In the depths of my back issues the chiropractor thought part of my problem had to do with the relative positioning of the left and right sides of my pelvis. The pelvis is not one solid piece, and the two sides can rotate with respect to each other. Every time I saw him he would note this and give me an adjustment.
Once I started feeling better and was developing a new exercise program for myself, I decided I wanted to incorporate some sprint work. I went to a soccer field to run 100 m sprints. I took a couple of warm-up laps, and then I hit the first all-out sprint. Here's where it gets strange. As I was running I felt this movement in my pelvis... a slip and then a catch between the two sides... like when you switch gears on a bicycle going up a hill. I thought, "God I hope I'm not screwing up my back". I continued the sprint session, and the next day my back felt... AWESOME!
So, what does this mean? I can't prove anything, but I wonder if there might be a self-corrective mechanism in sprinting. I talked with my chiropractor about it, and he alluded to the scene in Forrest Gump when, running for his life, Forrest shakes off the shackles of his leg braces - his body's attempt to re-establish its natural movement pattern. It makes sense from a survival perspective that our bodies would be able to correct imbalances through movement since there were no health practitioners in primal days. As for me, I'm not going to overthink it. I'm just gonna run with it.
My interest in minimalist shoes recently reached a tipping point, so I invested in a pair. Vibram is the most popular brand. They look like actual feet - a little too creepy for my taste. After some research I decided to go with TadeEvo. It's a company in Poland, and they make only one shoe. Now THAT'S focus! I liked their shoe because of the hyper-flexibility that mimics being barefoot.
If you recall, when Vibram first came out about seven years ago all these runners hopped on the bandwagon and promptly came down with foot injuries. So I took it slow - only wearing them on walks for the first couple of weeks. Gradually I started using them during weight training workouts. After about a month I gave them a whirl in high intensity workouts.
I like the shoes a lot. One thing I've noticed is that my knees feel a lot better. The theory is that going barefoot strengthens the kinetic feedback loop which brings about a more natural gait. These shoes have taught me that we are not meant to run on concrete. I can really feel the pounding that my feet take running on hard surfaces, so I do my sprint workouts on a grass field, and it's a lot of fun. Running on grass in these shoes makes me feel like a kid again.
Have you ever done something or reacted a certain way, and then said, "Why the fuck did I do that?". I'll tell you why - because your brain was designed 70,000 years ago to reward you for actions that increased your chances for survival or reproduction. It goes something like this. Every time you do something your brain asks itself, "Did what this fool just do increase our chances for survival or making children?". If the answer is yes, your brain releases some dopamine (the feel-good drug) as a reward.
This is why we pursue food, sex, and social status as if they were drugs. But the world has changed on us. We're chasing a dopamine high for things that don't necessarily improve our chances of survival. Back when getting enough food was a challenge it was beneficial to be chemically rewarded for eating, but now that it is overly abundant this mechanism leads to over-eating and chronic disease.
In tribal days, social status was important for finding a mate, but now even after finding a mate we're still stuck in the endless loop of trying to impress others on Instabrag and Facebook. The caveman in us is still running the race for survival when in reality we've already crossed the finish line.
Our brain was designed for our survival... not for our happiness. However, we were given a tool - consciousness. We can be aware of our nature and therefore seek to master these things that no longer serve us. Be master of your dopamine.
The other day I was listening to a podcast about artificial intelligence (AI). It looks like this stuff is no joke. It's coming, and it looks pretty big... tsunami big. Ironically, the turning point came when they figured out how to design a computer to mimic the way our brain works - a neural network. This approach allows a computer to program itself... to learn, essentially. This technology has been used to create software that performs real-time language translation. A task it can now perform faster and more accurately than any human translator.
Think about that for a minute. In one fell swoop there is no more need for human translators. That's a significant amount of jobs. Where will it all lead? As a good friend of mine (shout out, Kathy) used to say, "Who da fuck knows". Wanna hear the scary part? AI has reached the point where it can now design better computers than human engineers can. Machines making machines. Does that sound like Terminator to you?
To me, all this potential change reinforces the importance of being grounded with primal knowledge. We've already gone around the block with technology thinking we could design something superior to nature. Instead, we found poor health and chronic disease. The world may change, but our needs will stay the same - whole foods, moving well, sleep, mindfulness, and connection. Come with me if you want to live.
You probably know that about 66 million years ago a meteor struck the Yucatan peninsula kicking up a huge dust cloud that blocked the sun and led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. But did you know that this event also paved the way for us to inherit the earth? It's true. If that meteor hadn't flipped over the game board we never would have been able to get a start in this world.
Our species began about 200,000 years ago in Africa. What's interesting is that we stayed put in Africa for a long time... 130,000 years. That's a long damn time considering our restless nature. Don't you think? By that time (70,000 years ago) our numbers had dwindled to only about 2,000 people. We almost bit the big one. Then, all of a sudden, our fortunes changed. We migrated all over the freaking planet establishing magnificent civilizations everywhere we went.
Wanna know what changed our fortunes? Language happened. This enabled us to work together. Think about that. Being able to get along and cooperate saved our asses... literally. It's an awesome legacy and one that we should honor every day through kindness and compassion for all our brothers and sisters.
Water was a vexing issue for our ancestors. It was heavy and awkward to carry - no convenient containers except... their stomachs. So, upon waking they took a big, long draft from the nearby stream before heading out to hunt for the day.
Like other primal behaviors, there is wisdom in emulating this practice. Our bodies are accustomed to the rhythm of sleep followed by an influx of fresh water. While sleeping, our body is busy at the cellular level putting all the trash out onto the street for collection. Taking in a good amount of water (about 20 oz) allows all these toxins to be flushed out of our system. If we don't do this, our cells have to drag all those stinky garbage bags back into the house and wait for another opportunity to get rid of them. Yuck.
Bodybuilders follow this practice as do the Japanese. I find that interesting because I respect both groups - one for their attitude of self-experimentation in finding things that just work, and the other for the wisdom of their traditions. So, wake up, drink water, and go.
Remember this classic episode? Of course, what George really meant was, "It's not me... It's YOU". If you struggle with weight, it's not you. It's the world you live in. You are an incredibly advanced biochemical machine optimized through millions of years with tools that maximize your ability to survive. You are a marvel.
One of the tools you were endowed with is something called optimum foraging strategy. You are hard-wired to seek out food with the highest caloric payload while minimizing the effort used to obtain it. This strategy guided us through the harshest of environments allowing us to provide for ourselves and our children.
However, you have been dropped into a world that turns everything on its head. The conditions have become too favorable for acquiring calories. You are perfect... but the world you live in is not perfect for you anymore. So, take the emotion out of it. There is nothing wrong with you. The challenge is simply to develop an understanding of your hard-wired instincts so that you can create a personal environment conducive to maintaining your health and reaching your fitness goals. I'm not saying it's easy, but I am saying there is absolutely no reason for feelings of guilt.
I was chatting with a fellow at my gym the other day. In his early twenties he spent time in a village in Africa where there was no running water nor electricity. He noticed a couple of things. First, when the sun went down... they went down. When the sun rose the following morning, these guys were stoked and ready to start the day. Hunting, fishing, and food gathering were daily activities. My friend was struck by how easily they were able to pick up stones that he struggled with. And this guy is one of the strongest dudes at my gym!
Every villager was lean - no exceptions. Somebody in my line of work would go broke. The women's menstrual cycles were in sync not only as a group, but also with the moon. I don't have a guess as to the scientific explanation for this, but it shows how in-tune with nature we are capable of being.
Our challenge is to be healthy (and happy) in a modern world far removed from the one in which we once thrived. We're slowly learning that we can't simply opt out of nature.
Here’s something that you probably don't think about, yet you do it every day... and it’s pretty important. Usually we’re focused on what we’re putting into our bodies, but today let’s talk about what’s coming out... or rather how it's coming out. Toilets are designed much like chairs with a 90-degree seated position. However, our bodies are designed to squat during elimination. There is a muscle that loops around the colon that acts like a noose. When we squat this muscle relaxes to give the colon a nice, straight shot to the endzone. TOUCHDOWN... spike the ball... celebration dance! On the other hand, in the seated position things are a little bit... constrained. As you can imagine, a lifetime of restricting the works down there is not going to be good for business. Enter the Squatty Potty.
You could go DIY, but this product is nice because it tucks away underneath the bowl when not in use. Go for the 9" height model to maximize your squat depth. And here's the best part. They make a great gift. I'm serious. Last Christmas everybody on my list got one. It's something they'll appreciate... every day.
One of the central ideas of ancestral health is that if it's a behavior we engaged in back when the primordial soup was still bubbling... it likely stimulates an adaptation in us that is beneficial. So kick off those Nike, Adidas, or... Louis Vuitton, and let's get down to business.
Your feet are a marvel of muscles and sensors (proprioceptors) that not only keep you upright, but provide feedback on the terrain you're moving across. Imagine how it would feel to wear a pair of rubber gloves all day... and not surgical gloves. I'm talking those clunky, yellow dishwashing gloves your grandmother used. You could still function, but it would greatly diminish your dexterity and the quality of your sensual experience. The information from the sensors in your feet trains your gait and foot strike which impacts the ankles, knees, hips, and back. The more that data path is open, the better integrated your movement patterns will be. That translates into less aches and pains.
There's also a more subtle benefit to walking barefoot (earthing). The earth is a ground - a source of negative ions. Being in contact with the earth allows your body to exchange positive ions for negative ones which provides an antioxidant effect. That's right - not all antioxidants come from food. This likely explains why studies have shown earthing to have a positive impact on sleep and lowering stress levels.