By: Shani Hillian.
Wellness is more than just yoga classes, face masks, and drinking green juices. It’s creating sacred rituals and traditions for the betterment and greatest good of one’s self, family, and society. I have seen this within my family: I am a first-generation American, born to Jamaican parents, for whom family always comes first. My grandmother, whom I call my “elder educator,” immigrated to this country in the 1960s and became my indispensable source of ancestral wisdom. I have been blessed to adopt her shared knowledge, yet my story is hardly unique—this is the case for most Black families, particularly immigrants.
Within the Black community, our ancestral and living ancestors hold a very powerful position. They unselfishly serve as the “lifeline” to our legacy and possess the knowledge and wisdom of a world we have not yet experienced. In many cases, they carry us through this life by teaching us the importance of our heritage, tradition, self-worth, and unity to ensure we never forget where we’ve come from.
Gratefully, I have been supremely blessed to witness where I come from firsthand, having visited the St. Catherine countryside in Jamaica—where my lineage lies—many times. It’s the origin of three prominent wellness traditions that were passed down to me. These traditions changed my life, and I vow to pass them on to my child, who’s set to arrive any day.
1. Honor nature
St. Catherine, Jamaica, is considered the country—or “the bush,” as we like to call it. My grandmother was raised on farmland amongst chickens, goats, roosters, and cows, where the most beautiful plants and a variety of fruits were always available. She taught me to honor nature, and this invaluable tradition was the catalyst for me to become a holistic esthetician. Despite growing up in inner-city Philadelphia, she always embedded in my brain that nature is the ultimate healer, and when you nurture it, it will always be there to honor you back.
Plants and herbs were always in full stock at my grandmother’s home, aloe vera being one of our favorites. She’s the reason why I still keep fresh herbs and plants in my home today, and why I vow to continue doing so when my child is born. Honoring nature is the ultimate form of wellness. We naturally have an innate connection to the world around us and within us. We are not separate from it. Nature can be our medicine and our lifeline. When we honor it, it honors us.
2. Honor your beauty from within
Beauty stems far beyond the generic surface level trends we see in mainstream media. For me, this means living holistically, which is more than just taking herbal tinctures and creating DIY skin care. It involves living in balance with my mind, body, and spirit. This act will look different for everyone, but for me, one family tradition has always been to honor your true self, no matter how it might look to others. You have to live with yourself every single day of your life, therefore you possess the power to construct a firm foundation of self love.
So, how do I honor my beauty from within? I honor my mind with weekly therapy to ensure I am valuing my emotional well being and taking stock of my conscious thoughts, feelings, and needs in order to be the best version of myself. I honor my body by eating high-vibration foods that keep me and my unborn child’s overall health supreme. And I meditate and move my body as much as I can to honor the beauty of having mindful moments that bring clarity. True beauty begins from within your heart. It blooms like a flower and transforms into an elegant energy that’s undeniably alluring.
3. Honor unity
My most treasured memory from growing up was going to my grandmother’s house every weekend to reunite with my entire family for a traditional Sunday dinner. A sacred tradition amongst Black families across the globe, this tradition dates back to slavery, when enslaved Africans would pretend they were free on Sundays, unencumbered with the merciless realities of being imprisoned. It’s become a valued ritual, with a storied history, and it’s still in practice today.
Growing up, Sunday was considered a holy and reverent day set aside to worship the Lord, gather for a traditional Jamaican meal with family, and rest. I still make Sunday dinner a ritual in my home today, as it was when I was younger, and I plan to keep the tradition for many years to come. Although I am no longer a regular churchgoer—I consider myself to be more spiritual than religious—this tradition taught me the importance of community, unity, and keeping a connection to my roots. Grounding and worship look different to me nowadays: I worship on Sundays with meditation, a yoga flow, taking stock of my emotions, and reaching out to my loved ones whom I’ve been unable to see due to the pandemic.
Most of us have been unable to connect with our loved ones in person due to the global health crisis, especially our elders. So, I’ve been quite intentional with reaching out virtually and scheduling moments of calm connection with my loved ones. This practice has made me feel connected to the tradition in some way. A phone call, a FaceTime, or simply leaving a voicemail for those who are unavailable has brought me so much joy and peace knowing the connection is there. Unity has been the core foundation of our survival throughout history—and it always will be.