Physical Health

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Physical Health

from Perry Robinson

Traditional Navajo teachings have always encouraged good health practices that lead to a long and productive life.This becomes particularly apparent in the puberty ceremonies for young men and women as they prepare for adulthood with its many challenges and responsibilities.Training given to young women during the kinaaldá ceremony is particularly rich in instruction, most of which can be generalized to have meaning for both sexes.Principles of good health become a blessing to all who practice them.

When a girl reaches puberty—family members, elders, and community participants—join together to celebrate this occasion and prepare her for the future.Nothing is more important than the health and strength necessary for the busy life of a Navajo wife, mother, and leader who guides and assists others.One of the first events in the four day kinaaldá celebration is the early morning run during which the young woman, with boys and girls of all ages, runs to the east on the first day to meet the sun.The exercise is vigorous and indicates how much power and stamina she will have later in life.Equally important is the air the runners breathe.Talking God, in the time of creation, explained: “The more you run in the morning and the earlier it is, you will capture that special air that is clean, chilled, and crisp—the good air that lives there.”This is important because with it comes stamina, agility, balance, strong thoughts, and good feelings.During each of the next three days, she will run in a different direction, breathing in the twilight colors (white, blue, yellow, black) and cool air to fortify her body.

Learning to skillfully grind corn with a mano and metate was more than just part of the preparation in making a large blue cornmeal cake to bake in the ground overnight.In addition to creating this healthy food, there are certain ways that one sits and works to strengthen the muscles.The elders tell the kinaaldá that the holy people are watching to see that she faces east and sits with her legs beneath her.She is told to bend her toes and sit on them, stretching the flat end of the foot—“that way your feet will become thin and longer and your arch larger, making it easier to walk on.”This also causes the calf muscles to tighten; the more the woman pushes in grinding with her knees, the greater exercise there is for the thigh muscles.She is told, “Sit back, every time you pull the mano back, sit back to your heel and then from there you push all the way to your arm until it is extended and your stomach hurts.So when your stomach starts to hurt, that is when your waist gets exercised to strengthen muscles over your stomach.”The process provided a vigorous workout in preparation for a long life.

At the conclusion of the four day ceremony, the young woman lies face down on some woven blankets and waits for an elder or medicine person to “stretch” her.People surrounding her would say “Who is the handsomest lady here?Who is tall, straight, and strong?”When the woman—a person with skills and highly respected—was selected, she received a weaving batten and began to push the kinaaldá’s muscles with it.Beginning with the feet, she worked up the legs, the back, all the way to the neck, blessing her with the health, strength, and power needed for the rest of the new life awaiting her.She is now a holy person, ready to bless the lives of others, just as when she hands out the cake to the medicine people and others in attendance.For all participating, they would say, “This is a good day and we shall celebrate it again.We all feel renewed.”

Good health is more than just physical exercise, although that is a major part of it.Food, rest, good thoughts, friendship, and respect all add to a sense of well-being.For people who want to be coached in starting a new lifestyle that incorporates many of these aspects, there are those at UNHS who can guide an individual looking for this change or “new life.” With this assistance can come a feeling of renewal, a sense of control that gives health, strength, and peace for what will take place in a person’s future.


I am Perry Robinson my clans is Edge Water born for Nakaii’dine. I am from Pinon Arizona born and raised there. I finished high school at Intermountain H.S. in Brigham City Utah in 1974 went to school in Utah State University for a year. I got inducted into military. I was in Marines for 4 years. Worked in construction, as a Boilermaker and iron worker for some years. I slowly worked my way back into schools to get licensed in counseling grandfathered in and a license to do traditional counseling- ceremony. I worked for Navajo Nation behavioral health for 25 years as a traditional practitioner. Retired last year. Started working with UNHS. Now as traditional consultant- practitioner.


Many articles in this section were adapted from, a website for Native Youth by Native Youth