China Embraces Real Balance Wellness Coaching

Real Balance Wellness & Health Coach Certification Class in Shanghai – 2017

Faced with the same lifestyle-based health crisis many other countries are experiencing, China has been searching for a way to help people truly succeed at lasting lifestyle change. Over half of the men in China smoke. The diabetes rate is now higher than the United States, with heart disease, COPD and other “lifestyle diseases” on the rise. Health information campaigns and medical admonition, as elsewhere, has only gone so far. Last month when Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. (https://www.realbalance.com) teamed up with Chestnut Global Partners China EAP (http://chestnutglobalpartners.org) to bring live wellness and health coach certification training to China it was enthusiastically embraced.

The concept of wellness is new to China, and wellness & health coaching is even newer. Though there is a long tradition of Traditional Chinese Medicine that blends with Allopathic Conventional Medicine, these are still remedial treatments and do not address how to help someone improve lifestyle behavior. Smoking cessation programs are vigorous but face a huge challenge in this population. Wellness coaching provides an innovative way to make behavioral change possible for those who need it.

What impressed me most about my entire trip to China were the students in our live training in Shanghai. The class was composed partly of Chestnut Global Partners EAP employees. These were mostly physicians and department directors. The rest of the class was a mix of M.D.’s, dieticians, counselors, Human Resources professionals and even a few independent life coaches. Throughout our grueling six-day training their level of engagement was extraordinary. While all students are faced with the “mindset shift” challenge (going from a prescriptive, consultative way of interacting, to a coach approach), this group did so with less resistance than we anticipated. They really got the concept that when it comes to helping people change behavior, it is very different from treatment or education. Fortunately, the training I delivered was coordinated with my translator and co-trainer, Dr. Li Peizhong, psychologist and V.P. of Chestnut Global China. He performed live translation as I spoke, and added greatly to the interaction and processing.

All of our trainings are highly interactive, and when students shared information and stories of work they had done with patients and clients, the level of humor employed was amazing! Much was “lost in translation” for me, but they were continually breaking out into boisterous laughter. Also, the Chinese students were more natural in their continual use of empathy in their coaching practice. While they tended, like students everywhere (we’ve found), to jump right into problem solving first, they used empathy and spoke of the importance of it, more than any other group I have trained.

Chinese culture is well known for valuing the group. As our training went on, group cohesion increased rapidly. Students supported one another in their learning through a real sense of caring for one another. When one student volunteered to be our client for a round of “fishbowl coaching” practice (where a student works on a real life challenge and is coached by a number of students) she left the exercise still perplexed about a way forward. Students formed a circle around our volunteer student and spent their entire break time collectively discussing with her about how to address her challenge.

The other evidence of this collective spirit was in the almost instant formation of a class group on the app WeChat. Before the training was even finished, and then vigorously once it was complete, they were on WeChat (http://www.wechat.com/en/) connecting, lining up their Buddy Coaching, and then sharing photos and stories of how they were following through on their own lifestyle improvement action steps.

Practicing Tai Chi On The Great Wall

The students were unbelievably appreciative, kind and treated me like royalty. I had integrated some of my Tai Chi and Xi Gung practice into our energy breaks, much to the delight of the students. At the conclusion of the training, at our celebratory class dinner they gifted me with a beautiful white Tai Chi practice suit to show their appreciation.

On To Beijing!

After our training in Shanghai, we flew to the country’s capital, Beijing, for a special Book Release Event. At Peking University (yes, it is spelled differently), Chestnut Global and my publisher, The China Translation & Publishing House, hosted a large gathering of executives from several multi-national corporations, representatives of the Chinese government’s smoking cessation program, and others, to witness the release of my book, Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed., (https://wholeperson.com/store/wellness-coaching-for-lasting-lifestyle-change.shtml)  in its Mandarin translation. Speakers from Chestnut Global, Peking University, and the government’s smoking cessation program joined me in delivering talks to the very receptive audience. This was followed by one astonishing Chinese banquet.

A World of Wellness

I have been fortunate to take our training to a number of countries around the world and each experience has been special. The beautiful thing is that whether it is a training session in Indianapolis, Sao Paulo, Dublin, Shanghai, or Fort Collins, our students know that this training is going to make their work so much more effective. They know it is going to make their work so much easier, and more rewarding. They know it is going to help them enhance the lives of others.

I’ve stood at the front of the room around the globe, but it is the people who stand behind me that really make it all possible. It’s the allies we’ve formed in other countries and it’s the people right here at home. I’m able to write books and deliver keynotes and trainings because others are operating the office, servicing our students, teaching classes and representing Real Balance to the world as well. I come back from China with a heart full of hope for the people of our planet and with gratitude for those who help me step out there and make it a better place.

Advertisements

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 (https://www.realbalance.com) 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. (http://www.healthyculture.com, and http://organizationalwellness.com/who-we-are/dr_joel_bennett/) 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.” (http://www.lifeinprovence.com/p_life.html)

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. (http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Mediterranean-Diet_UCM_306004_Article.jsp)Med-diet

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. (http://www.amazon.com/James-O.-Prochaska/e/B001H9VXJ0) 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 (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7034969-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. (https://www.realbalance.com)

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.” http://www.altitudemedicine.org/index.php/altitude-medicine/altitude-physiology.

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.” (http://www.altitudemedicine.org. )

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. http://www.altitudemedicine.org/index.php/altitude-medicine/preexisting-conditions

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.

Make Contact With Nature Part of Your Wellness Plan

Photo by M. Arloski (all rights reserved)

Here in Colorado we have one of the ultimate places for outdoor activity and opportunity. Yet, it is easy for many of us to stay so busy that we rarely take advantage of the healthful benefits of contact with the natural world.

We experientially know that our stress levels go down when we spend more time in nature. We feel rejuvenated and refreshed after we take a walk through a park or out along a bike path. We feel more grounded and relaxed after a weekend camping and hiking. Now we know from scientific research that our intuition is right.

Dr. Eeva Karjalainen of the Finnish Forest Research Institute summarized such research, stating that just being out in forests and other natural, green settings “can reduce stress, improve moods, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness. Forest visits may also strengthen our immune system…Many studies show that after stressful or concentration-demanding situations, people recover faster and better in natural environments than in urban settings. Blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the level of “stress hormones” all decrease faster in natural settings. Depression, anger and aggressiveness are reduced in green environments and ADHD symptoms in children reduce when they play in green settings.” There has even been research showing that exercising outdoors results in greater physiological benefits than exercising indoors.
In one study over 600 people were asked why they visited the National Forests in the U.S. 92% said they did so to “relax and gain peace of mind”. Perhaps our best “wellness centers” are in the outdoors.

The Environmental Dimension of Wellness has many faces to it that we are much more aware of today. We realize that our behavior affects the world around us in many ways. Our choice to purchase whole and natural foods sends a message all the way to the farmers who decide what to plant and how to care for it. Our choice of vehicles either minimizes our impact on the earth or contributes to it’s ecological misery. However the effect that contact with the natural world can have upon us is huge in it’s potential to help us to heal our frazzled nerves and our troubled soul. Our connectedness to the world around us is often overlooked as a way of healing, yet, when we reach back to that older way of being it seems to always give us just what we need.

Photo by M. Arlosk (all rights reserved)

On Memorial Day I got out on a hike after far too long away from the foothills and mountains. After hiking past white violets and columbine in bloom I found the remains of an off-trail campsite and took a mid-day break for lunch and contemplation. The quiet was what I found myself cherishing. No city noise, only bird song and wind in the pines and aspen. I opened my copy of Sigurd Olson’s Reflections From The North Country and immediately found these lines. “When man feels tension as though he were being pulled out of his ancient mold, it is his divorcement from silence that is often responsible, silence built into the fabric of this mind. He may not know what is wrong, but he has only to find it again to restore his equilibrium.”

“Mountains give you strength, but water speaks to your soul.” Sigurd Olson. Photo by M. Arlosk (all rights reserved)

Being healthy and well seems always about restoring balance in our lives on all levels. Until we slow down and reconnect with nature we may not, as Olson reminds us, even realize how out of balance our lives may have become.
There are thirteen weekends in June, July and August. Getting outdoors can be as easy as a spontaneous walk in a park, but consciously setting aside time to get out hiking, camping, etc., like so many wellness activities, is about planning and putting it on the calendar. We know that Labor Day Weekend will be here before we know it.

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

When I posted “Bringing Home Wellness: Souvenirs of Awareness” (https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/2010/10/13/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.” (http://www.slowfood.com/) 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 (www.freshandwyldinn.com).

Check out more about Maria and her writing workshops at http://www.windword.net/. She can be reached at windwordwriter@gmail.com.

High Tech Can Dissolve Healthy Boundaries For Business Travelers

Is this the view from your office window?

More and more jobs are requiring people to engage in travel as a continual part of their work. High tech solutions to communication have made it easier to travel and get the job done, and, to our stress-level’s demise, travel and never get away from working on that job. As I flew from Newark to Denver on the way back from speaking and training in The Azores Islands, the man next to me spent the entire transcontinental four-hour flight glued to his laptop working on a PowerPoint presentation. The absolute second (no exaggeration here) our wheels hit the Denver tarmac he turned on the iPhone he had poised for action and began responding to e-mails. Oh, and by the way, this was all happening Friday night!

Now, is high tech to blame? When we can do the work remotely, should we always?  Where are the healthy boundaries essential to our health and wellness.?  My laptop was in it’s case and turned off the whole trip back. I turned on my phone at some point, I think in baggage claim. It was Friday night, for crying out loud! Then again, I don’t work for this fellow’s company, or own his business. I have no ideas about the life of that particular fellow traveler and what I felt was pity and compassion for him more than criticism. However, the question is, how many of us are living his kind of life?

In the wellness coaching I’ve done for many years I’ve encountered lots of people like our anxious friend here. They usually try their best to meet what they perceive as the expectations of their job and, much too often, develop all sorts of stress-related disorders, gain extra weight (the stress/cortisol connection to weight gain is well documented http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/stresscortisol.html), drive up blood pressure, pump stomach acid, etc., etc. They also, tragically find that this way of “living to work” instead of “working to live” has detrimental affects of relationships with family, partners, etc.

There are both external and internal sources of the stress and urgency that work-driven people feel. Yes, we need to validate the experience of people who have jobs that continually set production expectations at unrealistic levels. Companies that create health problems this way have no room to gripe about paying the bill for the poor health of their employees. Sometimes there are ways to affect the workplace and adjust the work pace, and sometimes this is not an option. In some situations we can find ways to cope better, in other situations where nothing will respond to our efforts to make it better the conclusion becomes one of self-preservation and leaving that job may be the healthiest move one ever made.

Then there is the internal perception of work in our lives. There’s reality, and then there’s fear. That fear may be realistic, or what we feel may be much greater than the situation warrants. The sources of our exaggeration can be many. Our perception can be distorted by feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth driven by any number of old family dynamics and other earlier experiences in our lives. Folks buy into what psychotherapist Albert Ellis called “irrational beliefs”, a classic of which is that “One absolutely must be competent, adequate and achieving in all important respects or else one is an inadequate, worthless person.” (http://changingminds.org/explanations/belief/irrational_beliefs.htm).

Work/Life Balance has been a focus of life coaching since it’s inception, and is a central issue if much of the wellness and health coaching that is done today. Gaining insight about one’s tendencies to drive one’s self and overwork can be a critical first step to mastering this challenging balancing act. Coaching may be the answer, but often deep-seated beliefs that drive “work-aholism” (http://www.heartsandminds.org/self/links/workaholism.htm) and perfectionism require rolling up one’s sleeves and doing some counseling. Self-help books might get one started, but to truly achieve change in this tough area, having an ally may make all the difference in the world. Healthy boundaries are what make work and life come into balance. Wouldn’t it be nice to sleep on that flight back home? (If you can in one of those airline seats!)

Bringing Home Wellness: Souvenirs of Awareness

 

Pecorino cheese is the regional specialty in Tuscany

 

The gastronomic capital of the world has to be Italy. Everyday life seems to revolve around composing the next meal or, as you travel through the country as a tourist, finding the next market, ristorante, or trattoria.

A long-awaited vacation to Italy with my wife, Deborah, and our dear friends Carolyn and Donnie, created many wonderful memories, and also stimulated awareness of how much we have given up here in America, in terms of quality of food and therefore quality of life. We came back envying the fact that from one end of “the boot” to the other, people enjoy food that is fresh, local, hand-made, and protected from genetic modification, among other things. We came back realizing, that we could, and will modify the way we eat here in The States because a little more than a couple weeks in Italy really elevated our expectations of food.

In June I shared my series on how to really be a “Well Traveler”. (https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/2010/06/16/the-wellness-traveler-healthy-and-well-on-the-move-general-well-travel-tips-–-part-five/) Tip number eight was:
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. Bring home the best observations as ideas for how you can live your life in a better way.

 

Everything is fresh at this market in Tuscany.

 

After buying fresh fruit and vegetable at local markets where the prices were very affordable, and enjoying fresh baked breads, melt-in-your-mouth pastas, and regional cheeses, we came home vowing to find a better way to eat. While we came home with lots of ideas, the challenge will be, of course to implement them.

Italy is a country of about 56 million people and the vast majority do not live in big cities. Rome is only about three million. Milan, Naples and Turin are only a bit over or slightly under one million. It is a country of thousands of small towns. Even in the big cities, however, food is fresh, local and an integral part of living well. It is the remnants of the Feudal System, of just living on the land a long time and making it work that has organized the population, like much of Europe, into more dense living clusters and left most of the landscape open to produce food, if it is arable? On one side of the tracks as we hurdled along on the high-speed Eurostar we saw tightly packed apartments. On the other side, community garden plots in high production. Rooftop gardens in Rome. Window box herbs. We in the U.S. and Canada have sprawled ourselves out into communities that create isolation and total dependence on automobiles. We’ve inhabited basically uninhabitable places with totally artificial water systems (like Las Vegas and Phoenix). We can’t change geography, sociology, or economics overnight, but one of the blessings of travel is stimulating awareness of ways we can improve our own wellness lifestyles here at home.

 

Buffalo Mozzarella, fresh tomato, whole basil leaves and olive oil...Yum!

 

We’re already opening up these souvenirs of awareness in our lives at home. Last night as our good friend, Maria, visited us and took the lead in cooking dinner. She and Deborah made concrete plans for Maria to teach Deb and a couple of friends how to make their own fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheese, as well as yogurt. Why not have organic, inexpensive and the absolute best tasting food when you can?

I’m delving into why the wheat in Italy did not stimulate my so-called “wheat sensitivity”. After weeks of no symptoms while eating far more wheat than I ever do at home, the first lunch I had here at a popular soup and bread chain restaurant, and I was coughing and sniffling like before the trip. Hmmm? What’s going on? Deb and I are looking at how we can eat less “fooled-with food”.

The “slow food movement” was perhaps birthed in Italy. If you are not in the part of the country that produces basil, or it is past the growing season for it, it will not be on the menu. However the peach you bought at the market was an heirloom variety, indeed tree-ripened, and tasted better than any you ever ate in your life.

Today people around the world are looking into the source of their daily bread, milk, cheese, eggs, etc. They are realizing that shipping food across hundreds, if not thousands of miles is not the answer. It’s an ecological nightmare and we end up with industrialized food that has questionable health qualities and just simply doesn’t taste very good.

As I recounted our journey with wellness expert, and good buddy Meg Jordan (http://www.megjordan.com/) , she posited the idea that perhaps it is that very lack of flavor and freshness that results in Americans overeating. Perhaps because our senses and our emotions are not being satisfied by the food, like they seem to be in a place like Italy, we eat more to feel satiated. We also throw more salt on our food, or salty, sugary condiments like ketchup and BBQ sauce. It Italy salt was rarely on the table. Food was lightly salted in the kitchen and so packed with flavor that what came to the table was perfect just the way it arrived.

What have you brought back with you as wellness souvenirs as you have traveled? What did you realize you could, with fairly little effort, be doing differently in your lifestyle? Was it about food, community, movement, or what? Chime in, and leave your comments. Let’s stimulate a discussion about cross-cultural awareness that can work for us in living healthier lives.