11/18/2012 10:22 am ET

What Makes Home So Sweet?

By Jim Nicolai, M.D for YouBeauty

I just got back from vacation with my family. We spent Fall Break in Phoenix playing at the Zoo and Arizona Science Center, exploring downtown Tempe and the ASU campus. I had major fun living vicariously through my children’s adventures. However, after dwelling in the cramped quarters of a hotel suite for a few days, I was most grateful to cut our stay a bit short and rediscover the comforts of my own bedroom.

It was good to finally get home.

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I started thinking of exactly what qualities make up this concept we call “home,” and why it feels so good to get back there.

We’ve heard the clichés, right?

  • Home is where you hang your hat…
  • Home is where the heart is…
  • There’s no place like home…

I was talking to the kids about this over dinner and we went around the table trying to answer what “home” meant to each of them.

It was an interesting conversation.

For Jude, home meant hanging out with family at the dinner table. Ava liked sleeping in her new bed. Kyle was all about biking along familiar neighborhood streets, and ultimately to the park where he could hang out with friends. Sara loved to get back to her favorite pillow with its cool underside. For me, home was definitely all those things -- my house, my bed, people I hang out with -- but it was also getting back into familiar routines.

It’s the set of rituals I do that coming home often forces me back into. Maybe I’ve made some bad choices on my travels, maybe I’ve hooked up with some shady characters and lost some of my healthy momentum -- either way, getting back home inspires or pushes me back towards a healthier set of routines. I usually get back to the gym and eat better, hang out with the right folks who keep me better accountable, breathe the right way, connect spiritually.

And with that came the realization that “home” is just as much an emotion as it is a place. If it’s a destination at all, it’s how the destination makes you feel that really counts as “home.” Personally, as a physician and health coach, coming back to my health rituals helps me stay accountable and walk my talk. Coming home allows me to get back to my inner truth about what I think I should be, and the health rituals I practice allow this to happen in a relatively easy fashion. It’s just what I do when I’m home.

Home is familiar. It’s recognizable. Sometimes we notice it when it’s taken away from us or when we come back to it. It’s a lot like health. I’ve often said that health is very much like a destination, but it’s also the feeling that you get when you arrive there -- it’s like coming home.

Finding a set of rituals that give us that home kind of feeling is what we should be striving to achieve. Whether it’s a daily walk, getting to the gym, going for a swim, hiking, biking or running; whether it’s a sitting meditation, journaling, reading, blogging or painting; whether it’s doing nothing but staying in the present moment and accessing the feeling that “home” gives, we should be fighting for it as if our lives were at stake.

They are. And sometimes we lose “home” even when we’re there.

Specifically, my health ritual starts with morning exercise. Then I take the dog on a walking meditation outside in nature, where I can tune out distractions and tune into the simplicity of being in the right here and right now. I finish it up by getting in touch with my spiritual side through gratitude and prayer. It takes about 15 minutes.

When I’m away from home I can still practice this daily routine. It brings a bit of home with me. I have to work harder to get it done, but it’s worth the effort. And when I finally get back home, my daily practice is waiting for me.

It’s where the heart is…