How My Vacation Was a Model for Living a Peaceful Life
6 vagal toning elements and practices
We can’t be on vacation every day, but we can try and structure our lives in a way that creates a valued direction for our lives. It’s important to me to stay in a peaceful state – or, in scientific terms, one where my nervous system allows the best parts of myself to shine. One that allows me to connect easily and compassionately, think clearly, act with courage and confidence, tap into my creativity and curiosity and, above all, stay calm. In my books I discuss the ventral vagal state of safety, an authentic way of being characterized by the 8 C’s described above.
My recent vacation to Ireland had all the vagal toning elements and practices to sustain such a life. Let’s review:
We lost a day of sleep on our “red eye” flight over the pond to Dublin, so we perfectly planned a day of rest upon arriving. We kept ourselves up late enough to adjust to the eight-hour time change, but allowed ourselves to sleep until we woke without interruption – which meant a full twelve-hour reset. During the rest of the trip, we continued to do the same: to bed early, no electronics, reading until tired, and waking when our bodies said so. We used black out curtains or eye masks due to the long summer days in the Northern Hemisphere.
The traditional Irish Breakfast is savory. It includes eggs, sausage (for the meat eaters), cooked mushrooms, tomatoes, and beans. These hearty breakfasts were blood sugar regulating and sustained us long into the day. The vegetables at breakfast helped to create a gut-friendly environment to keep us regular while traveling. Yogurt and fruit were in small “shot glass” doses with some added seeds and nuts as natural fats for energy.
Later in the day, Irish stew or “catch of the day” from the locally-sourced fishing and farming on this island was plentiful. Vegetables and dense brown bread with real butter accompanied most meals. We had fruit-based desserts to finish. Of course, I had my share of treats too. My favorite was a large “99” ice cream cone with Cadbury chocolate on top – best eaten mindfully, making memories while connecting to others.
Keeping your blood sugar in check calms the body. Eating plant fiber for gut health and omega 3 fats to lower inflammation are both good for vagal nerve health. Eating without fear, connecting to the food as nourishing and sustaining for the body, is more important than the food itself.
We did a lot of exploring. Through the cities, along green pastures, streams, lakes, and cliffs above the ocean shores, we walked and hiked. In the sun, rain, and wind – it didn’t matter. We were on a mission to see Ireland, mostly on foot (driving in Ireland is an experience – more on that later). Feeling good and tired, ready for a meal and rest by the end of the day was a welcome feeling.
The natural world does the body good. Awe-inspiring panoramic vistas of green pastures and miles of rock walls, heartwarming animals, an island surrounded by water – these were the scenes of Ireland. From beaches to forests, this island has it all. A great vagal toning activity during our vacation was swimming in the cold Atlantic sea, followed by a warm sauna and seaweed bath. Research tells us that getting outside and exposure to the natural elements in calming for the body and soul.
Connecting with others is key to a long life. We were meant to be in relationships. Ireland is known for their pubs or “public houses,” gathering places for people to share a meal, a drink with traditional music, or watch a sporting event. Laughter, storytelling, and relating to others connect us to a greater whole. Other connections during our trip were understanding the rich history of the Irish people. Medieval remains tell stories of survival and faith. Those we met along the way were friendly and made us feel welcome.
My vacation was not without stress. The key was knowing how to return my system to baseline when sympathetically activated. I didn’t want to waste my precious vacation (or life, for that matter!) in a reactive, fight-or-flight fearful state.
While in Dublin, we took the wrong train, getting us back to the hotel an hour later than planned. Luckily, I built in margin for such circumstances, as I had a book signing event that evening. Riding as a passenger in a small rental car, driving on the left side (wrong) of the road on winding single lane roads with two-way traffic, all while going 80 kilometers per hour created a bit of a stress response in my body. Oh, and did I tell you about the free-range sheep wandering in the road? I used my breath, redirected my Murphy’s Law brain toward gratitude and trust and tried to focus on the beauty around me. I must say that, as a driver or passenger, there is not much else to see other than trying to stay on the road and out of harm’s way while driving the backroads of the Ireland countryside!
Another opportunity to practice staying calm was during a visit to the Doolin Cave. We descended a six-story stairwell underground, through a small tunnel and into a cavern that had the largest free hanging stalactite (23 feet) in Europe. My husband was in heaven, and I could only think about being buried alive! When I found my body panicking, I began exaggerating my exhales and thinking about my safe place, a beach memory in Hawaii. Thank goodness, I was able to regulate and carry on.
I loved our trip to Ireland, my first European vacation.
I wouldn’t want to live there. Not enough sun, too much wind and rain. It reminded me of my years in the Pacific Northwest coastal region, but green as the day is long (in the summer, anyway). I was grateful for the opportunity to speak about my work and take extended personal time off for this vacation. I returned much calmer and excited to work with a renewed body, mind, and spirit.
In reflection, I realize that it is up to me to create the opportunities and practice a lifestyle that keeps me in a calm, peaceful state in order to access the best parts of myself, for me and for those I have the privilege to live and work with. I hope my vacation was a reminder and lesson of those elements necessary for a life well-lived.
Visit my website to learn more about my counseling, consulting, and coaching services as well as my current courses and recent Safe and Sound Protocol certification. Check out my memoir, Food, Body, & Love, but the greatest of these is love and its newly-released Companion Workbook.