A Real Vacation

To me, a real vacation is one that makes you feel rested, energized and rejuvenated afterwards, one that doesn't require aftermath cleaning up efforts to put you back on the right path. As we all know, when our every day routine is taken away from us during vacation time, we have less control over our healthy habits - the food we eat, the company we keep, the amount of sleep and exercise time we have etc. This might not be so bad for those who do not have healthy habits to begin with, but for those (like myself) who really care about what to eat, where the food comes from and how it affects our general being, traveling could be challenging. So how do we have fun and manage to stay on track at the same time?

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I just came back from an amazing month long vacation in California. No post-vacation weight gain, no sluggishness or intoxicated feelings I used to have after many long vacations. Ok, the destination matters. I was lucky that I was in California where the sun always shines and the quality of food is superb.  But I also had a few home court habits that protected me from post-vacation blues.

HOME COURT HABIT  1 : HOMECOOKING

I cook or pack food whenever I can. Having access to the kitchen is always a challenge when you are traveling. Instead of hotels, I am staying almost exclusively in vacation rentals, airb'n'b type accommodations these days where I can make my own meals. If you are lucky enough to be in a place like Santa Barbara where the Farmer's Market is out of this world, there is extra incentive to sample the local produce, make something extraordinary and share with all the people around you! So home-cooking is still the number 1 rule to stay healthy on or off the road.

When I can't cook, I pack. I must look really nutty to my family because I literally travel with a ziplock bag of nuts and seeds in my pocketbook! When I order oatmeal from the hotel where it comes only with brown sugar and raisins, I reach for my pumpkin seeds, almonds, chia and flax from under the table and turn my oatmeal into a nutritionally balanced meal!

HOME COURT HABIT 2 : MAKING INFORMED CHOICES

I seek out healthy eat-out options. This might sound intuitive because when we travel, we always look for fun, local places to eat anyway. However if you are traveling with family or friends who have different eating habits, it could be quite challenging to choose a restaurant that caters to everyone's tastes.  I find it helpful to be proactive. I google, do all the research, make suggestions and back up the restaurants of my choice with good reviews and recommendations. My enthusiasm pays off every time!

When I was in Los Angeles, I visited two restaurants I found absolutely inspiring! The first one is Lemonade - a fast-food deli chain that has multiple locations but serves unbelievably fresh "market place vegetables" by the scoops at a reasonable price.

The other place is Cafe Gratitude - hands down the best 100% organic and vegan restaurant I've ever been to, apparently the current hottest spot in Venice, LA, right next to the Yoga Collective. When you order food, the waiter entertains you with "mindfulness" comments like "just think about what is the most important thing to you at this moment" (seriously!) Ummm....am I  doing a downward dog or just ordering brussels sprouts?

More beautiful restaurant food.

 

HOME COURT HABIT 3 : STAYING ACTIVE

I stay active and move whenever I can. Whether you're in California or Cancun, there is a lot you can manipulate to make your vacation more active and less sedentary. I jogged almost daily with my friends in the Santa Barbara hills before we got our occasional morning coffee (did I say coffee?)  I jogged from Venice Beach to Santa Monica before everyone else was awake. I ran around the suburban grid in Seal Beach when I was staying at my in-laws' house. I did my infrequent yoga practice on the patio. I walked to get to the local Whole Foods. I hiked to Montecito Peak and the Nevada Falls. I influenced the itinerary by voting hikes, and more hikes!

 Montecito Peak

Montecito Peak

 Tunnel View, Yosemite

Tunnel View, Yosemite

 Mariposa Grove, Yosemite

Mariposa Grove, Yosemite

 Nevada Falls, Yosemite

Nevada Falls, Yosemite

 Vernal Falls, Yosemite

Vernal Falls, Yosemite

 Taft Point, Yosemite

Taft Point, Yosemite

HOME COURT HABIT 4 : HAVING FUN

Alright, I must admit I also drank way too much good Californian wine and had way more fun than otherwise, but all in all, I feel pretty good coming back!

Home court habits

I just came home, from home.

I mean I just returned to New York (my current home) from Hong Kong (where I grew up).

 My daughter meditating during a  hike in Hong Kong

My daughter meditating during a  hike in Hong Kong

Maybe it's the 13 hours of jet lag that is making me all confused and discombobulated, I wake up not knowing where I am, where home is.

 Brooklyn, New York

Brooklyn, New York

Is home somewhere you grow up, spend your formative years? Or is it a place where you live? Or could it just be a place that you can keep returning to, over and over again, no matter how far or how many times you have moved away from it? A place where you'd rather be, more than anywhere else in the world, you feel you are yourself, you are home?

I am not a big fan of "vacationing". I am too much of a stickler for routine, traveling away from home takes me away from my yoga, meditation and green smoothies. Wherever I go, I do what I can to establish some kind of order. If I can't run, I walk. If I can't meditate, I try to find peace in nature. If I can't have a green smoothie, I order double portions of leafy greens at every meal. I practice yoga everywhere, in my parents' living room, behind the Christmas tree at my sister's house, on a boat at Halong Bay, Vietnam. You get the picture...I can only do what I can in any given situation.

Don't get me wrong, I love traveling and going to places. But there is something intrinsically unsettling when I am taken away from my "home court habits" -  the things in life that make me sane, the tools that I can always rely on to bring balance and peace to my life.

So could home be a "life style", a habit pattern, or even a mind-set? Because when I operate from there I feel most alive, most at home!

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I came across the term "home court habits" when I read the book "Foodist" by Darya Pino Rose. It means setting up routines that eventually become automatic, permanently integrating better habits in your daily life so they become your "healthstyle". Say if you want to lose weight, get rid of a food craving or make some dietary changes, relying on willpower and self-control almost always fails you, because it is based on deprivation and suffering. Building home court habits takes willpower out of the equation.

I guard my home court habits like my child, no one can touch her.

When you travel, these habits might be quite an inconvenience to pack in your suitcase, but boy, are they worth the shlepp?

What do all Centenarians have in common?

 My very youthful parents who are not quite there yet....

My very youthful parents who are not quite there yet....

 ....but almost 80 and going strong!

....but almost 80 and going strong!

Are you a vegetarian? A nutritarian maybe? Or a flexitarian? Ever considered becoming a centenarian?

I was at the Integrative Nutrition Annual Conference last weekend. Out of all the 15 plus amazing speakers ranging from MDs to nutritionists to life coaches, the one talk that really struck a cord in me was Dan Buettner's Blue Zones' Diet.

Dave Buettner was funded by National Geographic to travel to the Blue Zones all over the world - the regions that have the most Centenarians and uncover the secrets of their happiness and longevity. He nailed downed five places - the Barbagia region of Sardinia, Ikaria in Greece, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Okinawa in Japan and Loma Linda, a town 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

Why am I so obsessed with the stories of these people?

Maybe it has something to do with turning 40, a few years ago. I have recently attended a few turning 40 big birthday bashes and am surrounded by friends and peers who are all of a sudden awakened by how big the number 40 is, although even a 4 year old can tell you it is only a number that follows 39.

What is so significant about the number 40?

This is how I see it. We are standing at this junction - we can either do nothing, complain about the rapid decline and accept the inevitable demise, or take a turn to go the other way.

What inspires me about these centenarians is not that they live till a hundred years or more, sure who needs quantity if there is no quality? These people are happy, vibrant and healthy till their last breaths.

What are their secrets? If you ask them this question, they would think you are mad because none of them tries to live past 100 years, they just live. They celebrate aging instead of running away from it and they all have these in common: 

  1. They move naturally. They don't go to the gym or run marathons. Physical activities are etched in their everyday routines.
  2. They all have a purpose in life. The Okinawans call it "ikigai" and the Nicoyans call it "plan de vida". Both mean a reason to wake up in the morning.
  3. They have great anti-stress strategies - prayers, ancestor remembrance, taking naps and (even) happy hours!
  4. They eat a plant-based diet with beans and nuts being the cornerstone of their nutrients.
  5. They stop eating when they are 80% full, eat the biggest meals early in the day and smallest meals or nothing  in the evening.
  6. They all drink moderately (except the Adventists).
  7. They all belong to a faith-based community.
  8. They all put their loved ones first and maintain strong family ties.
  9. They hang with the right tribe. They all have strong social circles that support the same healthy behaviors.

Maybe it's not too late to take the right turn? 

I highly encourage you to check out these cool, vibrant beings from the Blue Zones website.