In this excerpt from Destination Wellness: Global Secrets for Better Living Wherever You Are (featured as one of our picks for the best new travel guidebooks), wellness and travel journalist Annie Daly shares the lessons she learned from the Rastafari in Jamaica.
In the past few years, the word “wellness” has practically become synonymous with skinny, rich, white women drinking green juice in perfectly Instagrammable cafés.
Annie is a writer, editor, runner, and traveler based in NYC. You can follow her at @anniemdaly on Instagram and Twitter. She travels for the mental clarity that occurs when you’re looking at your life through a wider lens.
And this is not okay!
True well-being is so much bigger, deeper, and more inclusive than $80 crystal-infused water bottles. I’m so passionate about this topic, in fact, I wrote a whole book about it. Destination Wellness is the story of my trip around the world in search of genuine wellness wisdom from other cultures. I traveled to six different places before the pandemic (Jamaica, Norway, Hawai’i, Japan, India, and Brazil), and found that authentic well-being is not something you can actually buy — it’s about the way you live your life every day.
The book is a great resource you’re interested in the travel and health combo, but I want to highlight Ital — the wellness philosophy that was one of my favorite discoveries.
We are all a small part of a much bigger natural universe. Rastafari believe that the more we acknowledge that connection, the more likely we are to feel grounded.
Ital is the Rastafari way of natural living in Jamaica that’s all about connecting to Mother Nature and eating foods from the Earth. In my experience, many people tend to associate (and dismiss) Rastafari with the weed smoking of it all. But there’s so much more to the story, starting with the basic fact that Rastafari emerged in 1930s Jamaica as a response to British colonialism. During that time, a group of Jamaicans got together to form their own community to free themselves from the shackles of oppressive British rule.
Because they weren’t shopping at British grocery stores anymore, they started growing their own food — and formed a deep natural connection to the land as a result. They also developed other lifestyle practices, like smoking ganja to connect to their higher spirit and growing their hair in locs (dreadlocks) as a symbol of natural living. All of these principles, including Ital, are part of the broader Rastafari philosophy known as livity, the term for the life practices of the Rastafari people.
With that powerful history in mind, it should come as no surprise that most Rastas are fully vegan. They try to grow the majority of their own food or get it from farmers’ markets or CSAs, not just because of the nutritional benefits but because doing so represents self-reliance — a way to separate themselves from society, much as the original Rastafari did in the 1930s.
One Rastafari farmer I interviewed for the book, Chris Binns of Stush in the Bush, said it best: “We Rastas like to say that ‘Ital is vital,’ but we’re not just talking about food. Ital is more about the lifestyle. It’s about choosing to unplug from some of the trappings of modern society. Ital is ultimately a way to break free of Babylon [the Rastafari word for society] by living on your own terms like Rastas originally did in the hills. And a big part of that is a respect for the environment and for what Mother Nature brings to you.”
In the end, I hope this philosophy reminds you that “wellness” is so much bigger and broader than those skinny juicers dominating social media. Rastafari are some of the most health-conscious people I’ve met anywhere in the world, and learning about their history and culture can help shatter the shallow current wellness stereotypes. I also hope that their ideals may inspire us all to live a bit more naturally. Here, in an excerpt from the book, are actionable ways to apply the Ital mindset to your own life wherever you are.
Live an Ital Life…Wherever You Are
Make your home your sanctuary.
As Chef Michael says, one of the easiest ways to resist commercialization is to create a “bubble of vibes” at home that makes you want to stay put. The key is to create your own personal refuge from society, whatever that means for you.
Connect to your food.
The best way to do this is to plant something. Being a seed parent, even if you’re just watching a basil leaf grow on your windowsill, helps you feel more connected to nature overall. If planting something isn’t an option, learn where your food comes from. Back at Stush in the Bush, Chris told me that he’s often shocked to learn that people don’t know how a carrot grows, even though they’ve eaten carrots their whole lives.
Look up at the sky each day.
Chronixx told me that he spends time outdoors each day not just for the fresh air but also for the reminder that we are all a small part of a much bigger natural universe. Rastafari believe that the more we acknowledge that connection, the more likely we are to feel grounded.
Rastafari who strictly adhere to the rules of Ital are mostly booze-free, as too much alcohol decreases livity, and salt-free, as salt — at least the synthetic kind — is deeply tied to colonialism. Try swapping your next beer or glass of wine for herbal tea or herbal tonics or even fresh juice, and cooking with herbs and spices instead of salt. You’ll likely get more health benefits, too.
Surround yourself with positive vibrations.
If you want to be inspired by messages of self-reliance and unity and hope in the face of oppression, listen to reggae! Chris told me that, like me, he throws it on when he needs a dose of Ital energy. “The music is a great way of getting the philosophies and the teachings without going anywhere,” he said. “Just put on your headphones, and you’ll be surrounded by positive vibrations, protected from the toxicity of the outside world.”
Don’t Stop There. Read the Whole Book
Buy Destination Wellness from your preferred local bookseller or online from Amazon.com or Bookshop.org.
Excerpted with permission from Destination Wellness: Global Secrets for Better Living Wherever You Are by Annie Daly, published by Chronicle Prism, May 2021.
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