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Self-care trends from around the world, from Nelson Mandela's one-people philosophy to cow cuddling and taking a hay bath

HONG KONG — Given the year we've all had, we're all in need of some tender loving self-care. Travel is still off-limits for many of us, but here are some less common ways to lift your spirit and your health from around the world to consider adding to your bucket list — or trying yourself at home, if you can.

Self-care trends from around the world, from Nelson Mandela's one-people philosophy to cow cuddling and taking a hay bath

Developed in rural areas of the Netherlands more than a decade ago, cow cuddling involves touring a farm before cuddling up against a cow or two, hugging them, letting them lick you, even giving a cow a back massage or a good brushing.

HONG KONG — Given the year we've all had, we're all in need of some tender loving self-care.

Travel is still off-limits for many of us, but here are some less common ways to lift your spirit and your health from around the world to consider adding to your bucket list — or trying yourself at home, if you can.

1. COW CUDDLING — OR "KOEKNUFFELEN" 

Many of us know that deep comfort derived from cuddling our beloved dogs or cats. Imagine making a similar connection with creatures that are many times larger.

Developed in rural areas of the Netherlands more than a decade ago, cow cuddling is a growing movement in many countries including the US. What better time to try it than the Year of the Ox?

The practice involves touring a farm before cuddling up against a cow or two, hugging them, letting them lick you, even giving a cow a back massage or a good brushing. Depending on the farm, it may extend to other animals, including llamas, goats and sheep.

Ms Leeron Zion, a holistic health and wellness coach in Hong Kong, explains that cuddling an animal "increases happiness and reduces stress by elevating serotonin and dopamine levels".

Koeknuffelen is also thought to increase humans' oxytocin levels — the social bonding hormone — and the cow's slow heart rate and higher body temperature can prove calming.

The best part of koeknuffelen is that the animals also benefit. Who knows? After a cuddle you might be inclined forgo dairy and try a plant-based diet.

2. BATHING IN HAY

Hay baths have long been a tradition of the Alpine region in Italy. Believed to be centuries-old, this pursuit originated in Italy's Dolomite region where farmers would sleep in hay to wake up feeling refreshed and free of aches.

Since then, hay bathing has blossomed into a successful enterprise in Italy and Austria. Today, the procedure involves being wrapped in freshly mown damp mountain grass for approximately 20 minutes and then lying in linen to give the herbs and oils in the grass a chance to work their magic.

Italian spa and treatment centres — and some scientific studies — claim it offers many mental and physical benefits including strengthening the immune system, stimulating the metabolism, enhancing well-being and tackling issues such as rheumatism, arthritis and mental and physical exhaustion.

Hay bathing has even been given a medical name: Phytothermotherapy.

A 2011 study in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine lends credence to this unusual treatment: Osteoarthritis patients who had 20-minute immersions in a warm mixture of freshly mown hay for a total of 10 days saw significant pain relief in tests at 15 days and three months after the treatment began; a control group which did not get hay baths did not see any improvement.

3. SHARE A CUP OF JOE

While cow cuddling and hay bathing sound lovely, not everyone has access to farms and hayfields.

A Swedish self-care habit known as "fika" is more accessible to most. It loosely translates as "a coffee and cake break", and is all about truly taking a moment for yourself and enjoying some quality time with others — not simply downing a mug of coffee to help you get through the day.

In Sweden, fika is a crucial part of daily life, and rightly so — in our rushed world, pausing to enjoy a small treat and the company of another seems more important than ever. Zion explains that "the best wellness trends are those which are accessible to use when we need them", and perhaps fika is just that?

4. SHIFTING FROM HOT TO COLD

Whether you enjoy a sauna or not, the Russian version — banyas — are an ancient and important aspect of the culture. A banya is a slightly cooler sauna, about 70°C, after which visitors take a dip in an ice-cold pool or run into the snow.

It is also common to receive a "venik" massage; a soft beating with leafy branches.

The massage is thought to lessen muscle pain and stimulate blood flow, while the rapid body temperature change from sauna to snow is believed to trick the body into thinking it has a fever, thereby increasing white blood cell production.

In Russia, banyas are considered the perfect way to unwind and rejuvenate the body.

Like Sweden's fika, at the heart of the banya lies the importance of communication. Groups of loved ones will often visit one together, as it is thought to foster an atmosphere of closeness and allows people to discuss ideas on common ground.

While not everyone fancies the idea of jumping into the snow, it is invigorating.

5. CONNECTING WITH NATURE

This past year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, outdoor meet-ups have become more common. Spending time outside is deeply ingrained in the Norwegian lifestyle. Many people live by the concept friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-liv) or 'open-air living', the enjoyment of the outdoors and connecting with nature.

Many studies have found a connection between time spent in nature and a boost in mental and physical health. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with improved well-being, according to a 2019 study.

Whether you hike in the hills, or take a stroll through your local park, embracing the great outdoors as much as practicable could make you healthier and happier.

6. WE ARE ALL CONNECTED

South Africa and Nigeria have a philosophy called ubuntu. The word stems from the Zulu and Xhosa languages, and means "I am, because you are" or "a person is a person through other people".

Essentially, everyone has different skills and strengths, and through mutual support they can help each other to complete themselves. Ubuntu encapsulates the belief that we are all connected, and we grow and achieve by working together and extending compassion to one another.

The philosophy of ubuntu has been shared by humanitarians Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and others. Maybe sharing time with others and extending kindness to those around us may just be the best act of self-care we could practise in 2021. SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

Related topics

self-care health mental health wellness

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