Crafting A Wellness Lifestyle With A World Of Choices

If we know that our lifestyle has tremendous effect upon our health,

how then shall we live?

How trapped are we in the limitations of the culture we have experienced most of our lives? Greater travel and today’s technologically shrunken world has immensely increased our awareness of alternative ways of living. We do, in fact, have a world of lifestyle choices to draw upon. Let’s look at some cultural concepts and practices we might draw upon and explore some strategies for doing so and some challenges we might face.

My best definition of wellness/well-being is living our lives consciously in ways that enhance our health. Conscious choices allow us to avoid the “automatic pilot” that often steer us toward stress, illness and poor performance. Consciousness about our entire way of living includes mindfulness. Appreciating the moment, noticing the senses, soaking it all in enriches our lives. Conscious choice means considering the path that will optimally serve us, whether it is how we will spend our Saturday, what we will order at the restaurant, or what risk we might take emotionally.

In our Wellness & Health Coach Certification Training ( I love to teach that it is the job of the coach to remind people that they have choices. It is so easy for us all to forget the actual choices that we really do have. Realizing that we are choosing to live our lives the way we do actually frees people to embrace the present and make life better.

A factor that can either expand or limit our perception of choices is culture. There is extensive evidence and wisdom in the health promotion literature that peer norms affect our health for better or for worse. (, and We operate on norms within our work, family, sub-culture and the larger culture that we live in. Some choices never even occur to us because we are operating so habitually within these norms.

Provence and French Alps
Provence and French Alps

L’Art De Voir

It’s no fluke that France is always the most visited country in the world, and Italy always shows up in the top five. The appeal to a large degree is for the opportunity to experience a different way of living among cultures that consciously work at “L’Art De Voir” – the art of living. Provence and Tuscany in particular seem to epitomize this cultural agreement to put quality of life first.

“Community, not work, is at the center of Provençal life. Nowhere is that more obvious than during meals, when friends and family come together to share dishes which are simple, healthy and robust in flavor. This unrushed life allows each and everyone to be in touch with themselves, and could be called true living.” (

Bk Cover Wisdom TuscAs Ferenc Máté shares in in his book The Wisdom of Tuscany “When I mention Tuscany to outsiders, the usual response is a wistful sigh. And when I add sheepishly that we live out in the hills and vineyards and olives, the common rejoinder is “You’re living my dream.” What they seem to be talking about is the quality of life: the pace, the peace, the physical beauty, the social togetherness, and, of course, the food and wine. And just as Tuscan food and wine is rooted in myriad things beyond the kitchen and cellar, so the quality of life is a vast conglomeration of daily details, each of which must be of quality for all of it to work.”

That quality in the details comes from two things: conscious awareness and a commitment to doing everything in life as best as one can. When people travel to these places they often say “there was the best tasting food there I’ve ever had”, or “the simple bread every day was amazing”. Daily things that perhaps we have allowed to become mundane, and unfortunately mediocre, suddenly astonish us when prepared and presented with pride and love. Perhaps one quick way to increase our own quality of life is by doing the same.

If one grew up in a place like Montepulciano or Roussillon the culture there would certainly have its pros and cons, but many of the healthy lifestyle components being lauded here would just be facts of life. For those of us in places like the United States, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere, we may have to very consciously work at L’Art De Voir.

Cultural cross-over is happening more and more. We see it in food especially. Ethnic restaurants and cookbooks abound. With the tremendous increase in gourmet cooking the “fusion” approach is showing up everywhere. Access to a worldwide cornucopia of food products is greater than ever. Even a small town in rural Wisconsin may have a supermarket with a fully stocked olive bar. Awareness of the Mediterranean Diet and its healthful benefits has spurred many to adopt a whole new way of cooking, often at the behest of their cardiologist. (

As more people travel at younger and younger ages we bring home with us awareness of how daily life can look different. What we often want to bring back with us is not what will fit in our luggage. It is often a new pace of life, a greater sense of connectedness to our community, our family and to the natural world around us.

One of the blessings of a changing population that is increasingly ethnically diverse is the cultural infusion that results. Chances are most of us live in communities today that include neighbors from India, Nicaragua, Somalia, the Ukraine, Viet Nam, Poland and many more. As we associate with this cultural mix we are reminded that we don’t have to just do everyday things the same way all of the time. We have a world of choices.

Small head cropped1Coaching The Art of Living

Rather than pine away for a villa in the Tuscan hills what can our clients (and we coaches) do to make their own lives a work of art? Without the surrounding culture already supporting such a way of living, how can our clients still create a consciously crafted lifestyle with more choices?

1. Realizing The Choices We Have.

There are many ways we can modify our lifestyles and borrow from other cultures without losing our own cultural identity. One way is to help clients identify when they are operating on assumptions and sheer habit. Help them discover the “blind spots” in the lifestyle where they have been making certain choices simply because they have “always done it that way”. Work with your clients to distinguish between the “imperative” and the “volitional”. When something feels imperative it seems like we “must” do it that way. Ask to clients to challenge themselves at such a moment and ask “Who says?” Help them reclaim greater volition in their lives.

2. Resetting Priorities.

Not everything can be a priority. That defies the very definition of what a priority is. When clients clarify and connect with their values and create a life that is more congruent with them stress is reduced and inner peace is found. Explore what the true priorities are in life with your client and coach them around the sometimes daunting challenges of living in accordance with them.

3. Possibility Thinking And Exploring.

Creating an artful life often begins with the joy of discovery. Learning more about new ways of living may take on a fun process of exploration. We know that the stage of Preparation is what ensures successful Action. ( Make it a conscious process with support and accountability built in. Allow the client to share their discoveries in the coaching session and acknowledge their efforts. Coach them around distinguishing what new ways of living will work for them and what old ways they would like to let go of.

670px-Measurably-Improve-Your-Quality-of-Life-Step-14. Focus On Quality Of Life.  As Máté shared (above) “What they seem to be talking about is the quality of life.” Don’t just think about food alone, but rather the greater question of how can one infuse greater quality into every aspect of one’s life. When we look at L’Art De Voir we might do well to consider The Wisdom of Tuscany ( and its emphasis on the pace of life, the feeling of peace and tranquility, enhancing our physical surroundings, valuing social togetherness and, of course, putting quality into our way of eating and what we eat as well. (We will explore these in more detail in an upcoming blog.)

5. Experimenting.  

Coach your clients around ways to live more consciously, more artfully, and make it a part of the Wellness Plan. Identify experiments to try out new ways of being, new foods to eat (it’s okay if you really think some olives are too sour), new ways to get together with friends, etc. Start small. Integrate new ways of living slowly into the current lifestyle. Make it part of the coaching to create these action steps, commit to conducting the experiments, and being accountable to follow through. While much of this is true fun, there can be challenges that arise that require some processing in coaching. Conflict may show up. Your client’s friends pan the new recipe or activity that they thought would be so enjoyable. The new boundaries around work and personal time get lots of pushback from co-workers. Such experiences are important to process in coaching so the client can continue with improving their lifestyle instead of giving up too soon to avoid conflict. This is why the next step is so important.

6. Gathering Supportfriends

Living L’Art De Voir is possible in Tipperary or Tulsa, not just Tuscany. The key is gathering support for one’s new way of living. An effective coach will already be working with their client around enlisting others in their Wellness Plan. Lasting lifestyle improvement comes from the supportive network that helps a person sustain their healthier ways of living. Building that network needs to be a conscious process. Before launching new experiments successful clients secure commitment from other that will be affected. Getting “buy-in” from the family on a new dietary shift can be critical to its success. Sharing with others the real intention behind a new move to set boundaries around twenty-four-seven availability helps engender support rather than criticism. Just as it helps to get a “walking buddy”, so too it may make the process more fun and successful to engage like-minded friends in these ways to culturally shift one’s lifestyle.

7. Keeping Life Artful – Maintaining

Like any new behavior, the real challenge is often in maintaining the change. Coach your client around maintenance strategies that they can develop when the lifestyle shift is still new. One approach is to anticipate boredom and have “variations on the theme” available. Keep it fresh. Don’t get stuck on that favorite recipe or it will become like a favorite song on the radio that, when overplayed, becomes annoying. Joining interest groups or classes focused on their new culture-blending pursuits may serve to reinforce interest, learn new skills and access fresh resources.

The other key to maintenance is tracking. Encourage your client to find a way to keep track of their new ways of living. Just how often are they practicing some new skill or behavior? The old habitual ways of living, reinforced constantly by the dominant culture the person is surrounded with, will re-emerge and vie for supremacy. Some clients may find that keeping a lifestyle journal works for them. Others may need to get more specific using coaching tools and/or smartphone apps.

The Art Of Living

Londoners discovered over a hundred years ago that they didn’t have to dress like people from India to enjoy a good curry and today the city is famous for this dish. We live in a world with unprecedented access to information and products about and from other cultures. The invitation is there for us to explore and to begin to consciously choose what we will integrate into our lives. Part of being well is having more choices and the world today gives that to us. The remaining challenge may be within us rather than in our culture. Will we allow ourselves to experiment, to try something new? What kind of mindset shift needs to occur for us to give ourselves permission? Can we realize that we can still hold onto our own traditions and customs and choose what else we might add? Salt and pepper over and over again is fine, but have you really looked at the rest of the spice rack?6969813-bags-of-spices-on-display-in-a-market-in-provence-spices


Dr. Michael Arloski is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. taking wellness and wellness coach training worldwide. (


High Altitude Wellness

Rocky Mountain National Park, Glacier Gorge.  Photo by M. Arloski
Rocky Mountain National Park, Glacier Gorge. Elevation at Trailhead 9,240 ft.  Photo by M. Arloski

Whether it’s a trek in the Alps or a time to be “Rocky Mountain High”, getting up in the mountains is a great way to be well physically, mentally and spiritually. Being well at higher altitude however requires some important knowledge and sometimes, some caution. The people a wellness coach works with may face some challenges at higher elevation, especially if they are dealing with health challenges to begin with.

Gaining elevation quickly is easy in a place like my home state of Colorado. Say you start your day in Fort Collins where, like Denver we are basically a “mile high” (5,003 ft.). Off you go to Estes Park (7,522 ft.) and suddenly you have experienced an elevation gain of 2,519 feet. Drive into Rocky Mountain National Park and up to Bear Lake (9,450 ft.) for a hike and now you’ve risen 4,447 feet. All the trails from there only go up and you could easily exceed 10,000 feet in altitude as you enjoy the stunning beauty of the area. Top it off later with a ride to the peak of Trail Ridge Road (12,183 ft.) and now you’ve attained 7,180 feet (2,188 meters) in elevation gain. That gain itself is higher than any mountain east of the Mississippi.

When we experience how different it is to walk uphill at these suddenly higher elevations we often blame our lack of conditioning. The reality is based in physics and the resultant effect on our own physiology. This is not a time for a “try harder” attitude, in fact continuing to push may just invite serious trouble.

In Banff National Park, Canada
In Banff National Park, Canada

Simply Less Oxygen

Here is the best explanation of why we experience less oxygen at higher elevation. “The pressure in the atmosphere decreases as you gain elevation. The percent of oxygen is actually the same at all altitudes, 21%; however, it is 21% of a smaller number as one goes higher. The barometric pressure at sea level is 760 mmHg, and at 10,000 ft, it is 534 mmHg. Breathing the air of Telluride (Colorado) is the equivalent to breathing air with only 15% oxygen at sea level, instead of 21%. The net result is that there is 29% less oxygen in the air at Telluride compared with sea level. At 14,000 ft, the air has 43% less oxygen than at sea level. Because of the reduced air pressure at high altitude, the volume of air you breathe into you lungs contains less oxygen molecules in each breath.”

There are two main things to be concerned about at altitude: Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and your current state of health, especially looking at preexisting health conditions. AMS can affect people with symptoms at elevations as low as 6,500 feet, but usually we start to see greater occurrence when we exceed 8,000 feet. The Institute for Altitude Medicine (IAM) in Telluride, CO is an excellent resource for learning about AMS or altitude sickness. “One survey done at a Colorado ski resort at 9,800 ft. found that 60% of visitors developed a headache, the first sign of AMS, and also called high altitude headache. To meet the definition of AMS, other symptoms need to develop, such as loss of appetite, sometimes vomiting, weakness, dizziness, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. AMS feels exactly like a bad hangover.” ( )

Preventing AMS is all about a slow ascent and adequate hydration. Treatment strategies depend upon severity but the first step is “go no higher”, rest, hydrate and consider immediate descent if there is no improvement. See the I.A.M. website and learn detailed information.

Preexisting Conditions And High Altitude

Rocky Mtn. N.P. The Ute Trail- elevation 11,466 ft. Photo by M. Arloski
Rocky Mtn. N.P. The Ute Trail- elevation 11,466 ft. Photo by M. Arloski

According to Peter Hackett, M.D., the director of I.A.M., experience at higher elevations can sometimes “unmask” preexisting health conditions that the person was not aware of. Struggling with breath and heart rate, feeling exhausted, can sometimes reveal heart and/or lung disease and is a red flag to get in to see your physician as soon as possible.

People with preexisting conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, valve disease, heart failure, heart arrhythmias, diabetes, Sickle Cell disease, and other conditions should know that higher altitude could aggravate their conditions. It is also important to know the effects of the medications you might be taking. For example, metoprolol, a beta-blocker, acts as a governor on your heart, preventing excessive heart rate, and thus inhibiting your athletic performance. This means being incredibly patient with yourself and allowing for more breaks when you are hiking uphill, skiing, etc.

Dr. Hackett says that while living at higher elevations can actually help some conditions (we develop more capillaries, asthma can be easier due to cleaner air, etc.) people with COPD and various lung diseases fair worse as they have difficulty transporting oxygen to the lungs.

The “High Country” does not have to be off limits to you, but knowledge about how altitude affects your condition, your medications, and what to do to make adjustments is vital. Again, the I.A.M. website is a treasure house of information. Enjoy the mountains and all their majesty, just do it wisely and well.

Small head cropped1The Coach’s Take Away

A key part of any coaching Foundation Session is getting to know where your client lives and what their lifestyle is like. Your telephonic client may live in a very different world from the one outside your door. If you discover that they live at or near higher elevation, or they visit such places on skiing or outdoors vacations then helping them understand and deal with “altitude wellness” could be vital.

Being in great physical condition does not make one immune to AMS. In fact it has no correlation whatsoever. The especially fit client may want to maintain their sea-level workout routines or push themselves past wise limits physically as they play in the mountains. They need to play by the rules of elevation gain and energy output like everyone else. There is simply less oxygen available to those well-toned muscles at higher altitude and performance goes down.

The standard wisdom is to gain a thousand feet of elevation a day and build in plenty of rest. Hydration is vital as we produce more red blood cells to absorb the decreasing amounts of oxygen available. This thickens the blood and our bodies steal water from all our cells to maintain proper viscosity. So, we get severely dehydrated if we don’t pound the water. (Again refer to the Altitude Medicine site for guidance.)

As wellness coaches work with clients with preexisting medical conditions this is perhaps the most important area to be aware that altitude often has a significant effect. Clients with diabetes may discover an increased insulin requirement. The Altitude Medicine institute recommends that “Only diabetics experienced with exercise and in good control should attempt vigorous exercise at high altitude.” Clients with high blood pressure, any type of heart condition or disease, anyone with lung disease, etc. can be vulnerable to the effects of high elevation. Coaches should help these clients become familiar with the information on the Preexisting Conditions page of the Altitude Medicine Website.

Wellness coaching clients may find that their medical condition and/or the medications related to these conditions limit their ability to exercise or do what they used to do. Experiencing these limitations can bring up lots of emotion. The person can feel angry, frustrated, and can even get in touch with grief over what they have lost due to their medical condition. This is where coaches can be the empathic source of support that helps the client process these feelings. Plug in what you know about grief, remembering that a loss of health is a loss. Help your client to grieve what is lost and emotionally move on. And, of course, if this yields greater grief than can be dealt with in coaching, make a good referral to a mental health professional.

A great way to begin with such a client is to inquire about their level of knowledge about both their health and the effects of higher altitude. If, like most folks, there is a lack of this specific information, ask if they could see the value in knowing more about it, then co-create a strategy and accountability for how they can go about finding out what they need to know to be healthy and well in the High Country.

Access Excess: Always Wired Makes Us Tired and Less Productive

Access Excess!
Access Excess!

Paradox, double-edged sword, blessing and curse combined, mobile devices have made our lives easier and more stressful at the same time. I remember the feeling of relief the day I finally got my calendar synched on my work/home computer, my laptop and my smartphone. Now I could be in a conversation with someone at a conference and set an appointment seamlessly. It helped tremendously using a GPS navigating app to help find a tricky destination. I absolutely love using the travel app “Tripit” to track all my business travel arrangements. Connecting with others is easier than everWhile we can benefit from technology in so many ways, we are also seeing a “dark side” rising far too fast. The accessible anytime and anywhere nature of smartphones, wi-fi enabled tablets, etc. is causing a shift in workplace norms and, sadly, a shift in in the quality of our personal lives as well. A recent cover story in USA Today reveals how the so-called digital lifestyle and work-style may be seriously damaging our health and well-being. “Nearly two-thirds of full-time workers own smartphones, up from 48% just two years ago, according to the Pew Research Center. One-third own a tablet, up from 12%.  The exploding use of these devices — and connected employees never calling it a day — has created a workplace domino effect: If one person answers the boss’s e-mail after hours, others feel compelled to as well.”

cell-phone-stress-300x199When people are under stress for performance it is so easy to create a sense of digital vigilance that never lets down. Our notification alert signal is on full volume 24/7 so we don’t miss that opportunity that just might be calling. As we get more anxious it becomes more common to even get downright obsessive about our need to be accessible.

Some companies are realizing the price they pay in stress and health and are instituting policies to “leave it at the office”. The need for some ground rules is becoming apparent as the demands on the digitally connected worker increase. “Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employees entitled to overtime pay must receive it when they work beyond a maximum number of hours, such as a 40-hour workweek. The constant technological tether to work is testing what constitutes the standard workweek, and lawsuits are challenging this new world.” Salaried employees have no such limits.

The self-employed have to set their own limits and often don’t. Fear of missing that opportunity for a sale by not responding at light speed keeps the smartphone charged and within easy grasp. The infectious sense of urgency in society is hard to be immune to.Double Cell

The whistle never blows in this world of Access Excess. There are no natural breaks. Time off has disappeared. This of course runs in total opposition to how our mind/body system works. We are wired to deal with stress, but can survive only if we also have what the authors of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working call “sufficient volume and intensity of recovery”.

Wellness coaching clients almost always list stress as a barrier to them living a healthier life in almost all dimensions of wellness. Coaches can help their clients to consciously work on their fears, communicate and create agreements at work that are healthier. We can also help our clients to determine if their work environment can be changed for the better or if looking for work in a healthier environment is final solution. We can help our clients create experiments to help them see just how digitally healthy they really can be by being less “wired”. We can help them increase awareness of how much they are allowing fear and anxiety to rule them and work consciously on this issue.

Boundary setting is so much harder when it insidiously has become weakened by cultural norms. “Access Excess” has become a norm that no one ever agreed to. Let’s create agreements at work and at home that allow us to make times to be “unplugged” and healthier!

Question?  Is the man in the picture below able to be free to be at this relaxing lake because he can still be connected, or is he there and stressed because he is allowing himself to be connected?

Lakeside Tech

Creating Allies For A Healthy World

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Mark Twain

Its a ten and a half hour plane flight from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Chicago, and then two and a half more to Denver. Home for two days I’m finally catching up on some real rest, and also catching up with perspective. Our dream of taking wellness worldwide continues to happen.

Wellness & Health Coach Intensive, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Working together with our allies in Brazil, Samia Simuro and Rachel Skarbnik of Ser Psicologia ( we just completed our second Wellness and Health Coach Certification Training in Sao Paulo. Once again I was so impressed by the students we attracted to the training. They were eager to learn about wellness coaching and fully engaged throughout a grueling four-day training, made even tougher by the use of simultaneous translation. In the coaching practice they showed great coaching presence and picked up the skills quickly. Psychologists, physicians, physical therapists, fitness trainers and life coaches, the students came because they face the challenge of helping their clients and patients with lifestyle behavioral change, just like everywhere else in the world.

The World Health Organization, in 2003 began a campaign to alert us to how what they started calling “lifestyle diseases” were now the number one cause of death in the world. Communicable disease has moved into second place. ( Modern day stress, increased social isolation, “industrialized” foods taking up so much more of our diet, shifts in our ways of working towards less physical activity, continued tobacco use, and other lifestyle factors challenge everyone’s efforts to be healthy. And, WHO is quick to point out, the fastest increase in lifestyle disease is in developing countries, not just the leading countries of Europe and North America.

Dublin, Ireland

In one month we will be traveling to Dublin, Ireland to bring wellness coaching to The Emerald Isle! Working with our new allies at The Institute for Health Sciences (, we will be delivering a Wellness and Health Coach Certification Training at the end of September. The nutritionists that IHS educates, like their colleagues everywhere, have continually found that the behavioral implementation of their dietary improvement plans has been the missing piece. Wellness coaching, they have found, fills in that gap beautifully.

The entire reason for civilization is to do more together than we can do alone. Alliances allow us to reach more people, do more things, and discover what works best. They catalyze action, create synergy, and, support us though a sense of community and common purpose.

As Real Balance Global Wellness Services, llc, ( and The Wellness Coach Training Institute moves forward and continues to grow, we intend to do so with a new mantra: Creating Allies For A Healthy World. Please join our community of coaches and wellness professionals across the globe.

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill

Real Souvenirs of Travel, and Returning to Basics By Maria Hodkins

When I posted “Bringing Home Wellness: Souvenirs of Awareness” ( it drew a fabulous comment from my good friend, Maria Hodkins, who is an itinerant chef and cooking instructor, . Rather than have those words languish in the backwaters of commentary on a single post, I felt they needed the spotlight of a featured guest blogger piece. Enjoy!

Olive groves flank a Tuscan hill town.

“Wellness travel” in my mind includes the elements of keen observation, contemplation, and personal transformation. So often, travel vacations are experienced only as pure entertainment or a quest to find relief from stress and fatigue. There is nothing like stepping outside oneself into a different world to raise personal awareness of cultural or personal habits that keep us imprisoned in unhealthy lifestyles. The act of opening oneself to foreign (not necessarily out-of-country) influences can be a very creative act, drawing us out of ourselves and our highly-regimented routines and thinking patterns. As a friend once told me, “There are a thousand ways to wash dishes.” (What?….but my mother taught me that THIS was the best way!) When I travel, I am constantly jotting down notes in my travel journal, even drawing diagrams of projects or structures that inspire me with possibilities. These observations of how people live creatively and well are my true souvenirs of the journeys. When I was living for a summer in Spain doing an intensive language study in Spanish, I leased a room with an elderly couple in their third-floor apartment. All cooking was done on a double-hotplate in the kitchen, and the meals were unbelievably delicious; showers were only allowed twice a week, to conserve water in a drought-parched city. After returning to the U.S., I was horrified to watch my neighbors watering their lawns, realizing the absurdity of our “green lawn” values in this country, and the incredible waste of precious water. I have only been able to justify watering a food-producing garden since then, and give thanks daily for the water that flows so freely from our taps.

Freshly harvested porcini mushrooms destined for the table in Tuscany.

The return to “old ways”of eating–homesteading arts, growing, cooking, and eating local, organic foods has new name: the Slow Food movement. It did start originally in Italy, and is “a non-profit member-supported association. Slow Food was founded in 1989 to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.” ( This awareness of how food affects our health and wellness is a burgeoning movement in this country, with renewed home food gardening, cooking classes, CSA’s, farmers’ markets, and, thankfully, is even creeping into the hot lunch programs of our schools. This is an encouraging leaning toward wellness lifestyles in our culture. We can learn so much from other countries, as well, who have not embraced all of the industrial food practices that we have blindly accepted here.

As an itinerant chef and cooking instructor on the Colorado Western Slope, I observe how people respond to learning about the ecology of food and how it empowers them to change their lifestyle and consequently their diet into more vibrant, nutrient-based foods. And much can be said about the intangible satisfactions of cultivating, cooking, eating, and sharing those foods–a deeper “satiety” ensues, alleviating that unspeakable hunger for meaning and inner peace that we seem to be constantly seeking. Nothing restores me when I am out of balance more than turning a quart of milk into my own creamy yogurt, teeming with probiotics, or pulling a loaf of golden-crusted bread from the oven that I have shaped with my own hands. It is truly travel into the Mysteries of life, available on a daily basis, right in your own home.

Please add your comments and keep the dialogue going!

Maria Hodkins loves to cook, and is a passionate cooking instructor. She has taught cooking at CSA farms, international and gourmet food markets, culinary stores, and in schools.   She has been an itinerant chef, personal chef, cooked for many commercial food enterprises during her lifetime, and operated her own private catering service.  Cooking and culture is a lifelong study of Maria’s.  She teaches not only the love of food and cooking, but also its fascinating roots and development by exploring the historical-cultural evolution of foods. 

Maria is a professional journalist, food writer, artist, illustrator, and visual journaling instructor, and she also incorporates art and writing into some of her cooking workshops. She has taught Eco-cooking classes, where participants create Food Portraits illustrating the origins, culinary uses, and health benefits of fresh farm market produce. She is currently is one of the main instructors at an innovative Farm School at Fresh & Wyld Farmhouse Inn in Paonia, CO (

Check out more about Maria and her writing workshops at She can be reached at

The Wellness Traveler: Healthy and Well on the Move! General Well Travel Tips – Part Five

Prayer Flags, Shambhala Mountain Center, Colorado - Photo by M. Arloski

“I want to slow down!” is a common answer given by travelers asked what they want out of an up coming trip. Slowing down, shifting “pace of life”, de-stressing, unwinding, letting go, and de-contracting are really high on folk’s travel agendas. The continual popularity of destinations like Mexico, Italy, etc., speaks to this desire to live life on a different external clock, hoping we will shift our internal one with it.

Slowing down and noticing more inevitably puts us into contact with opportunity for nourishing our souls, if we let it. The spiritual has many different faces and shows up in ways that span a continuum from the subtle to the bold.

Well Travel Tip #9
Take your soul along for the ride…be a spiritual traveler also.

I had one day to be a tourist in Rome. Yes, just one day. Yet it could not have been better. I made sure I saw some of the classics. Touching the wall of The Coliseum was a peak experience for me. I also stumbled into ancient serendipity finding less famous ruins just down the block from my hotel that for a few minutes transported me back in time. What really took me by surprise and completely floored me though, was my experience in Saint Peter’s in The Vatican.

Bopping around the city on a step-on/step-off when you want tour bus, I found myself, late in the day, at the entrance to Vatican City. With a “Why not?” attitude I stepped off alone into different world.

Raised a Protestant, and now more of a Taoist than anything else, I was not on a Catholic pilgrimage. The huge Egyptian obelisk that spires above the square in front of the Basilica and the enormity of it all however began to have a profound effect upon me. When I finally stepped inside and looked down the great nave with its impossibly high arching ceiling running all the way to the tomb of Saint Peter, I was speechless. That is, I had no thoughts whatsoever in my mind. Then I looked to my right and there was La Pieta, Michelangelo’s masterpiece of Mary holding the crucified Christ. Torrents of tears ran down my face as my conscious mind remained Zen-like and empty.

The “Spiritual” doesn’t have to mean religious. We can create a trip to seek it actively with that purpose as our quest, or we can simply be open to it in the eyes of a child, the tranquility of early morning, or the sound of a leaf falling and hitting the forest floor. Create the pilgrimage that you feel you need. A small group explore in the wilderness, a retreat of silence at a monastery, observing native ceremony, exploring ancient pagan sites, or just a week at a quiet lake cabin. Is it time to take a vacation from your persona, time to reflect, to introspect, and to become reacquainted with who you are? Part of being “well” is the care and feeding of our soul.

Links for travel of a more spiritual nature:

October 2001 was an amazing time to be traveling solo in Europe. It was less than one month after “9-11” and America had the sympathy of the world. I had rented a spacious appartemento from Angelo The Butcher and was loving my time in the Cinque Terre of Italy. Knowing I was an American, Angelo broke into a spontaneous conversation with me the second day I was there. A profoundly sad expression covered his face as he began, “New York….World Trade Center…molti morto…molti morto (many dead….many dead).” He looked at me and all I could say in my very limited tourist Italian was “Si…si.” The compassion conveyed in his look and tone of voice said it all. I did know how to translate “molti morto”, but even if I had not, I would have completely understood the feelings he was conveying to me.

Well Travel Tip #10
What will you cherish the most? The connections you make.

Good friends and a Pacific sunset, Mexico - Photo by M. Arloski

When we travel with our hearts more open, our minds follow. We’re no longer interested in staying shut away from the local culture. We no longer ignore our wait staff, but instead recognize them as human beings just like us. When we are very fortunate those around us take us in, be they fellow tourists, or the local folks. Those are the times when someone buys you a beer and a shot of schnapps at a ski slope restaurant halfway up an Austrian mountain. Those are the times when you show Brazilians how to dance to The Blues, when you thought you’d be the student for Samba lessons. Those are the times when we connect with others in a way that drives home that we are all citizens of the same planet, the same humanity, be it in Tallahatchie or Thailand.

When the trip is entirely in the rear view mirror the images that come back may be of grand vistas or stunning art, but the mental videos will be of interactions with people who touched you in many different ways. Remove the insulation that you travel with to the degree that you feel safe. Sure, stay at the all-inclusive resort if you want, but take some time to go outside the gate and see the “real” culture and country, the ecosystem that has no gardeners tending it.

Add your comments and tell us what has made travel a personal growth experience for you.

The Wellness Traveler: Healthy and Well on the Move! General Well Travel Tips – Part Four

The Sweet Life...why not "bring it home"? Photo by Rob Carter

Sauntering through Italy, my friend Rob is currently tantalizing me with a torrent of Facebook-posted photos of “La Dolce’ Vita”. I want to be right there at the table with him and his daughter as they behold the meal in the picture above. I really want to be there! Then I think, sure, I’d rather be in Tuscany right now, but I could come close to replicating that fantastic meal right here in Colorado.  In fact, why not eat that way more often?  The Mediterranean Diet is even American Heart Association endorsed!

With the amazing internationalization of the American palate stores have sprung up everywhere to meet the demand. Supermarkets have imported olive bars, some bakers are making bread that rivals the Europeans (finally!), etc. Why not buy the same ingredients and a bottle of Chianti and enjoy! Sure, it’s not “the same” as being there, that’s a big reason why we travel! So why not take our observations about The Sweet Life, the “Arte d’ Vivre” and bring home ideas, recipes and ways of living that enhance our wellness lifestyle?

Well Travel Tip #8
The best souvenirs…well living ideas to bring back and implement!

As you travel, anywhere, be a keen observer HOW people live.  Write down what you see (and taste!) and bring home the best observations as ideas for how you can live your life in a better way.
• If you enjoyed walking to a local market every couple of days, find a way to do that here at home.
• If you don’t live near a market, schedule a walk in a park near the store and then shop.
• If you enjoyed bicycling through town, find where you can do that more at home.
• If you envied the great sense of community that people enjoyed, come back and talk with friends and family about how to build that at home.
• If you loved that slowed-down lifestyle (perhaps the single biggest appeal of many destinations), observe how folks do it as you travel and see how much of that lifestyle you can bring home.

Sure, there are many differences between “here” and “there”. We may live where urban sprawl has killed many of these opportunities to walk and bicycle to a marketplace. We may have to get pretty creative at it, but take ideas home with you. They and your memories are the best of souvenirs!

Check out two related articles of mine on the Real Balance Global Wellness Services website: “Living Like You Were In Tuscany” and “Lifestyle as Art”. Download them free at: