Ikigai: H. Garcia & F. Miralles - Summary & Analysis (2/2)
Part 2 shares practical insights to replicate the lifestyle of centenarians from the Ogimi region of Okinawa, Japan. The post ends with the 10 rules of ikigai.
V. Masters of Longevity ~ VI. Lessons from Japan's Centenarians.
Traditions and proverbs for happiness and longevity.
Note: Chapter 5 highlights quotations and brief philosophies from several people who’ve reached old age. The summary in this section continues from Chapter 6.
Reoccuring themes from hundreds of interviews conducted by the authors:
1. Don’t worry.
“The secret to a long life is not to worry. And to keep your heart young—don’t let it grow old. Open your heart to people with a nice smile on your face. If you smile and open your heart, your grandchildren and everyone else will want to see you.”
2. Cultivate good habits.
“I feel joy every morning waking up at six and opening the curtains to look out at my garden, where I grow my own vegetables. I go right outside to check on my tomatoes, my mandarin oranges . . . I love the sight of them — it relaxes me. After an hour in the garden I go back inside and make breakfast.”
“The key to staying sharp in old age is in your fingers. From your fingers to your brain, and back again. If you keep your fingers busy, you’ll live to see one hundred.”
“To live a long time you need to do three things: exercise to stay healthy, eat well, and spend time with people.”
3. Nurture your friendships every day.
“Talking each day with the people you love, that’s the secret to a long life.”
“I wake up at five every morning, leave the house, and walk to the sea. Then I go to a friend’s house and we have tea together. That’s the secret to long life: getting together with people, and going from place to place.”
4. Live an unhurried life.
“My secret to a long life is always saying to myself, ‘Slow down,’ and ‘Relax.’ You live much longer if you’re not in a hurry.”
“Doing many different things every day. Always staying busy, but doing one thing at a time, without getting overwhelmed.”
5. Be optimistic.
“Every day I say to myself, ‘Today will be full of health and energy. Live it to the fullest.’”
“Laugh. Laughter is the most important thing. I laugh wherever I go.”
“There’s no secret to it. The trick is just to live.”
Keys to the Ogimi Lifestyle.
- One hundred percent of the people we interviewed keep a vegetable garden, and most of them also have fields of tea, mangoes, shikuwasa, and so on.
- All belong to some form of neighbourhood association, where they feel cared for as though by family.
- They celebrate all the time, even little things. Music, song, and dance are essential parts of daily life.
- They have an important purpose in life, or several. They have an ikigai, but they don’t take it too seriously. They are relaxed and enjoy all that they do.
- They are very proud of their traditions and local culture.
- They are passionate about everything they do, however insignificant it might seem.
- Locals have a strong sense of yuimaaru — recognizing the connection between people. They help each other with everything from work in the fields (harvesting sugarcane or planting rice) to building houses and municipal projects. Our friend Miyagi, who ate dinner with us on our last night in town, told us that he was building a new home with the help of all his friends, and that we could stay there the next time we were in Ogimi.
- They are always busy, but they occupy themselves with tasks that allow them to relax. We didn’t see a single old grandpa sitting on a bench doing nothing. They’re always coming and going — to sing karaoke, visit with neighbors, or play a game of gateball.
VII. The Ikigai Diet.
What the world's longest-living people eat and drink.
Okinawa’s miracle diet.
Locals eat a wide variety of foods, especially vegetables. Variety seems to be key. A study of Okinawa’s centenarians showed that they ate 206 different foods, including spices, on a regular basis. They ate an average of eighteen different foods each day, a striking contrast to the nutritional poverty of our fast-food culture.
They eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. At least seven types of fruits and vegetables are consumed by Okinawans on a daily basis. The easiest way to check if there is enough variety on your table is to make sure you’re “eating the rainbow.” A table featuring red peppers, carrots, spinach, cauliflower, and eggplant, for example, offers great color and variety. Vegetables, potatoes, legumes, and soy products such as tofu are the staples of an Okinawan’s diet. More than 30 percent of their daily calories comes from vegetables.
Grains are the foundation of their diet. Japanese people eat white rice every day, sometimes adding noodles. Rice is the primary food in Okinawa, as well.
In addition to these basic dietary principles, Okinawans eat fish an average of three times per week; unlike in other parts of Japan, the most frequently consumed meat is pork, though locals eat it only once or twice per week.
Hara hachi bu.
One easy way to start applying the concept of hara hachi bu is to skip dessert. Or to reduce portion size. The idea is to still be a little bit hungry when you finish.
So, eat less to live longer?
Eating fewer calories than our bodies ask for seems to increase longevity. The key to staying healthy while consuming fewer calories is eating foods with a high nutritional value (especially “superfoods”) and avoiding those that add to our overall caloric intake but offer little to no nutritional value.
The calorie restriction we’ve been discussing is one of the most effective ways to add years to your life. If the body regularly consumes enough, or too many, calories, it gets lethargic and starts to wear down, expending significant energy on digestion alone.
Another benefit of calorie restriction is that it reduces levels of IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) in the body. IGF-1 is a protein that plays a significant role in the aging process; it seems that one of the reasons humans and animals age is an excess of this protein in their blood.
An alternative to following the 80 percent rule on a daily basis is to fast for one or two days each week. The 5:2 (or fasting) diet recommends two days of fasting (consuming fewer than five hundred calories) every week and eating normally on the other five days.
Among its many benefits, fasting helps cleanse the digestive system and allows it to rest.
Sanpin-cha: The reigning infusion in Okinawa.
Okinawans drink more Sanpin-cha — a mix of green tea and jasmine flowers — than any other kind of tea.
In addition to all the antioxidant benefits of green tea, it boasts the benefits of jasmine, which include:
Reducing the risk of heart attack.
Strengthening the immune system.
Helping relieve stress.
Okinawans drink an average of three cups of Sanpin-cha every day. It might be hard to find exactly the same blend in the West, but we can drink jasmine tea, or even a high-quality green tea, instead.
The secrets of green tea.
Green tea offers health benefits such as:
Lowering blood sugar levels.
Protection against the flu (Vitamin C).
Promoting bone health (Flouride).
Protection against certain bacterial infections.
Protection against UV damage.
Cleansing and diuretic effects.
White tea, with its high concentration of polyphenols, may be even more effective against aging. In fact, it is considered to be the natural product with the greatest antioxidant power in the world — to the extent that one cup of white tea might pack the same punch as about a dozen glasses of orange juice.
In summary: Drinking green or white tea every day can help us reduce the free radicals in our bodies, keeping us young longer.
The Antioxidant Canon, for Westerners.
In 2010 the UK’s Daily Mirror published a list of foods recommended by experts to combat aging. Among these foods readily available in the West are:
- Vegetables such as broccoli and chard, for their high concentration of water, minerals, and fiber
- Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines, for all the antioxidants in their fat
- Fruits such as citrus, strawberries, and apricots; they are an excellent source of vitamins and help eliminate toxins from the body
- Berries such as blueberries and goji berries; they are rich in phytochemical antioxidants
- Dried fruits, which contain vitamins and antioxidants, and give you energy
- Grains such as oats and wheat, which give you energy and contain minerals
- Olive oil, for its antioxidant effects that show in your skin
- Red wine, in moderation, for its antioxidant and vasodilatory properties
VIII. Gentle Movements, Longer Life.
Exercises from the East that promote health and longevity.
Studies from the Blue Zones suggest that the people who live longest are not the ones who do the most exercise but rather the ones who move the most.
As Easy as Getting out of Your Chair.
Metabolism slows down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting. The enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can get burned off, slow down. And after two hours, good cholesterol drops 20 percent. Just getting up for five minutes is going to get things going again.
You don’t need to go to the gym for an hour every day or run marathons. As Japanese centenarians show us, all you need is to add movement to your day. Practicing any of these Eastern disciplines on a regular basis is a great way to do so.
The “radio” part of its name is from when the instructions for each exercise were transmitted over the radio, but today people usually do these movements while tuned to a television channel or Internet video demonstrating the steps.
The exercises take five or ten minutes, depending on whether you do all or only some of them. They focus on dynamic stretching and increasing joint mobility. One of the most iconic radio taiso exercises consists of simply raising your arms above your head and then bringing them down in a circular motion. It is a tool to wake up the body, an easy mobility workout that is low in intensity and that focuses on exercising as many joints as possible.
It might seem basic, but in our modern lives, we can spend days without raising our arms above our ears. Think about it: our arms are down when using computers, when using smartphones, when reading books. One of the few times we raise our hands over our heads is when reaching for something in a cupboard or closet, while our ancestors were raising their hands over their heads all the time when gathering things from trees. Radio taiso helps us to practice all the basic movements of the body.
Yoga comes from India, where it was developed millennia ago to unite our mental and physical elements. The word yoga itself comes from the Sanskrit term for “yoke,” which refers to the crosspiece that binds draft animals to one another and to the cart they’re pulling. Yoga strives to unite body and mind in the same way, guiding us toward a healthy lifestyle in harmony with the world around us.
The main objectives of yoga are:
To bring us closer to our (human) nature.
Mental and physical purification.
To bring us closer to the divine.
Styles of yoga.
The differences among these styles lie, as the masters say, in the path taken to the summit of our best self.
Jnana yoga: the yoga of wisdom; the search for discipline and mental growth.
Karma yoga: focuses on action, on tasks and duties that benefit oneself and one’s community.
Bhakti yoga: the yoga of devotion and surrender to the divine.
Mantra yoga: focuses on the recitation of mantras to reach a state of relaxation.
Kundalini yoga: combines diverse steps to reach the desired mental state.
Raja yoga: also known as the royal path; encompasses a range of steps geared toward achieving communion with oneself and others.
Hatha yoga: the most widespread form in the West and Japan; characterized by asanas or poses combined in a quest for balance.
How to do a Sun Salutation.
Tai chi was originally a neijia, or internal martial art, meaning its goal was personal growth. Focused on self-defense, it teaches those who practice it to defeat their adversaries by using the least amount of force possible and by relying on agility.
The ten basic principles of tai chi.
The correct practice of tai chi follows ten basic principles:
Elevate the crown of your head, and focus all your energy there.
Tighten your chest and expand your back to lighten your lower body.
Relax your waist and let it guide your body.
Learn to differentiate between heaviness and lightness, knowing how your weight is distributed.
Relax the shoulders to allow free movement of the arms and promote the flow of energy.
Value the agility of the mind over the strength of the body.
Unify the upper and lower body so they act in concert.
Unify the internal and the external to synchronize mind, body, and breath.
Do not break the flow of your movement; maintain fluidity and harmony.
Look for stillness in movement. An active body leads to a calm mind.
Also known as chi kung, its name combines qi (life force, or energy) and gong (work), indicating that the form works with the individual’s life force. Though relatively modern, especially under its current name, the art of qigong is based on the Tao yin, an ancient art meant to foster mental and physical well-being.
Benefits of qigong:
Modification of brain waves.
Improved balance of sex hormones.
Lower mortality rate from heart attacks.
Lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension.
Greater bone density.
Deceleration of symptoms associated with senility.
Greater balance and efficiency of bodily functions.
Increased blood flow to the brain and greater mind-body connection.
Improved cardiac function.
Reduction in the secondary effects of cancer treatments.
Methods of practicing qigong.
In order to practice qigong correctly, we should remember that our life energy flows through our whole body. We should know how to regulate its many parts:
Tyau Shenn: (regulating the body) by adopting the correct posture — it is important to be firmly rooted to the ground.
Tyau Shyi: (regulating the breath) until it is calm, steady, and peaceful.
Tyau Hsin: (regulating the mind); the most complicated part, as it implies emptying the mind of thoughts.
Tyau Chi: (regulating the life force) through the regulation of the three prior elements, so that it flows naturally.
Tyau Shen: (regulating the spirit); the spirit is both strength and root in battle.
In this way, the whole organism will be prepared to work together toward a single goal.
Shiatsu also works on energy flow through the application of pressure with the thumbs and the palms of the hands. In combination with stretching and breathing exercises, it seeks to create equilibrium among the different elements of the body.
The takeaway of all the above-mentioned traditions is that they all combine a physical exercise with an awareness of our breath. These two components — movement and breath — help us to bring our consciousness in line with our body, instead of allowing our mind to be carried away by the sea of daily worries. Most of the time, we are just not aware enough of our breathing.
IX. Resilience and Wabi-sabi.
How to face life’s challenges without letting stress and worry age you.
What is resilience?
One thing that everyone with a clearly defined ikigai has in common is that they pursue their passion no matter what. They never give up, even when the cards seem stacked against them or they face one hurdle after another. We’re talking about resilience.
Resilience isn’t just the ability to persevere. It is also an outlook we can cultivate to stay focused on the important things in life rather than what is most urgent, and to keep ourselves from being carried away by negative emotions.
Sooner or later, we all have to face difficult moments, and the way we do this can make a huge difference to our quality of life. Proper training for our mind, body, and emotional resilience is essential for confronting life’s ups and downs.
Resilience is our ability to deal with setbacks. The more resilient we are, the easier it will be to pick ourselves up and get back to what gives meaning to our lives.
Resilient people know how to stay focused on their objectives, on what matters, without giving in to discouragement. Their flexibility is the source of their strength: They know how to adapt to change and to reversals of fortune. They concentrate on the things they can control and don’t worry about those they can’t.
Emotional resilience through Buddhism and Stoicism.
Stoicism, which centers on the idea that there is nothing wrong with enjoying life’s pleasures as long as they do not take control of your life as you enjoy them. You have to be prepared for those pleasures to disappear.
The goal is not to eliminate all feelings and pleasures from our lives, as in Cynicism, but to eliminate negative emotions.
Since their inception, one of the objectives of both Buddhism and Stoicism has been to control pleasure, emotions, and desires. Though the philosophies are very different, both aim to curb our ego and control our negative emotions.
Both Stoicism and Buddhism are, at their roots, methods for practicing well-being.
What’s the worst thing that could happen?
We finally land our dream job, but after a little while we are already hunting for a better one. We win the lottery and buy a nice car but then decide we can’t live without a sailboat. We finally win the heart of the man or woman we’ve been pining for and suddenly find we have a wandering eye.
People can be insatiable.
The Stoics believed that these kinds of desires and ambitions are not worth pursuing. The objective of the virtuous person is to reach a state of tranquility (apatheia): the absence of negative feelings such as anxiety, fear, shame, vanity, and anger, and the presence of positive feelings such as happiness, love, serenity, and gratitude.
In order to keep their minds virtuous, the Stoics practiced something like negative visualization: They imagined the worst thing that could happen in order to be prepared if certain privileges and pleasures were taken from them.
To practice negative visualization, we have to reflect on negative events, but without worrying about them.
Meditating for healthier emotions.
In addition to negative visualization and not giving in to negative emotions, another central tenet of Stoicism is knowing what we can control and what we can’t.
Worrying about things that are beyond our control accomplishes nothing. We should have a clear sense of what we can change and what we can’t, which in turn will allow us to resist giving in to negative emotions.
In Zen Buddhism, meditation is a way to become aware of our desires and emotions and thereby free ourselves from them. It is not simply a question of keeping the mind free of thoughts but instead involves observing our thoughts and emotions as they appear, without getting carried away by them. In this way, we train our minds not to get swept up in anger, jealousy, or resentment.
The here and now, and the impermanence of things.
Another key to cultivating resilience is knowing in which time to live. Both Buddhism and Stoicism remind us that the present is all that exists, and it is the only thing we can control. Instead of worrying about the past or the future, we should appreciate things just as they are in the moment, in the now.
We should never forget that everything we have and all the people we love will disappear at some point. This is something we should keep in mind, but without giving in to pessimism. Keeping this always in mind helps us avoid excessive pain in times of loss.
Wabi-sabi and ichi-go ichi-e.
Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that shows us the beauty of the fleeting, changeable, and imperfect nature of the world around us. Instead of searching for beauty in perfection, we should look for it in things that are flawed, incomplete.
This is why the Japanese place such value, for example, on an irregular or cracked teacup. Only things that are imperfect, incomplete, and ephemeral can truly be beautiful, because only those things resemble the natural world.
A complementary Japanese concept is that of ichi-go ichi-e, which could be translated as “This moment exists only now and won’t come again.” It is heard most often in social gatherings as a reminder that each encounter — whether with friends, family, or strangers — is unique and will never be repeated, meaning that we should enjoy the moment and not lose ourselves in worries about the past or the future.
Japanese culture accepts the fleeting nature of the human being and everything we create.
Beyond resilience: Antifragility.
As the legend goes, the first time Hercules faced the Hydra, he despaired when he discovered that cutting off one of its heads meant that two would grow back in its place. He would never be able to kill the beast if it got stronger with every wound.
As Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains in Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, we use the word fragile to describe people, things, and organizations that are weakened when harmed, and the words robust and resilient for things that are able to withstand harm without weakening, but we don’t have a word for things that get stronger when harmed (up to a point).
To refer to the kind of power possessed by the Hydra of Lerna, to talk about things that get stronger when they are harmed, Taleb proposes the term antifragile:
“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
How can we be more antifragile?
Step 1: Create redundancies.
Instead of having a single salary, try to find a way to make money from your hobbies, at other jobs, or by starting your own business. If you have only one salary, you might be left with nothing should your employer run into trouble, leaving you in a position of fragility.
The same idea goes for friendships and personal interests. It’s just a matter, as the saying goes, of not putting all your eggs in one basket.
In the sphere of romantic relationships, there are those who focus all their energy on their partner and make him or her their whole world. Those people lose everything if the relationship doesn’t work out, whereas if they’ve cultivated strong friendships and a full life along the way, they’ll be in a better position to move on at the end of a relationship. They’ll be antifragile.
The unexpected always happens, sooner or later.
Step 2: Bet conservatively in certain areas and take many small risks in others.
The key to becoming antifragile is taking on small risks that might lead to great reward, without exposing ourselves to dangers that might sink us, such as investing $10,000 in a fund of questionable reputation that we saw advertised in the newspaper.
Step 3: Get rid of the things that make you fragile.
We’re taking the negative route for this exercise. Ask yourself: What makes me fragile? Certain people, things, and habits generate losses for us and make us vulnerable. Who and what are they?
To build resilience into our lives, we shouldn’t fear adversity, because each setback is an opportunity for growth. If we adopt an antifragile attitude, we’ll find a way to get stronger with every blow, refining our lifestyle and staying focused on our ikigai.
Taking a hit or two can be viewed as either a misfortune or an experience that we can apply to all areas of our lives, as we continually make corrections and set new and better goals.
Life is pure imperfection, as the philosophy of wabi-sabi teaches us, and the passage of time shows us that everything is fleeting, but if you have a clear sense of your ikigai, each moment will hold so many possibilities that it will seem almost like an eternity.
The art of living.
Once you discover your ikigai, pursuing it and nurturing it every day will bring meaning to your life. The moment your life has this purpose, you will achieve a happy state of flow in all you do, like the calligrapher at his canvas or the chef who, after half a century, still prepares sushi for his patrons with love.
Our ikigai is different for all of us, but one thing we have in common is that we are all searching for meaning. When we spend our days feeling connected to what is meaningful to us, we live more fully; when we lose the connection, we feel despair.
Modern life estranges us more and more from our true nature, making it very easy for us to lead lives lacking in meaning. Powerful forces and incentives (money, power, attention, success) distract us on a daily basis; don’t let them take over your life.
Our intuition and curiosity are very powerful internal compasses to help us connect with our ikigai. Follow those things you enjoy, and get away from or change those you dislike. Be led by your curiosity, and keep busy by doing things that fill you with meaning and happiness. It doesn’t need to be a big thing: we might find meaning in being good parents or in helping our neighbors.
Life is not a problem to be solved. Just remember to have something that keeps you busy doing what you love while being surrounded by the people who love you.
The 10 rules of ikigai.
Stay active; don’t retire. Those who give up the things they love doing and do well lose their purpose in life. That’s why it’s so important to keep doing things of value, making progress, bringing beauty or utility to others, helping out, and shaping the world around you, even after your “official” professional activity has ended.
Take it slow. Being in a hurry is inversely proportional to quality of life. As the old saying goes, “Walk slowly and you’ll go far.” When we leave urgency behind, life and time take on new meaning.
Don’t fill your stomach. Less is more when it comes to eating for long life, too. According to the 80 percent rule, in order to stay healthier longer, we should eat a little less than our hunger demands instead of stuffing ourselves.
Surround yourself with good friends. Friends are the best medicine, there for confiding worries over a good chat, sharing stories that brighten your day, getting advice, having fun, dreaming . . . in other words, living.
Get in shape for your next birthday. Water moves; it is at its best when it flows fresh and doesn’t stagnate. The body you move through life in needs a bit of daily maintenance to keep it running for a long time. Plus, exercise releases hormones that make us feel happy.
Smile. A cheerful attitude is not only relaxing — it also helps make friends. It’s good to recognize the things that aren’t so great, but we should never forget what a privilege it is to be in the here and now in a world so full of possibilities.
Reconnect with nature. Though most people live in cities these days, human beings are made to be part of the natural world. We should return to it often to recharge our batteries.
Give thanks. To your ancestors, to nature, which provides you with the air you breathe and the food you eat, to your friends and family, to everything that brightens your days and makes you feel lucky to be alive. Spend a moment every day giving thanks, and you’ll watch your stockpile of happiness grow.
Live in the moment. Stop regretting the past and fearing the future. Today is all you have. Make the most of it. Make it worth remembering.
Follow your ikigai. There is a passion inside you, a unique talent that gives meaning to your days and drives you to share the best of yourself until the very end. If you don’t know what your ikigai is yet, as Viktor Frankl says, your mission is to discover it.