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In the UK and globally wellness travel is a trend that has taken off over the last decade, with more and more people looking to gain some relief from the mental and physical demands of their capitalist lifestyles. In Europe however, the concept of wellness is not a modern phenomenon but one that has been around for centuries. Across the continent there is a huge wellness culture, with practices that have been developed over hundreds of years, creating some of the happiest and healthiest countries in the world.
Many of these traditions are easy to incorporate into daily life, yet in the UK we are still slow to integrate wellness practices into our lifestyle. With these European traditions proven to improve mental and physical health, there are many things we can learn from the wellness culture of the continent.
Turkish baths, or hammams, originate from religious purification rituals with a focus on varying temperatures of water to cleanse and purify. This detoxifying pathway takes you through saunas, exfoliation, and cold showers to remove dirt and bacteria whilst providing a serene environment to incite relaxation and stress relief. Hammam traditionally uses hot steam to encourage a deep, invigorating cleanse, removing all toxins and impurities from the body, whilst improving blood circulation.
Hippocratic Medicine shares a common understanding of the cosmos and holistic wellness with Traditional Chinese Medicine. It focuses on treating the cause of the illness, not just the disease itself. Ancient Greece’s wellness approach centers around wholeness and unity, with five elements made up of fire, earth, water, air and weather. It is believed that through balancing these elements of your being, holistic wellness can be achieved.
A form of therapy implementing the healing powers of sea water and marine life, the first records of Thalassotherapy date back to 18th century. It is thought that the mineral content of sea water, mud and algae – including magnesium, potassium and iodide – are absorbed through the skin producing a rejuvenating healing effect. There are a range of different Thalassotherapy treatments that target different aspects of the wellness, including pain relief, slimming and toning, detox and acne.
Saunas might be something we are familiar with in a spa or gym setting, but in Finland, they are a way of life. The first ever recorded sauna consisted of holes dug in dwellings, holding a fireplace, hot stones and water to produce steam. Nowadays, the high heat and humidity of saunas cause perspirations cleansing the skin and removing impurities. The heat also eases sore muscles, improves blood circulation and produces a calming effect, relaxing the body and mind.
In Italy there is a philosophy that is ingrained into the Italian way of life called il dolce far niete, which simply means the sweetness of doing nothing. The concept centers around the enjoyment of the moment and the pleasure of idleness. It encourages people to take time to slow down and remove distractions to appreciate simply being in the present moment. In our digital world, turning off these distractions and bringing the emphasis onto the moment is vital to refocus the mind and restore health.
Forest bathing originally came from Japan, however the Swiss quickly recognised the immense healing powers of their own natural surroundings, including the Alps mountain range and alpine forest. It is believed that natural landscapes such as these emit powerful positive energy, therefore spending time in them can be extremely energising and mentally strengthening. With people spending increasingly more time indoors and connected to a screen, the mental health benefits of spending time in nature have never been greater.
Pronounced Hoo-guh, the term relates to the English word hug. With its rough translation being ‘cosy’, hygge refers to a level of conviviality that incites a feeling of contentment and wellbeing. There are many emotional, physical and relationship benefits connected with the practice of hygge. The most notable is an increase in happiness, however it has also shown to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, improve sleep and increase self-worth.
Originating in Spain, the siesta is a short afternoon nap designed to allow people working outside to escape the fiery Spanish Sun. This tradition is still used in Spain, especially in the South where the weather can reach scorching temperatures of 40 degrees in the Summer. Whilst this might seem pointless in the cooler UK climate, research shows that taking a nap or slowing down for just a short period of time allows you to disconnect from the world and subsequently boost energy, focus and creativity.
Centering around the prioritization of social interaction, the Scandanavian wellness concept of Fika requires a person to slow down at various times throughout the day to socialise with friends and family. Essentially Fika is a meal or meeting during which social interaction will occur, much like the Western coffee break. This allows stronger relationship bonds to form and increases feelings of positivity, calm and creativity.
France, Spain and Italy all share a similar wellness culture and way of life that is centered around their diet. The south of Italy is also one of very few Blue Zones, an area of the world recognised for quality of life and longevity. Along with optimal climate and low stress levels, the people of these three countries benefit greatly from their Mediterranean diet. This is a nutritional approach packed with fruit, vegetables, healthy oils and fish; it also relies on a low consumption of animal products and processed foods to combat the causes of heart and brain diseases.