The minute you step off the plane in Hawaii, your heart rate slows, breathing deepens and stress instantly melts. Being in Hawaii makes you feel not just physically better, but spiritually and emotionally as well. Should we credit tropical breezes, warm sand and the soothing sound of waves? Maybe all of these, but it’s also the local culture that exudes a serene sense of soulful living. So why not cultivate a kamaʻāina (Hawaiian for “child of the land”) state of mind wherever you are? Aloha shirt is optional.
1. Walk barefoot.
Most Hawaiians walk barefoot to feel their connection to the earth, but turns out it’s also good for their health. A 2012 study in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health suggests that walking barefoot can help improve sleep and reduce pain and stress. Not only that, it can help your yoga practice. California yoga therapy and health coach Marty Bonsall, who has been visiting Hawaii annually since 1971, explains, “In yoga the feet are our foundation and when we place attention into rooting, strengthening and stability, it can open the heart, enhance our health and well-being, help us integrate body and mind, and increase strength and flexibility.”
2. Be one with the ‘aina (earth).
A 2012 Gallup-Healthways Well-being Index put Hawaii at the highest overall well-being for the fourth year in a row, and research from the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions shows Hawaiian islanders live longer. That’s partly due to good exercise habits—year-round clement weather means locals spend more time outdoors. But beyond swimming and hiking, there’s a benefit to being connected to the environment. Hawaii Psychological Association past-president Darryl Salvador, Psy.D. says, “Spending time in nature allows us to connect with something that is bigger than us and nurtures our need to belong, which in turn enhances our happiness.” Whether you live in a cold climate or a tropical one, savor your time in nature. Don’t just run or hike through it; breathe it into your lungs and pores.
3. Spend time with your ohana.
The family, or ohana, is the pulse of Hawaiian life. Events, celebrations and daily life include nuclear family as well as “calabash cousins”—close friends affectionately called uncle, aunty or cousin. Having that kind of support not necessarily bound by blood brings a wealth of emotional and psychological benefits, says Salvador. “The family can help establish identity, promote positive self-concept and create a sense of belonging.” If you live far from the family you were born into, create your own family and gather on a regular basis. You don’t need a big holiday as an excuse; host your own tailgate party, craft night, book club or even a luau. Make it a “family” tradition.
4. Eat with your hands.
In the early Hawaiian culture, indigenous people ate poi (from the taro plant) and other staples with their hands. Adults new to this practice may feel squeamish, but it’s a surprisingly pleasing experience that evokes childhood feelings of discovery and wonder. Eating with your hands also slows you down and makes you more mindful of what and how much you’re consuming, which helps prevent overeating and accompanying health problems.
5. Eat to live.
Hawaii produces a variety of tropical vegetables and fruits from papaya to more exotic edibles such as dragon fruit, and while agricultural laws may prevent you from bringing a piece of the island home with you, you can still reap the benefits of eating diverse produce. Experiment with new fruits and vegetables at Asian and farmers markets in your hometown, or take a stab at planting your own tropical garden. Betty Gearen, founder of The Green House, a Honolulu nonprofit center for sustainability, notes that, “Growing your own food is a great way to build a sense of community and respect for the ‘aina.”
6. Live to eat.
Locals love to eat, and when it comes to food, Hawaii’s racial and ethnic diversity makes for a broad selection of cuisine options. Whether it’s trying the newest food trend or having a casual potluck at home, it’s an excuse for Hawaiians to do what they love best—spend time with loved ones. Create a party celebrating food. Ask guests to bring something from their culture, or cook something together for the first time.
7. Treat others like your cousin.
It’s impossible to meet people in Hawaii without asking: Where did you go to high school and what year did you graduate? Living on an island, it’s quite possible you have a mutual connection, so locals treat everyone, even strangers, as they would a distant relative. Mainland cities tend to lose that personal touch and rude behavior is not uncommon. But if you pretend that cranky sales clerk or awkward pedestrian is a calabash cousin or your friend’s boss, you’ll be much more cordial.
8. Talk story.
Locals don’t just ask, “How are you?” and escape before you answer; they really want to know. The next time someone asks how you are, offer a genuine answer. And even if you have a million things on your to-do list, a live vs. online conversation can do wonders for your emotional health. As Salvador says, “Connecting in this way promotes a sense of belonging and can enhance self-esteem.”
9. Cultivate gratitude.
Mahalo means thanks in Hawaiian, and while it’s said often in the islands, being grateful is a state of mind. Big Island photographer Dustin Acdal says growing up in a small town where he played in sugar cane fields has imbued him with gratitude for the little things, so whether its lava flows or cracks in the road, he now spends his energy capturing extraordinary photos from ordinary moments. Cultivate your own field of gratitude by actively searching for things to be grateful for, and spend time savoring them.
10. Practice patience.
Chalk it up to their laidback lifestyle and slower island life, but Hawaiians are notorious for being late. They even have a name for it: “Hawaiian time.” The next time you’re disappointed by delays, roll like a local and turn it into opportunity. Use the moment as your own personal breathing space.
This article is a part of the June/July 2014 issue of Whole Life Times.