate
Mate is a traditional caffeine-rich infused drink first consumed by the indigenous Guaraní peoples (now living across modern-day Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil). In particular, Yerba mate is known to be rich in antioxidants that boost energy and your immune system. There is also a ritualistic aspect to drinking it: typically, friends and family sit in a circle and share a mate gourd from start to finish.
14 | Spain :: el Tapeo
Bar hopping and consuming tapas and drinks with friends, or “el tapeo,” is a popular custom in Spain. And we all know time with your friends is excellent for your health. When I studied abroad in Madrid, my friends and I would always tapear before heading out to the clubs. Tapas are typically snack-size, can be served cold or hot, and accompany an alcoholic beverage. Walk down any street in Spain — chances are you’ll pass by a tapas bar!
15 | Finland :: kalsarikännit
The Finnish tradition of kalsarikännit involves drinking with as few clothes possible in a comfortable environment — the literal translation is “underwear-drunk”! It is a mostly asocial form of drinking culture; in fact, the forced social isolation caused by the COVID pandemic has led to a surge in kalsarikännit worldwide!
16 | Thailand :: Releasing of souls
In Thailand, they have a tradition of releasing souls. This tradition is rooted in Buddhism and rewards good deeds and karma. Centuries ago, when aquatic animals got trapped in rice fields that were dried out, people would spare their lives by carrying and releasing them to the nearest river. In Thailand today, vendors still sell many aquatic animals live, so if you buy them at the market and return them to the seas, you will receive good health and karma! (Although, tradition demands that once you free that animal, you are expected not to eat that species ever again.)
17 | Egypt :: Cupping therapy
One of the oldest medical textbooks in the world, the Ebers Papyrus, describes how Egyptians used cupping therapy in 1,550 B.C. The process entails creating local suctions on the skin with the application of heated cups (sometimes with actual fire) for treating a variety of medical conditions like chronic pain and high blood pressure. Today, people practice cupping therapy across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and even the United States.
18 | Nigeria & South Africa :: ubuntu
While popularly practiced in Nigeria and South Africa, all Africans know of the philosophy of Ubuntu. There is no direct translation for the term, but it roughly means “humanity towards others.” The mindset promotes putting others above yourself to create a sense of solidarity and community. In other words, it’s a worldly kind of wellness!
19 | Netherlands :: Cycling
If you ever visit the Netherlands, you’ll notice the bike roads immediately. When I went to Amsterdam, you could see rows and rows of bicycles and cyclists, sometimes more so than vehicles. Apparently, there are more bicycles than residents in the Netherlands! No wonder it is considered one of the healthiest countries in the world.
20 | Brazil :: Capoeira
For hundreds of years, Brazilians have practiced capoeira, which infuses traditional martial arts with acrobatics, dance, and music. A high-demanding sport that is sure to bring the user all kinds of wellness benefits, perhaps take it slow before partaking in it. Watching capoeira is equally relaxing in its own right, so here’s a video of what the art form involves.
21 | Bali :: Flower bath
Balinese flower baths are both physically and aesthetically pleasing. The soft, smooth petals provide health benefits: dandelions rejuvenate the skin, lavender relieves stress, and roses hydrate the skin. Plus, they come in beautiful colors and fragrances that will stimulate all the senses in your body. Bathers typically rest in a flower bath while sipping on some Indonesian tea, so what’s not to love?
While the wellness rituals listed in this article are some of the most popular practices known to humankind, there are hundreds more out there. Taking care of your health can be as simple as laughing or as complex as performing fusion martial arts.
Whichever way you choose to rejuvenate your body and soul, remember to enjoy the process throughout!
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