How Communities of Color Can Use Ancestral Practices to Promote Health
Updated: Feb 9, 2022
The lifestyle that nourished our ancestors for centuries deserves a closer look into how it can help improve the health of black & brown people today.
So, this Black history month, I want to talk about how people of color, specifically those throughout the African diaspora can use some of the ancestral practices that our ancestors used to promote our health and wellness in our modern day life. Science shows and I've seen it in my own practice. Using these practices can help folks feel more connected to their wellness journey - versus feeling like they're adopting something new. There's something special about doing something that feels like home - ya know. Let’s discuss a few ways that we can use those practices in our daily lives to promote our health and wellness.
Why is this important?
I think the conventional model of Western medicine is lacking in some areas. I've had lots of clients tell me they’ve been searching for answers for years - going from practitioner to practitioner and still feeling overlooked & misunderstood. I believe many of these answers can be found in our history. Even though it's not heavily researched and not technically evidence based - there are some things that can't always be quantified by science and it heritage deserves some recognition.
Whether it was the ginger and the peppermint candy in hot toddy, or it was the fact that your loving grandmother was taking the time to nurture you and care for you that made you feel better. Whichever one it was - there is still healing and value in those practices.
So the 4 points I want to discuss - Nature, Community, Spirituality and Food.
Becoming in tune with nature
Our ancestors lived in sync with nature. So, that looked like eating with the season, sleeping and waking with the sun and the moon and being outside getting that vitamin D.
Statistics say that people with darker colored skin are more likely to be vitamin D deficiency deficient because of the melanin in our skin. But if you look at the African continent or our ancestors, Vitamin D deficiency isn’t a historical African issue.
The difference is in our Western lives, not necessarily our skin. So we can learn from them and try to get outside more!
Next, eating with the seasons. Think about what's available in the winter - squash, potatoes, onions, green, different leafy greens. What's available in the summertime - fruits, tomatoes and peas. Buying & eating with the season not only helps the environment, but also us as a people. We can get so used to eating the same foods year round because we have access, but it's not necessarily what’s best for us! Try eating with the seasons, eating local and supporting your local farmers.
Lastly, getting sunlight in the morning and limiting light in the evening. There are studies that show that sunlight, when you wake up in the morning, helps with your circadian rhythm. Similarly when the sun goes down, your body naturally starts to wind down.
Continually using light at nighttime continues to stimulate your body - going against the natural process. Using lights, especially blue lights, at nighttime when it's dark outside, can throw off your circadian rhythm, mess with your melatonin release and make it more difficult for you to sleep. Therefore hijacking that super important time for our bodies to relax and restore itself.
So put that phone down and turn off the TV and practice gratitude as you wind down for a restful night of rest.
Embracing your Community
Okay, so second thing, community! Community is so important! And I think it is so overlooked. That is why in my practice I use integrative holistic, ancestral wellness, because it's not just about the food we eat, right? Honestly, sometimes what made the food so good is the fact that you were in the kitchen cooking with your family, being surrounded by people you love - that was the feeling that made the food that much better.
We can't take food out of its context of community, emotions and spirituality and just focus only on the food. Especially for us, for people of color. For black people. I mean food is community. In our Western society where everyone's doing their own thing, we’ve gotten so far away from the healing power of community. Whether it’s having more family dinners or hosting a potluck for your family - think of ways you can incorporate a more positive community in your day to day life.
Tapping into Spirituality
I believe, spirituality is what got our ancestors through some of the worse, most torturous years. They had hope. They believed this wasn’t the only life. They sang spirituals. They trusted that their future was in good hands.
Consider the practice of African spirituality - healers intercede on their patient's behalf in the spiritual realm. For them there was no disconnect between mind, body and soul. That's something that I talk with my clients about - what’s going on spiritually and emotionally?
Worry and stress can drive up cortisol levels, which is the stress hormone. Extended periods of elevated cortisol throw everything else out of whack! If the body is always stressed, it can't even digest food optimally. Much less sleep well or menstruate well. So yes - psychological stress most definitely affects physical health!
So, practicing some sort of spiritual journey - whether it's journaling, praying, meditating, walking in nature, whatever it is, tap into it as you're on this journey to health and wellness.
The African Heritage Diet
Lastly is eating some of the foods our ancestors ate. It’s not the typical diet our American health system preaches as healthy - but they are indeed very nutritious!
The black eyed peas, rice, collard greens, okra, cabbage & hot water cornbread. Since they didn’t have reliable access to food preservation like freezers and refrigerators - they didn’t consume many animal products. During church ceremonies or community rituals they would kill an animal, cook it and enjoy it with the entire community.
In our world, everyone's heard about the Mediterranean diet, but have you heard about the African heritage diet? The way I see it - why try to adopt a new way of eating when we can eat the way that we've been eating? Let’s continue eating the food our body knows, the food our spirit, our soul, our families love! When I first heard of quinoa I had no idea how to pronounce it and to this day, my granny still doesn't know how to say it.
So this Black History Month consider implementing some of these ancestral wellness in your daily life. If you want support in that process, I’d love to help you with that. Click here and we can talk about how you can start your own journey to reclaiming your wellness.