How the Japanese art of Kintsugi can help you deal with stressful situations

Whether you are going through a job loss or divorce, this practice of fixing broken things may help heal what's broken in you.

Many of us break a bowl or vase and think: garbage. But the Japanese art encourages us to the see potential for beauty in reconstructing the broken pieces.Candice Kumai

Candice Kumai is best known for her clean green smoothies, matcha confections and healthy comfort foods. But in her new book, Kintsugi Wellness: The Japanese Art of Nourishing Mind, Body, and Spirit, the classically trained chef takes us on a different journey to healing and health by exploring the powerful message behind Kintsugi.

You're likely wondering, what is Kintsugi?

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — built on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. Every break is unique and instead of repairing an item like new, the 400-year-old technique actually highlights the "scars" as a part of the design. Using this as a metaphor for healing ourselves teaches us an important lesson: Sometimes in the process of repairing things that have broken, we actually create something more unique, beautiful and resilient.

Kintsugi Wellness: The Japanese Art of Nourishing Mind, Body, and Spirit by Candice Kumai.Candice Kumai

Kumai, who is half Japanese, first learned about Kintsugi as a child from her mother and grandmother, but it wasn't until recently that she rediscovered it's relevance. “Kintsugi was something I had learned at a very young age, but it was brought back to me when I was going through a really hard time in my life,” Kumai says. That’s when Kumai decided to make a trip to Japan and study under a Kintsugi master in Kyoto. “It occurred to me that people needed metaphors and objects to understand the art of healing. Kintsugi reveals how to heal and shows you that you are better with your golden cracks,” Kumai says.

During the three years it took Kumai to write, edit and shoot photos for the book, she visited Japan 10 times, learning just how relevant the message of Kintsugi is to our everyday lives. Whether you’re going through the loss of a loved one or a job, or are recovering from an injury, divorce or other personal tragedy, Kintsugi can be a way to reframe hardships to remind yourself that you’re not a victim of your circumstances — and to help you come out the other side stronger.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — a metaphor for embracing your flaws and imperfections.

“You won’t realize your full potential until you go through the tough times,” Kumai says. With that said, Kintsugi takes work and awareness in order for it to truly be healing. That work, Kumai says, starts with following the main principles she outlines in her book. Here, Kumai gives us a taste of how you can apply some of these Kintsugi practices to your everyday life.

Wabi sabi: admire imperfection

Wabi sabi is about celebrating imperfections and living simply. “Everyone goes through tough times and leading a life of perfection isn’t necessarily realistic,” Kumai says. In Japanese, wabi means alone and sabi is the passage of time. Together, they teach us how to embrace the good and bad parts of ourselves and the asymmetry of life. Dr. Rachel O’Neill, LPCC, a therapist at Talkspace, says, “Embracing the imperfect means that we celebrate our strengths. This shift of mindset, from striving for an impossible ideal to embracing our strengths, leads to a more positive and strength-oriented mindset.”

Gaman: live with resilience

Gaman is the ability to endure, be patient and remain calm. Everyone can practice gaman in everyday life by meditating, through visualization or by taking a few moments to just breathe. Christine Tolman, LPC, says, “By focusing on something as simple and vital as breathing, we are giving our minds a break. Resiliency can be practiced every day in how you respond to daily stresses.” Instead of focusing on negative circumstances, Kumai says you can use challenges as an opportunity to learn. Whether you’re going through something as serious and life-changing as a divorce or are trying to get through a stressful work week, gaman encourages us to tap into our inner strength and focus on our potential. “If one can practice strength from within, that is more powerful than anything negative,” Kumai says.

Yuimaru: care for your inner circle

Kumai made 10 trips to Japann where she studied under a Kintsugi master in Kyoto.Candice Kumai

In Kumai’s book, she talks about yuimaru, which is the Kintsugi practice of valuing togetherness. Yuimaru helps you heal through the strength and nourishment of friends and family. During her time in Japan, Kumai met with her mother’s friends and family and learned how being vulnerable with them actually helped her realize what she needed in life. “When you take care of your inner circle, you can take good care of yourself. I learned to love myself and take care of myself like I would a best friend,” Kumai says. Cynthia V. Catchings, LCSW, executive director at the Women’s Emotional Wellness Center in Alexandria, VA, says, “Deepening our relationships can help us be kind to ourselves. When we know that we have a good support system, we tend to take care of ourselves a little more. The whole idea about giving and receiving [has] emotional rewards.”

Eiyoshoku: nourish your body

When I was in Japan, I learned how the devotional monks ate simply and very clean. They live with very little; it taught me that we don’t need a lot to take care of ourselves.

A positive mind starts with a strong, healthy body. As a chef, Kumai uses cooking as a form of self-care and meditation: Seeing and tasting food nourishes the body and soul. These days we tend to complicate nutrition and overthink what we should and shouldn’t eat. “When I was in Japan, I learned how the devotional monks ate simply and very clean. They live with very little, and it taught me that we don’t really need a lot to take care of ourselves,” Kumai says. The body and mind connection is linked through the type of food we eat, so when we fuel our bodies with a simple, healthy diet, our minds will benefit the same way. Dr. O’Neill says, “When we eat mindlessly or unhealthily, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to refuel our bodies and minds. Nourishing from the inside out is an important aspect of self-care.”

Kansha: cultivate sincere gratitude

Perhaps the most important concept in Kintsugi wellness is kansha, which is the act of expressing gratitude for the good and the bad. ”When you realize everything that you have, you’re able to heal faster and be more resilient. Practicing gratitude is also about living in the present moment and not wishing for things you don’t have,” Kumai says. Kansha means letting go of your own ego and reframing experiences so that you rewire your brain to see the positive instead of the negative. Catchings says, “Gratitude is about the good and the not-so-good. Everything happens for a reason, and there is no difficult situation that comes our way without a purpose. That purpose is us becoming better, resilient and more grateful individuals.”

Kumai hopes that by teaching others about the practice of Kintsugi, she can help people realize that there’s another side to wellness, beyond the latest diet craze or the best yoga pants. As Kumai puts it, “Wellness is about the practice of resilience, overcoming challenges and being a better version of yourself with all of your golden cracks.”

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