mahabis chill // learning relaxation lessons from the past
There's no better time than now to look to the past and learn a lesson or two about relaxation from our ancestors. Think pre-technology, before we were plugged into 24/7 emails, and hark all the way back to the leisure habits of centuries past.
Looking back to medieval days, the average working person had anything from 8 weeks to half the year off work as holiday time, though mainly to keep people from rebelling against hard grafting jobs. If there was a wedding or a birth, you'd be allocated a week holiday, as you also would if any form of travelling entertainment arrived in town! The working day involved long lunch breaks and even time for a nap during your shift.
But how can we integrate more leisure time into modern living? We might not be able to extend the holiday restrictions in our jobs, but we can make the most of our days off and weekends, and learn a little from the history of relaxation.
Whilst we might feel time-starved, in reality we should have much more free-time than our ancestors. Longer life expectancies, and time-saving technologies, should technically free up the time we save for ourselves to relax.
Historians have looked closely at the lifestyle of hunter-gatherers, who prioritised sleep in order to retain energy and put an emphasis on entertainment and socialising amongst groups. One study suggested that the life time allocation of 'me time' for the modern man stood at just 54% of that of the hunter-gatherer, despite their shorter life expectancy.
But can we really make such comparisons when lifestyles today are so drastically different? Let's skip ahead a few centuries and delve into the the late 1800s.
Take the Victorians. Whilst travel was largely a luxury reserved for the upper classes, the pleasures of relaxing with a book, painting, listening and learning music, playing sports, or taking up a new craft, were held in high regard by most. Anyone who could read would often do so at any available opportunity, especially once public libraries opened and made books more widely available. Public entertainment was also incredibly popular, ranging from the theatre and the opera to singers, comedians and jugglers appearing at the local music hall.
By the first quarter of the 20th Century, workers hours reduced dramatically and people found that they had more time on their hands to spend how they wished. Many people spent this time outdoors, walking or taking trips to the countryside or the seaside. The leisure industries that we know today first surfaced during this time, with the cinema being a popular choice for spending free time, especially in London. By 1949, 41% of London residents were visiting the cinema at least once a week. The first half of the century also saw the popularity of dancing. Although the trends changed with the decades (jazz in the 1920s, swing in the 1940s), people loved to spend their leisure time being active.
The popularity of niche hobbies also arose in this period. It was popular for people to spend their time pursuing interests such as gardening, photography, or playing cards. These activities allowed for downtime to be spent in a pleasurable way, but whereby people felt that they were learning a skill or participating in something useful.
As radios grew in popularity, music and entertainment entered the home and was something that could be easily shared amongst family and friends in the living room, or peacefully listened by yourself.
Spiritual methods of relaxation were introduced to the West at the beginning of the 20th Century, but really gained popularity in the 1960’s when meditation practices burgeoned. The new wave of yoga has seen yoga move from a niche activity into the mainstream, with more people practicing it now than ever. Previously a fringe activity practiced in the West by a handful of bohemians, yoga today has seeped into public consciousness and many people are picking up on the health benefits and longevity that it celebrates.
Following a fitness and exercise boom, yoga has come to be perceived as the panacea for 21st century stress, held as a cure for the ailments of modern society (from tech-overload, to insomnia and disconnection).
By learning from these ancient practices, many people today have found yoga an oasis from the 21st century. Taking the time to look-inwards, relax, breathe and feel is something that can be easily swept away or lost in our fast paced lives.
Photo: Anthony Delanoix
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