What Cuba Taught Me About "Wellness"

Wellness. The top couple of words that spring to mind when I think of wellness are diet and exercise. Healthy. Fitness.

My Instagram feed full of “wellness” influencers is all 6-packs and green juice.

The lists of top 10 wellness tips are maddening and contradictory and definitely not universally applicable.

As a wellness professional, over the past year I found myself going crazy trying to get it right—get the six-pack, eat clean every day, make time for meditation and self-care.

All of those things were wonderful, but I was doing them for the wrong reasons. I was trying to achieve some ideal appearance of wellness, and not actually considering what felt good to my body and my soul.

My life was becoming so regimented in order to fit it all in every day that anything that represented an obstacle to my routine freaked me out-- happy hours, travel, eating out in places where I couldn’t access the menu beforehand. It caused me so much stress and anxiety that often I ended up bypassing weekend trips and nights out with friends because I was afraid that it would cause me to “fall off the wagon” or miss a workout.

It turns out that what I was missing out on was so much more valuable: experiences. And relationships. And the ability to really truly be present and enjoy. Feeling spiritually and emotionally fulfilled.

Wellness is so much more than diet and exercise. It is all-encompassing. It is as much emotional and mental as it is physical. It goes beyond just good health and embraces wellbeing in all aspects of life.

While I believe strongly in eating nourishing foods and movement as pillars of wellness, I also believe that when we start restricting ourselves and trying to follow rules we self-defeat. Because wellness isn’t about deprivation or following strict regimens and then beating ourselves up when we “fall off the wagon”, it is about learning to listen to our bodies and our emotional cues to see how we can best serve ourselves each day.

Holistic wellness is about filling our cups emotionally and choosing things that bring us joy. When I made that distinction and began to make shifts in my daily activities, eating patterns, and relationships as part of my 2017 intentions, a whole new world of ease, calmness, and alignment opened up for me.

But incorporating those changes in my daily life in a place like Los Angeles was actually the easy part. As one of my driving motivations in life is travel, finding a way to practice this total wellness while traveling was going to be a true test of how deeply I believed and internalized this way of living.  

This past week I took my first trip since reframing my ideas around wellness, and my experience just more deeply embedded my beliefs about wellness as being a choice of what will serve all parts of me (my body, my emotions, my mind).

Before taking off for Cuba, I made a stop in Long Island, where my Italian family knows how to do homemade pizza.

Before taking off for Cuba, I made a stop in Long Island, where my Italian family knows how to do homemade pizza.

I went to Cuba, where it is more than just the wifi and cell phone service that is limited.

Not only were menu items limited in scope, but buying a snack (bodegas are non-existent and supermarket stock sparse) and even consistently finding a place to sit down and eat more than just a ham sandwich was often challenging.

Prior to the trip I was eating 5 times a day and following a mostly vegan diet, just because that was what was feeling good to my body. I was working out and doing yoga 7 days per week.

But life is Cuba is unpredictable, and traveling with a group presented another set of obstacles.

So I just let go.

I committed to enjoying the experience—the people I was with, the setting, and each bite of food—and I dropped any labels or restrictions of “good” or “bad” things. (Luckily I have no real food allergies so this was easier to do.)

I ordered foods that sounded good to me rather than foods that sounded “healthy”. I ordered a cocktail or a beer to enhance the conversation and experience… or I forewent a cocktail for a club soda if I just didn’t feel like I wanted it.

When in Cuba, sometimes your meal consists of all of the veggies fresh-picked on the farm...

When in Cuba, sometimes your meal consists of all of the veggies fresh-picked on the farm...

... and sometimes it consists of a fresh-rolled cigar and a bottle of rum. :) 

... and sometimes it consists of a fresh-rolled cigar and a bottle of rum. :) 

What I found was that that was exactly what my soul needed.

Stripping everything away. No rules, no distractions, and just one goal: to enjoy the experience.

The lack of internet or cell service intensified the experience because I was fully present in every conversation and for every bite.

I found that my physical cravings subsided because I felt full emotionally. I found that I naturally made healthier choices because it was what my body craved, but that I had no guilt about indulging in things I may have previously considered “unhealthy.”

I found that wellness doesn’t necessarily mean eating healthy foods and exercising every day. Wellness is different every day, every season, and for every person.

What I learned is that sometimes pizza and wine with friends is going to be the healthiest thing for me mentally and emotionally. And when I slow down and enjoy it, get present with people and with the experience, it can make me feel more fulfilled and happy than anything else.

So what is the alternative definition of wellness?

Rum and cigars (if you are in Cuba).

Homemade pizza and baked ziti and chicken parmesan (if you have an Italian family).

Yoga and green juice, if that is what your body and soul craves.

The point is that you don’t have to pick up what the fitness industry is putting down. You don’t have to be slim and toned to be a healthy person.

All you have to do is know how to choose what is right for you and appreciate the hell out of it.

In just a few weeks I am launching an online community that will give you support, encouragement, and ideas to explore what wellness looks like for you and how it changes with the seasons of your life. Sign up for my newsletter to be the first to know when the group opens up!


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