Showing posts with label Science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Science. Show all posts

A New Look! Re-wilding Our Language.

"I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news."

                                                                   "John Muir"

Every now and then a word creeps into our language and begins to replicate like a fungus, invading every available corner of our consciousness. The word takes on a life of its own and begins to infect our conversations and weaken our powers. One such word is wellness.

The word itself can be traced back to the 1950's. In the beginning, it was proposed as a push-back against Western medicine and its mechanical approach to the human body. Critics declared that "health is more than the absence of disease" and advanced a new concept that was supposed to be more complete and holistic. Health just wasn't good enough anymore.

But as popular as it has become, wellness is a weak concept with no significant history. It can be traced back a few decades at most and even at that, it doesn't have much substance to draw on. No wonder people are confused: Is it now possible to be well but not healthy? Or healthy but not well? Why muddy the waters with conflicting concepts? What exactly is wrong with the word health anyway?

In fact, health has great merit and substance. Everyone understands what it means: doctors, veterinarians, therapists, trainers and lay people alike. And health has a immense, colorful history, full of drama, struggle and sacrifice. From ancient shamans to Hippocrates and Galen to Joseph Lister, Louis Pasteur, William Harvey and Jonas Salk, the history of health and medicine reads like one of the greatest stories ever told.

The problem with the wellness meme is that it's become weak, pale, thin and flabby. It has no claws, no teeth, no bone and no blood. It's sterile, corporate and lifeless. Even worse, wellness has now been watered down and repackaged into a marketing pitch, a glossy layer that's added onto a vast range of products and services. No one really knows what wellness is, but it has a certain look and feel that can be readily hawked to consumers. Slender, smiling, Photoshopped models may look well, but they sure aren't real.

And so the time has come to trash the word wellness and replace it with the word wildness. The beauty of wildness is that it has a deep and powerful history that puts us back into community with all the other creatures of the earth. It's a powerful antidote to the domestication that pulls so many of us into the pit of sedentary living and ill-health.

Wellness is bland, indoor language, but as we all know, people are spending too much time indoors as it is. In contrasttook, wildness is a vibrant outdoor word, one that conjures up associations with seasons, textures, wind, water, animals and vistas. The word resonates with our innate sense of biophilia, our inborn desire to associate with living things.

We can feel our wildness at a deeply cellular level; it's our original, Paleolithic nature. In contrast, wellness feels like nothing at all. It doesn't inspire our spirit, our passions or our connection with the living world. When was the last time you saw a powerful, healthy animal in a natural outdoor setting and exclaimed "Wow, that animal looks really well"?


Wildness has heart and spirit, guts and gonads. It's vibrantly alive and unpredictable; when pushed, it might well push back. It's got Africa in it; it connects deeply into human and animal history, into the very spirit of the biosphere. Wildness is exciting, risky, dangerous, exuberant and in turn, highly erotic. In contrast, wellness is dull and sexually tepid. Do you really want to sleep with someone who is merely well, or would you rather sleep with someone whose heart and body is on fire, surging with animal spirits and ready to pounce?

Wellness is a low bar that demands little in the way of commitment or risk. In contrast, wildness is an aspiration to merge with the totality of the biosphere and the spirit of every animal that has ever lived. Wellness is simply a state of being OK, but wildness is the feeling of being outrageously alive. It's what we feel in the midst of a really challenging outdoor workout, when all our juices are flowing. It's what we feel when our hearts are pounding, our blood is surging, our muscles are quivering -when we want to quit, but we really want more. This is the feeling that keeps us coming back, over and over again.

And it's not just about the experience of physical power in movement and exercise; when the action is over, the wild animal relaxes completely, into a deep state of quiet, ease, healing and rejuvenation. This wild cycle of activity and rest is millions of years old and extremely effective. In other words, wildness works.

So I say to hell with well. I want to be a vital, powerful, loving and exuberant force of nature, a good animal. The time has come to expunge the word wellness from our conversations about the body. This means re-thinking every program, every practice and every curriculum that's based on this flabby, pathetic word. Most importantly, it's time to eliminate the phrase health and wellness from our dialogue. At best, it's redundant; at worst, it's nonsensical. Instead, we ought to replace it with health and wildness. This phrase will bring some life back into our practices and our programs. It will remind us of our animal nature and the original source of our health. Like it or not, our health comes from our wildness. We can live without wellness, but once we give up on wildness, it's the beginning of the end.


Are You A Genius Or You A Complete Bozo.

Life is short, the Art is long, opportunity fleeting, experience delusive, judgment difficult.
                                                             "Hippocrates"

In 1983, American psychologist Howard Gardner famously speculated that people have more than one kind of intelligence. In his classic book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Gardner identified 7 forms of intelligence: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily -kinesthetic, interpersonal, and naturalistic. He later suggested that existential and moral intelligence might also make the list.

Gardener's theory was interesting in its own right, but it also gives us a platform for further speculation. Might there be other forms of intelligence that go beyond Gardner's original list? In particular, health advocates might be inclined to wonder if there's such a thing as lifestyle intelligence or lifestyle IQ. Many of us have been coming to grips with public health problems of the modern age: lifestyle disease and diseased lifestyles are epidemic. And if there's such a thing as lifestyle intelligence, we might even imagine that some of our friends and colleagues are lifestyle geniuses while others are lifestyle bozos.

Of course, we are quick to jump to cartoons. Many of us will simply assume that the lifestyle genius eats all the right foods, does all the right exercises, follows all the best stress-relieving practices and lives according to the latest discoveries of health science. The lifestyle bozo on the other hand, eats a diet of junk food, lays around on the couch for months at a time, stresses about everything and generally ignores the state of his body. But as we'll see, it's not so simple. The fundamental problem of human experience and lifestyle is that the world moves. Seasons change, people come and go, jobs change, bodies transform, values and priorities shift. Our lives are intrinsically chaotic; no person inhabits the same river twice. This is why rigid formulas and recipes for healthy living tend to be ineffective, impractical and even irrelevant. This is also why lifestyle intelligence - the application of wisdom and judgment in the face of dynamic conditions - is such a vital aptitude.

With this in mind, consider the lives of two characters. On the one hand, Bob is a lifestyle bozo. He happens to be in pretty good shape at the moment; he's muscular and fit, but as you'll see, his condition is not sustainable. Bob is obsessive about his sports, his health and his fitness. He works out on a precisely periodized schedule, maximized and optimized to his individual chronobiology and epigenetics. He researches, plans and organizes every detail of his exercise and diet regimen. He counts his miles, his reps, his laps, his carbs and his protein. He's got a before-workout meal and an after-workout meal. He checks his heart rate several times each day, logs his sleep and tracks it all with a FitBit. He makes damn sure that nothing interferes with his optimized way of life. For Bob, it's all about sticking with Plan A.
                                                                             
For Bob, all goes well until his idealized, utopian program comes into contact with the dynamism of real world. When conditions threaten his perfect plan, Bob becomes stressed, angry, unhappy and boorish. He tries to force conditions back into whatever box he thinks they belong. In the process, he creates friction between himself and the world. He just can't cope with any kind of sub-optimal training environment or sub-optimal nutritional conditions. He's highly adapted to his training regimen, but he's not adaptable to change. His body may well be strong, but his lifestyle is brittle, fragile and maladaptive. His long-term prognosis is not good.

In contrast, Julie is a lifestyle genius. She's active and she cares about her health, but she cares about other things too. She knows the basic fundamentals of health, diet and exercise, but she knows that life is messy and that compromise is essential. In practice, Julie is a lifestyle opportunist. She makes good choices and prefers the healthy path, but she's not surprised when circumstances change. Instead of resisting conditions, she makes the most of what's she's got. For diet and nutrition, she follows an 80-20 program. That is, she's attentive to high-quality food 80% of the time, but she's not a zealot about it. She favors nutritious foods, but she's not about to let a little bit of gluten ruin her day either.

Likewise, if she misses a workout, it's not a catastrophe. She trusts her body to take care of itself. If a class is cancelled or it rains on her outdoor workout, she finds some other kind of movement to keep her body happy. In general, Julie has a great relationship with ambiguity and has no problem with Plan B or C or D. Frustrations and complications are not enemies to be vanquished; they are the very stuff of life. She's fluid.

Julie's lifestyle intelligence and adaptability reminds us of a practice called bricolage. This French word refers to the act of creating from a diverse range of available things. The bricoler isn't locked in to any one set of materials, tools or methods. Rather, she uses whatever she's got on hand to create the effect she's looking for. Scraps of this or that, spare parts, stray bits of material, odd moments in time; it's all potentially useful. Instead of waiting around for the perfect conditions, she uses whatever she's got to make her body happy.

This is the vital difference. Lifestyle intelligence isn't really about the particulars of diet and exercise. Rather, it's about creating health out of whatever conditions we encounter. Sure, our health tends to improve when we choose good food and good moves, but this is only a starting point. Life is always throwing monkey wrenches into our schedules and our plans. We can fight back against this fact or we can practice some improvision. Ultimately, health is a series of judgment calls; the sooner we get that through our heads, the better.