Making the transition from adolescence to adulthood is often easier said than done. It’s a gradual process. We must decipher through the hoards of influences from our childhood years and then decide who we will be as individuals with our unique set of values, ready to absorb the outside world on our own.
I came away from my childhood with some pretty stellar pieces of advice and sage wisdom from many loved ones, advice I recycle daily. Somehow, I won the genetic lottery and was born into a family led beautifully by my grandma, Nonna in Italian, Grammy in my heart. More than any other human being, my grandma walks the walk. She’s been through some tremendous challenges in her life, including growing up in Ethiopia, rather than her native Italy, to escape Mussolini’s reign, and despite being stronger, wiser and more evolved than her parents, she moved on in her life with zero bitterness, insecurity or lingering pain.
She’s continued to live her life with grace, exuberance, humility and joy. If I were to point young girls to one woman for advice, for inspiration, admiration, intelligence and lessons on how to live a full life, then I’d direct them no further than to my Nonna, a woman who practices yoga as intended, from her being.
I could fill encyclopedias with truly valuable advice from my grandma on how to enjoy life, how to live in balance, equanimity and love, but for now I’ll pass along a few gems that we could all benefit from and truths the world should certainly echo.
1. Nourishing your body, mind and soul: Moderation is key. The joke in our family is that grandma will outlive us all. She is almost always working, walking, reading, engaging, helping and/or cooking. She is a phenomenal culinary artist, perfecting almost any genre of food with ease, but mostly it was her respect for natural, quality ingredients that stuck with me and her emphasis on moderation. She always encouraged me to enjoy the fruits of this existence but without desperation, without greed, without neediness. Eat consciously, savoring and appreciating every bite, and you will not overindulge. Grandma dances and moves with joy, she lights up the room. She doesn’t push her body to extremes, she falls asleep and rises each day at a reasonable hour, but she uses her machine and she takes care of it well.
2. How to love: Tolerance. Her and my Poppy have been married for 52 years, together 53. The details of their story are incredible, enlightening and awe-inspiring. Considering what they’ve each experienced as children, the love they fostered between each other which they then bestowed upon us is astounding. They are playful, insightful, hard-working people who live best by example. When asking my grandma about the secret to her successful marriage, time and time again, she answers with the word tolerance. She always told me in her adorable Italian accent to carefully pick my battles. She chooses peace and responds with love, and would much rather be happy than right. Watching her navigate the difficult times with relative ease shows how much acceptance plays its part. Falling and staying in love with someone for who they are, not who you hope they’ll be, is key in long-term happiness with another. They’ve been through the normal and the unimaginable in over five decades together and they still light up when speaking of their love, they still hold hands, kiss passionately and enjoy being the witnesses in each other’s lives. Most of us grandkids are children of broken homes. Their mature, genuine love gave us hope for ourselves and a belief in lasting happiness.
3. How to be: Living in your own skin is the most challenging battle you’ll wage every day of your life. We spend unnecessary amounts of time in disappointment, doubt and overall dislike of who and what we are. I can remember being very little and watching my grandma throw on a dress and a little lipstick (she wastes little time primping) and say “not bad for 50!.” I’ve witnessed throughout my short life the sheer appreciation my grandma had for all that she was. She knew inherently that it was a gift to be alive and the bliss that arrives with acceptance. She doesn’t waste time and energy on criticizing herself or anyone else. She’s no kiss ass and no pushover, but she sees and feels goodness, chooses to appreciate rather than deprecate and always chooses love over hate.
4. How to see: My grammy is equipped with a keene eye. Her intelligence is carved exquisitely. She responds and perceives situations, people and events with magnificent clarity. She knows what to bother with and what to let go. She knows most of life is small stuff so she lets that roll right off and distinguishes between worthwhile endeavors wisely. She pursues work, hobbies and relationships that bring out her joy, is respectful to others but wastes little time with negativity or melodrama. She taught me the art of seeing the light in someone’s eyes, on weeding out the disingenuous and devoting my energy and heart to those deserving. I carry no hatred or disgust in my heart for anyone, but I’ve inherited the eye to see those who carry darkness, those I simply cannot trust, while being open and receptive to brilliant minds and kind hearts. What an amazing barometer she set.
5. Your relationship with time: I have little doubt my grandma’s fascinating and often difficult upbringing added to her innate strength. The stories I heard as a girl were fun, light-hearted and encouraging. Grandma doesn’t wallow. She gave little credence to grudges, to stinginess, to reliving or being defined by the past and instead she remained optimistic, progressive and most importantly, present. She understood and appreciated the gift of another’s visit. She doesn’t attach herself to things, to acquisitions, achievements, money or notoriety. She lives with joy and presence and relishes the opportunity to tackle each day, to live in her skin and to love with uncompromising generosity and kindness.
Nonna breathes with a yogic heart and soul without ever popping into a down dog. My greatest and most influential teachers are more impressive in heart than I ever care to admire on the mat. I can respect and appreciate mastery of asana and I absolutely love moving my body in that way and instructing my students to do the same, but never without emphasizing the importance of their presence, their acceptance of themselves now, and the beauty in opening our hearts and minds in addition to releasing the body. Yoga is a gentle, loving guide on how to live truthfully and blissfully. And so is my grandma. Take the positives from your journey, forgive and surrender the negatives and move forward with gratitude and euphoria. You deserve to love the life you are. Accept, be present and enjoy the hell out of this one life you have!