The Japanese live longer than most, statistically speaking. For almost three decades, the land of the rising sun has topped the World Health Organization’s list of average life expectancy. In 2017, the country also reported a staggering population of more than two million who had crossed the 90-year-old age mark. It then comes as little surprise that Kane Tanaka, who was minted the oldest living person by Guinness World Records, hails from Japan.
Discounting anomalies, the length of one’s life is intrinsically linked to the way of life. If the numbers are anything to go by, the Japanese have long decoded, or rather invented, the elusive formula for longevity.
There are specific principles that ground the distinctively Japanese approach to life. By now, the rest of the world has at least had a brief introduction, courtesy of Marie Kondo — the petite, mild-mannered Japanese lady who has pervaded households across the globe with a methodical approach to tidying up learnt from her culture.
“Each time I return home, I greet the house. This is my way of expressing thanks for the shelter and comfort it provides me,” she writes on her Facebook page. To the uninitiated, Kondo’s practice of giving gratitude to inanimate objects as it plays out on her Netflix series is puzzling, bizarre behaviour. Where Kondo is from, the belief that kami — or the divine — inhibits all forms of life (and therefore, all things, living or otherwise should be respected) is adopted by a significant proportion of the country’s inhabitants. Although rooted in the traditional Japanese religion of Shinto, when stripped away from its religious context, the ideology still holds ground as a general approach to life.
In recent years, Western counterparts have taken to age-old Japanese philosophies of the Kondo-kind like fish to water. The Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism “Zen” has been so commonly tossed around in Western societies that it has essentially been adopted into the English dictionary as a synonym of “peace”. “Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life” is an international bestseller, which as its title suggests, divulges necessary wisdom for one to live their best life. These schools of thought may be variant in terms of its practice and theories but all roads lead to the path towards wellness.
At a time when society is shifting at a relentless pace, the deteriorating quality of life has observably set off a recoil towards happiness and health. The pursuit of wellness has sent people searching far and wide for a rather cryptic enlightenment. Granted that the Japanese precepts of wellness have proven effective, the rest of the world has turned its head in curiosity.
Here, we speak to three Singapore-based practitioners of age-old Japanese self-healing techniques as a collective pursuit of a better life guides our lifestyle choices.
Yap Youmin, the founder of Xiu Nature Connections teaches her pupils to be in the present and open up their senses to nature.
“Now, I invite you to be present,” said Yap Youmin, a pioneer in the art of shinrin-yoku here in Singapore — the Japanese practice commonly referred to as forest bathing. “I invite you to imagine your feet extending like the roots of the tree. Roots that reach deep into the soil through the world, into the universe,” she continued.
We were in the first of three invitations — Pleasures of Presence, What’s In Motion and Sit Spot — Yap had planned for the hour-and-a-half-long session at the city’s sprawling 160-year-old Botanic Garden located on the fringe of the city’s revered shopping belt. Upon arrival, she led the way to a section of the garden with observably lesser human traffic, surveying the area until her eyes landed on an ideal spot for the day’s forest bathing.
“There are a few things that I look out for before I settle down. I typically look out for shade, a fairly even ground, safety and accessibility to amenities in the periphery, amongst other things,” she explained.
Albeit taking the literal meaning of “forest” and “bath” when translated, the former is not a prerequisite for one to immerse in the art of shinrin-yoku. It’s grounded in the principles of being one with nature, and it simply means to open up the senses to the greenery that surrounds us, no matter the topography.
Yap’s initial brush with forest bathing was purely circumstantial. On a five-day hiking trip in Kenya to check the item off her husband’s bucket list, she was surrounded by not much else but nature and its wonders. “I’ve always been an avid hiker but in Kenya, for the first time in [my] life, I was exposed to the slowness of it all. The first two days were hell for me, trying to adjust. But when I eventually settled in, I realised how enjoyable the experience truly was,” recalled Yap. “It was only then that it occurred to me that we were all living our lives like we would run a race,” she said.
The five-day hike was a transformative expedition for Yap, who returned home with a renewed purview on the way of life. Holding onto the vivid memories of the mental and emotional clarity, she was a woman on a mission to replicate the eye-opening experience closer to home — a search that drew to an end when she incidentally discovered a video about forest bathing on Facebook.
Chasing the lead, Yap shortly after enrolled in a training course at the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs held in Melbourne, Australia. At the end of a rigorous curriculum of eight- days intensive training and an additional six months of legwork, Yap graduated the course a certified guide. She eventually established Xiu Nature Connections early last year.
A fervent believer in the benefits of forest therapy, Yap rattled them off verbatim. “Various research has proven that forest bathing is known to alleviate stress. The study of salivary cortisol levels, which fluctuate with stress levels have demonstrated a fall with forest bathing. In other instances, it has also been linked to reducing physiological ailments such as blood pressure,” she said.
At the end of my maiden forest bathing experience, I could attest to the findings of the body of research. Markedly deviant from going on a regular hike or even a walk in the park, forest bathing emphasises slowing down to take notice of the environment and your co-existence within the eco-system — be it the wind as it brushes past your skin, the leaves as they dance with the wind or the fluttering wings of the butterflies that circle the flora.
Echoing the co-dependent nature of an ecosystem, what one takes in from the surroundings, they are encouraged to give back to the other participants by way of reflecting on their thoughts during the sharing circle in- between every invitation. There is a certain sense of liberation in taking the time to indulge in being in the moment, even if amidst the hustle and bustle of the city within a 10-kilometre radius.
“What I would like for people to take away is the understanding that even though we live in a city where our senses are constantly harassed by sounds and sights, there are pockets of quiet amongst nature for us to divulge in, if we learn to be still and present enough,” said Yap.
Reiki practitioner Pamposh Dhar has also teached an array of wellness-related classes like sound healing and meditation.
The tales are aplenty of the miraculous healing prowess of Reiki, a Japanese energy healing art that traces its origins back to the 1900s: cancer going into remission; the disabled regaining their mobility; cysts and tumours dissolving, and more. To most, these stories remain stories but for one skeptic turned Reiki master, the fabled healing powers of reiki panned out before her eyes.
As I sat across Pamposh Dhar in the warm comfort of her home-slash-studio, she recalled her awe-striking encounter with reiki more than two decades ago. “My mother had suffered severe damage to the sciatic nerve, forcing her bed-ridden for weeks at a hospital in New Dehli. The city’s top orthopaedic surgeons told us she would require risky spinal surgery to even be able to sit,” said Dhar.
“While we were waiting for my mother to have the operation, my cousin who was visiting from Canada suggested distance Reiki healing. Despite having little knowledge of what it meant at the time, we obliged. In just about five days, she was back on her feet without any support,” she continued, nodding to reaffirm her recollection of what had transpired in the past.
Dhar’s initial brush with Reiki defied logic the same way it rendered the theories of modern medicine naught. Yet, not all is a mystery with this Japanese healing technique.
Reiki, which translates as Universal Life Energy, is an abstract system of healing that seeks to enhance the flow of energy within the body. “Everyone has an energy within them but as we go through life, our energies at times get contaminated or blocked by our thoughts and feelings. Giving these depleted energies a boost by channelling the universal life energy is what I do,” explained Dhar.
As with all things universal, anyone and everyone is innately built to attune their body to Reiki. Dissected into three different levels of mastery, at its highest, one is bestowed the Reiki master status. To put it as simply as possible, Reiki is fundamentally a higher-order practice that ultimately seeks attunement to the self. “To all my students, I tell them that Reiki is about understanding yourself before anything else,” said Dhar.
A reiki practitioner for nearly two decades, Dhar imparts her knowledge to an expansive network of students she has amassed throughout the years.
Wrapping up the initial introduction to Reiki, we proceeded to an inconspicuous room within which a majority of Dhar’s healing sessions are held. The curtains drawn and lights switched off, I took my place on the higher of the two beds
on either ends of the space. Dhar, too, took her place on a stool at the crown of my head.
The session was in progress.
She first placed both hands on the sides of my skull and kept still. Gradually, an unusual, palpable warmth radiated from her hands. As she released her touch from one part of my body and graduated to another (I later understand that these points are where the main chakras reside within the human body), the distinct heat followed while her touch lingered where her hands once were. The realignment of energy from my head down to my toes sent soft, pulsating vibrations through my muscles, easing my body and mind into a borderline between a deep state of relaxation and meditation. Arbitrary thoughts streamed into my consciousness and just as sporadically, fizzled out into oblivion.
Forty-five minutes later, my session drew to an end, by when, I had gathered a tangible feeling to ascribe to the philosophical musings of Reiki. Although many sessions away from remotely attaining any sense of self-enlightenment, my mind resonated with a sense of clarity foreign to me by now.
“Everyone reacts to Reiki differently. Occasionally, I do get people who claim not to feel anything but even then, I believe the benefits of the session will show itself in the longer-term be it in their emotional or physical well-being,” explained Dhar.
When it comes to Reiki, most people fall into either extreme: the skeptics who dismiss the entire practice as a way of the woo-woo community or the believers whose lives have seen seismic shifts since adopting the practice. But before you pitch yourself on either camp, warranting Reiki a chance is only fair play.
Jin Shin Jyutsu
Julie Ann demonstrates a Jin Shin Jyutsu self-healing technique that is readily accessible to anyone who takes an interest in the art.
Most people never find their calling in life. Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner, intuitive healer and spiritual coach Julie Ann is amongst the lucky few who deviate from the statistical majority. A Masters Degree holder in Applied Science in the field of Artificial Intelligence, Julie Ann’s stumble into the Japanese healing art of Jin Shin Jyutsu was the culmination of multiple coincidences throughout her adult years.
“I guess different people have different things that set them on a more holistic path. For me, it was a stressful job in the corporate sector and I got to the point where I needed to make a big change in my life. I kind of got pushed to the edge
and that is when I discovered meditation,” recalled Julie Ann.
In 2001, Julie Ann moved to Singapore alongside her husband who had secured a job here. The shift was an opportunity for Julie Ann to start anew. “Initially, I started to think about what I could do within the IT field, but I really always knew there was something else. I had experienced other healing modalities but none of them particularly called out to me,” she recalled.
“Incidentally, I went to a psychic reading once with a group of friends not expecting it to be very much. The psychic reader, she basically told me to get on my path,” she said, subsequently lamenting on the ambiguity of the cryptic message. “But what did it mean?!”
In hindsight, the cavalier outing with friends led Julie Ann to her introduction to Jin Shin Jyutsu. The art of Jin Shin Jyutsu resonated deeply with Julie Ann. “What I love about Jin Shin Jyutsu is that it is not just a healing art, it is a spiritual philosophy as well. The theory of how the body works and how everything is connected in the universe, was the first thing that made sense for me,” said Julie Ann.
In layman terms, Jin Shin Jyustu is essentially the pursuit of energetic balance in the body, spirit and mind. Sitting across Julie Ann, it is hard not to notice an inexplicable aura that surrounds her. Throughout our exchange, she maintained an honest smile spread across her face, as eager to speak of her craft as I was in delving deeper into it.
“It is amazing being a practitioner, my god! You can help people through very physical things from migraines to cancers and at the same time also work on the emotions — the mind, body connection,” said Julie Ann.
Even prior to setting foot into my Jin Shin Jyutsu session, I felt my spirit uplift from our conversational exchange. As my session with Julie Ann commenced, my body fell into a slumber to the soft meditative music that played in the background. She began her work by reading the pulses on both my wrists — the Jin Shin Jyutsu technique of identifying the meridians in the body that are depleted in energy. Just as a doctor would, she then prescribes an antidote to the problem areas through her touch.
While the processes of reiki and Jin Shin Jyutsu may observe striking similarities, the differences are identifiable in its nuances. “Reiki is an energy that you need to be attuned to and there is a certain energy that you need to carry. But in Jin Shin Jyutsu, we are more specific about how we work. We listen and then work with energy pathways that need some help. In that sense, there is no one fixed sequence,” explained Julie Ann.
As the session concluded, Julie Ann softly tapped me awake. The sensations in my body were subtle, yet I felt like someone had switched on the reset button — at five in the evening, my energy levels alluded to my state of self at nine in the morning.
Before we left her healing room, she handed me a leaflet detailing exercises I could adopt on the daily to practice Jin Shin Jyutsu independently. “Well, why do you think children develop the habit of sucking on their thumb for comfort?” she quizzed.
It was a thought that had never crossed my mind earlier but now, putting the two together, the ways of Jin Shin Jyutsu are ingrained in our innate construct.
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