The Human Predicament
DISCLAIMER: This a paraphrasing of Frank Forencich's ideas and is meant with the upmost respect. It is best to seek his work directly via his website or various books such as Beautiful Practice for his original intent.
It is a challenge to live in the modern world. When it comes to improving the health of the modern human, it is imperative to set the context. In order to understand our situation and make actual sustainable changes - whether it's common goals such as losing weight / body fat, gaining muscle, getting fitter, stronger and moving well, eating correctly or reducing the stresses in our lives - it is essential to look at the big picture.
The Big Picture
Look at the people around you. The bodies and behaviour - what do you see? Just from looking on the surface, it doesn't take an expert to notice that something is up. Something is wrong with the average person. People don't look that healthy or happy, they have their heads down with defeated postures, almost zombie like. There is a general, palpable physical unhappiness. When you look a little deeper you realise the majority of us are stressed and suffering from an ever growing list of lifestyle diseases: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, and suicide. Pyscho-spiritual afflictions such as depression are epidemic across the planet. By 2020 depression will be the second leading cause of disability, epidemics of attention disorders, pain killer addictions. We are the most advanced we have ever been in human history, yet we have no apparent solution to this "crisis".
“Conventional” approaches aren’t working and we are disconnected from our bodies and our world. There is plenty of information out there about the modern human condition but understanding is not enough - there has to be a doing, an experience. Words are great, but there must be engagement. Many of us are "information rich, but experience poor". We set out to help you take a big picture approach, not just to movement but the key fundamentals to make a change to your body, your health and each other.
Our bodies are ancient... well Paleo!
Our bodies are ancient, millions of years old. Everything about our design has come about from interacting with the natural world - a contrast to today's modern environment. There is great insight to be learned from this evolutionary heritage. In essence how we have evolved into the species we are today is down to exposure. Exposure was health promoting during the Palaeolithic period, and we've lost that exposure and adversity which promotes health as the body adapts and achieves. Paleo is actually defined as "old" or "ancient", not the limited perception for most people today of just being about food, and at a stretch, movement. It's interesting that in reality it's usage is very confining in its meaning.
We are currently living in a "mismatch" between our ancient human bodies and the conditions of our modern world. We feel out of place because we really are out of place. The mismatch, as coined by Frank Forencich, describes the alien environment we have created for ourselves and now exist in, so radically different to our evolutionary beginnings:
- Security - We have built up our world so much we have the illusion of security through buildings or insurance which is unprecedented. Paleo life had no illusion of security - you would witness animals and tribe members dying, and you would have no illusion that this would happen to you. Now when people die, we aren't prepared and have enormous stress.
- Physical - we have built dwellings and structures to insulate ourselves from the natural world. This physically different way of living has forced us into sedentary living. Sitting has it's pathology, and all this computer work leads to virtual disintegration of a living experience, which is profoundly disturbing.
- Circadian disturbance - our experience of light and dark runs our physiology which is ancient, and that of all life. Most ignore this biological clock and disturb it with artificial light being too prevalent in our lives. "Healthy" sleeping patterns are rare and our timings are often alien.
- Alien nutritional environment - this is more than a glut of refined carbs / sugars, trans fats and salt. Our nutritional environment is alien in terms of geographical ease - no wide spread of food and lack of connection with food origin, makes an excess of consumption far too easy. When you are in the supermarket you condense 10,000 sq foot of habitat into a tiny "dangerous" place.
- Alien bacterial environment - we share billions of bacteria and in a natural environment you come into contact with dirt and bacteria which is health promoting. The modern world is sanitised often to our detriment.
- Alien social environment - we no longer live in tribes of 150 people, which is what our brains are wired for. We now have tiny real groups and masses of virtual groups on social media - a poor substitute for real positive social engagement, and our brains are not adapted.
- Alien sensory - our entire history our sensory experience was tactile - barefoot, skin exposed, a lot of knowledge in that tactile experience. Now it's irrelevant because everything is plastic and smooth and heat controlled dwellings. We cover our feet with proprioception blinding shoes and do not make contact to the natural world with our skin, we are hyper-visual staring at blue-lit screens and no longer panoramic, scoping our environment. Our vision is rectangle. Alien noise - it is rarely dead quiet and we have constant noise pollution.
- Hyper-normal stimuli - food products loaded with over the top sensation that anything you'd find in a normal natural environment seems bland. Super Sweet, Super sour, super abnormal.
- Temporal environment - no free time or everyone is always in a rush. We'd hunt and then hang out and have hours of free time once upon a time. Now we living in temporal poverty and fear - "I have no time"!
- Cognitive alien environment - cognitive overload - planning, sorting, worrying, thinking all the time.
- Stress - we would have had acute stressors contrasted with deep rest - e.g. An attack from a predator would usually have one of two outcomes - you die or you survive, make it back home, live to tell the tale/ relax and the stress goes away. Modern stress is chronic. Constantly under attack but with no quick resolution - days, weeks, decades at a time, our modern often unnamable predator simple toys with us denying a "quick death".
Our mismatch works in tandem with the narrative that the world is doomed, from global warming to war and famine - of course I am not suggesting these are not true, but I believe we are not designed to constantly be made aware of this by manipulative media outlets on such a large and regular scale - in your face all the time is unhealthy. No wonder people are stressed if all you ever hear is bad news you can do nothing about to change.
Before this, our biggest challenge was exposure, then agriculture happened and we were challenged by diseases, which we conquered. in the last 100 years - it's lifestyle that is the biggest challenge to health! lots of experts have opinions on what to do but really, we have no experience to draw upon to deal with this challenge and tell us how to live. Our predicament of Lifestyle diseases are unique.
It's not all doom and gloom
But! It is a mistake to blame the modern world for all your ailments. This can only lead to a bitter victim mentality, cynicism, depression and denial of responsibility for one's own health. The modern world is not the enemy. We must not over-romanticise the past. The modern world has some great health promoting aspects. Don't set up an adversarial relationship between paleo and modern because it will cause you more stress. It is challenging, but it is an exciting time to live with some amazing discoveries, developments and stories of inspiration to tell. Meditation, neurosciences, teaching, coaching - stories of growth and education are around us every day.
Special mention to Frank Forencich. I have used his words and inspiration and any similarity is meant with the upmost respect.