I make no bones about enjoying the conveniences of our modern age. As much as I esteem our beloved Grok figure, I wouldn’t opt to trade places with him. (All right, it might be fun for a day.) That said, I’ve always acknowledged that modern living comes with a price: persistent stress, rampant responsibilities, less sleep, less play, less sun, and novel environmental toxins. Pollution, in particular, is one of my central considerations in designing the Primal Blueprint well beyond a basic paleo model. Although we’re wholly Grok’s kin, let’s face it: we’re hardly in Paleolithic Kansas anymore.
Unlike some drawbacks to modern living, pollution (especially air pollution) is one downside that’s hard to avoid. Sure, you can live upwind from the industrial section of town, or you can settle in the country. Regardless, factories set up shop in new areas, highways are added to accommodate increasing sprawl, jets fly overhead, and crop dusters spread “drift” far beyond target fields. (And then there’s the next door neighbor’s daily chiminea ritual, stinky “vintage” truck, or perpetual tendency to spill gasoline in his garage while filling the lawn mower.) Not to be a killjoy, but very few of us live beyond air pollution’s reach.
Our concept of health only exists in opposition to its absence. Healthy is the default position. We’re not “supposed” to get strokes, coronary heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. Sure, a few people, here and there, are far more likely to suffer the ravages of the degenerative diseases of civilization, but the real numbers are inflated. For most of the population, we can avoid the worst of it, and if you spend a bit of time on MDA or any other ancestral online communities, you’ll see example after example of people taking charge of their health and experiencing newfound vibrancy. We’ve all gotta die someday, but we most assuredly do not have to die at 56 from a clogged artery.
But I cover longevity plenty. As you know, I’m also interested in increasing one’s enjoyment of life; I’m a big quality over quantity guy (both are good as long as the former is satisfied). And for my money, I can’t think of anything so central to our enjoyment of life as the ability move around pain free.
Truth be told, we humans are an eccentric lot. Healthy food, vigorous activity, sleep, sun and shelter represent basic necessities for living, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fully thriving. That’s been the Friday theme these last few weeks. We’re social animals, nature lovers, intellectual organisms, imaginative creatures. The evolved brain begs to be used, and the body is stressed – or at least falls short of optimal functioning – when the mind isn’t engaged. A couple weeks ago I wrote about the power of an enriched environment – how intellectual challenge literally boosts immune function. There’s more to this picture than the Sunday crossword, however. We evolved to be creative, artistic, inventive. Wouldn’t you know it, the natural impetus lingers to this day with practical – and sometimes dramatic – results for our physiological well-being.
The hangover is an interesting beast. Like Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and any other huge, hirsute crypto-hominid, nearly every culture and every nation has an extensive literature (whether it’s entombed in writing or not) on the subject of hangovers. After all, alcohol is the universal intoxicant, and hangovers are the inevitable consequence of overindulgence.
Or are they?
Mike, a reader, recently wrote to me with the tale of the missing hangover:
No claw-footed tub in the woods here. No Calgon fantasies for the frazzled mind or romantic shower under a waterfall. (Sorry to disappoint.) Think more science, less whimsy, but definite Primal roots. Forest bathing, as it has been dubbed, is actually a studied medical practice. In Japan, the research is spawning a whole new dimension of patient treatment called “forest therapy.”
Forests, like other wild settings, engage our senses in more subtle but evolutionarily familiar ways than our typical modern environments. Sounds in nature are quieter but more subtly layered. Our sight is more expansive. Our sense of touch, finer. Our smell, more acute. Surrounded by nature, our perception reorients to its default setting. As we’ve highlighted in the past, an increasing amount of research shows just how “natural” time in nature is for our physiological and psychological well-being. Exposure to green space offers protective factors against depression and anxiety and can help alleviate the symptoms of ADD. Instinctively, we know this and have likely experienced it. When we step outside our commotion-filled, asphalt-coated environments and truly inhabit a wild space, we’re more relaxed, more at peace. The mind finds quiet and the soul, release.
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