Health Lessons from My Grandmother

 

I have been thinking about my grandmother after sending a birthday card to her a few weeks ago. She and I are separated by an ocean and several countries on both sides of the body of water. We do sometimes chat briefly on Skype, but my favourite method of communication with my grandmother is via beautiful stationery and pens. Letter-writing is a magical ritual for me, one that I started practising in childhood. The tips of my fingers buzz with excitement when I pick up from my mailbox not a stack of bills or ads that waste paper, but a handwritten letter from someone I love. My eyes light up at the treasure I am so fortunate to have received. Sometimes, in those letters, my grandmother, in the famous health-conscious and orderly Virgo fashion that I admire, includes a clipping from a Russian newspaper: an article that discusses health issues and provides practical tips. Sometimes, she includes notes in the margins. Most often she writes, “Please pass this along to your parents.”

Babushka has always cooked healthy and delicious meals for us from scratch, always using the full ingredient, never generating more waste than absolutely necessary. When making her famous meat pies, she reserves the bones for broth. She has also always been a fitness role model for me, finding any excuse to move, whether going for a jog, cross-country skiing, or simply dancing about the living room while polishing the hardwood floors with a rag under her slippers (oh yes!) She is most awesome.

Rather than following the modern-day version of a healthy lifestyle that revolves around fads such as juicing, fasting, and restricting ourselves in one way or another, I have learned from my grandmother that diet and exercise trends come and go, and instead of adhering strictly to a specific regimen, we must re-evaluate and redefine our own meaning of a healthy lifestyle.

Last weekend, on a rainy, windy afternoon, while nursing an annual cold that somehow sneaks up on me in September, I felt inspired by the autumnal mood to browse my wardrobe of cozy knit sweaters and contemplate a pair of new riding boots to replace a pair that I wore loyally for five years until they no longer looked presentable. That’s not all I contemplated. While considering the clothes that suit me best, based on my current style, I also reflected on the importance of taking inventory of our health priorities. Autumn reminds me to bring the focus back to my non-negotiables, asking myself, “What does being healthy mean to me?”

Here is the current list of my health non-negotiables:

Sleep: I need seven to eight hours of sleep at night. I can sometimes get away with six hours of sleep, but if I miss out for two or more nights in a row, I quickly become irritable and end up unsuccessfully fighting unhealthy food cravings.

Movement: I love my daily 5 a.m. wake-up routine that includes hot water with lemon, followed by cardio or weights, then yoga. This regimen allows me to set a positive tone for the day. Some mornings are gentle for me and at times, I spend 30 minutes in restorative poses. From time to time, I sleep in and squeeze in just 10 minutes of yoga later in the day. The key is to follow one’s intuition. On most mornings, my intuition tells me to get up and get moving because it provides me with an energy burst that carries me through the day.

Cuddles: Cuddling with my children is mandatory, particularly when it’s the last thing on my seemingly never-ending ‘to do’ list. I sometimes fall asleep in one of my children’s beds, too exhausted to fight sleep. I find the same ‘to do’ list waiting for me the following morning, when I’m better able to discern the real priorities on that list, allowing certain other items to marinate for the time being.

Nutrition: I know that certain fats, processed sugar, and other substances are not healthy. I avoid certain additives at all costs. Yet, I no longer make a big deal over a bit of processed sugar added to home-baked goods, or the creme brulee I enjoy twice a year. Although I am most certainly an abstainer, I do make exceptions for dessert on special occasions. As I delve deeper into my self-learning process, I have been avoiding snacking because I find that I feel better when I eat three solid, wholesome, nutrient-packed meals on a daily basis. Intuition has become my best buddy.

Smiles and Laughter: When I feel tired, the corners of my mouth refuse to turn up. All the tiny muscles in my face feel cynical, sneering at everyone and everything around me. On those days, I force myself to smile and witness my energy change. Then, I remind myself to get to bed early that night, even if it means falling asleep with my children while rubbing their backs. And truly, that’s one of the sweetest, most calming methods of relaxation and meditation.

That’s my recipe for today, in honour of my Babushka: sleep + nutrition + movement + cuddles + smiles and laughter. The execution of this intricate balancing act is not always simple, but we can always do our best.

What is on your list of health and wellness non-negotiables?

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[…] and to stop, breathe, smile, hug, and listen to my loved ones. In case you missed it a year ago, here is my ‘go to’ advice from my grandmother for staying healthy in the midst of a packed […]

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