Way back in 2008, I revealed the foundation underpinning the Primal Blueprint: the 10 Primal Laws. These behaviors and environmental influences comprised the daily lives of our ancestors for hundreds of thousands of years and continue to shape our collective genomes today. Even if you haven’t read the book, definitive guide, or seen the laws before, they should look pretty familiar. Most everything I write about on this blog and in my books uses them as touchstone. Much changes, but everything stays the same:
If you follow those 10 foundational laws, you’ll be setting yourself up for a healthy, vibrant life. But what else is there? What were the honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut? In no particular order, here are several additional lifestyle behaviors that are central to my life and were a big part of our ancestors’:
Sorry, cat people. I love cats, and they can certainly provide companionship and free vermin extermination, but we simply don’t share as extensive an evolutionary history with cats as we do with dogs. That’s probably why dogs can judge a person’s emotional state from their facial expression, notice when you’re smiling, and perceive whether we’re happy or disgusted. When you gaze into your dog’s eyes, you’re both getting hit with oxytocin. That’s how deep the bond runs. I don’t know about you, but I’d be careful about severing that bond, or never having it at all. It seems to be intrinsic and essential.
Plus, on the purely utilitarian tip, dog ownership is linked to increased physical activity (dog’s gotta walk!).
Owning a dog isn’t for everyone. You need the time and compulsion to exercise them, feed them, and love them. But the cool thing about a dog is that they have a nearly limitless capacity to love. If your best friend has a dog, chances are that dog loves and respects you. So if you’re not a dog owner yourself, find a way to spend time with them. Volunteer at a shelter. Be a foster parent to dogs in need of permanent homes. Or just find a cool dog park and go hang out every once in awhile.
Go camping on a clear night away from urban light pollution, look upward, and be amazed. Now realize that for hundreds of thousands of years of human prehistory, that’s what we saw every time we looked up at the sky at night. Entire galaxies. Impossible numbers of stars. Constellations so distinct that you finally understand what those ancient Greeks were talking about. That’s the backdrop of ancestral chill-out time. That, the company we kept, and the fire flickering before us were the nighttime entertainment.
I don’t pretend to star gaze as often as I’d like. Malibu is remoter than you might think, but our proximity to one of the world’s most sprawling metropolises reduces visibility. For most, stargazing means something entirely different in LA County. But when I get to do it, when I’m camping with the family or on a snowboarding trip or anywhere at all that allows unfettered visual access to the stars, I take advantage. And I come away feeling humbled. How can a person maintain a large unwieldy ego in the presence of such immensity and eternity?
I’ve extolled the extensive virtues of green spaces, particularly in the context of city living. It’s become quite clear than spending time in nature isn’t optional, it’s essential. Simply being, let alone living, near green space has a number of physiological and psychological benefits:
Check the post linked above for 13 more proven benefits. Overall, nature is simply relaxing, beautiful, and a great place to exercise. Trails just ask to be run upon, trees silently implore you to climb them, and beaches are always requesting that people sprint all over them. Plus, it’s where we come from. Nature is the human constant. It’s our “normal.” Cities, towering skyscrapers, walls, fences, concrete covering everything within five miles? That’s the aberration. Going for a hike in the forest is going home.
Side note: By “green space,” I mean anything where nature pervades: parks, forests, marshes, swamps, beaches, deserts, gardens. It needn’t actually be green.
As I’ve written before, humans have an interesting connection to water. Sure, we need to drink it, and thirst’ll kill us before hunger. Sure, lots of delicious goodies reside in water, and the ever-important long chain omega-3 fats that may have facilitated rapid brain expansion are found almost exclusively in water-dwelling creatures like fish and shellfish. But it goes way deeper than that. Emerging evidence confirms our deep connection to the deep blue, finding that “blue space” improves well-being, reduces anxiety and depression, and can even improve resistance to cancer and other degenerative diseases (PDF).
So find a river, lake, or pond (preferably one not frequented by incontinent waterfowl) and hop in. Go to the beach and take a dip. You don’t even have get wet. Kayaking, standup paddling, surfing (just don’t fall!), or any other type of self-propelled water vehicle are valid ways to visit the water. Pools are great (especially if they’re salt water; I use mine frequently) and certainly convenient, but there’s something about swimming in clean, natural water that can’t be beat.
I’ll also tack on the importance of consuming mineral water. It’s likely that early humans got a significant amount of essential minerals from the water they drank. My favorite is Gerolsteiner, out of Germany. Tons of calcium and magnesium and a perfect amount of carbonation. Just check the label for mineral content; some “mineral waters” have shockingly low levels.
We spend so much of our time these days huddled over a desk or smartphone, staring into a screen 8-12 inches from our faces, for hours upon hours on end. It’s objectively terrible for our posture (unless we take pains to constantly remind ourselves to sit and stand correctly) and I’d argue that along with lack of sun exposure it contributes to the degeneration of our eyesight.
Plus, as with the star gazing, looking far off into the distance realigns what actually matters. Every time I spend an hour watching the sun dip down below the waves, often with Carrie and/or Buddha (my lab) and Shanti (my goldendoodle), I am refreshed. It’s not scientific, and there are certainly confounding variables (the beach, the wife, the dogs), but man if every little thing I was worrying so much about didn’t seem smaller and less important after watching a ball of galactic fire turn the sky crimson from 93 million miles away.
It doesn’t really matter what form you consume: movies, television, books, comics, podcasts, public radio. What’s important — and, I think, essential to being human — is the consumption of stories, tales, yarns, legends, myths, and literature. There’s a reason why stories resonate with us, why the best way to change minds or hearts is to tell them a story. That’s how we passed the time for thousands of years before TV, radio, or even the written word. That’s why politicians tell stories in speeches (because sticking to facts and statistics will only reveal their ineptitude and corruption). It’s why anecdotes, even if they come from anonymous commenters on Internet message boards, are often more convincing than objective scientific studies. It’s why we’re liable to binge watch TV shows as our life crumbles around us.
Stories are how humans relay experiences, convey lessons, entertain friends, make important points, and explain otherwise confusing concepts. If you can’t tell good ones — it takes a gift, in my experience — listening (or reading/watching/etc) is just as valid. Not everyone is a writer or crier or storyteller. And that’s okay. That’s human.
This’ll be one of those dreaded “just-so stories” upon which the skeptics like to claim the entirety of ancestral health rests. So what?
As long as humans have controlled fire, they’ve sat around it at night. For warmth and illumination or to cook. Or for entertainment and to ward off insects and animals. Many a long comfortable silence was spent staring into the dancing flames. And sure enough, modern research confirms that campfires induce the relaxation response, biasing us toward the parasympathetic nervous system, lowering blood pressure, and making us more social with our companions.
Side note: Fireplaces should work, too.
This means cultivating a skill, a quality, or a craft that others find useful. It could be cooking (people need to eat), or writing (people need to read and learn), or massage (people have stiff/sore tissues), or skateboarding (people need to be amazed), or fixing cars (people’s cars need to run), or carpentry (people need roofs over their heads). It can be literally anything fitting the criteria. Learn to do something that others would or do find useful.
Are these essential Primal laws? For me, they are. For you, perhaps not. But I’m confident adhering to most of these Laws would benefit your lives, too. Campfires? Skill development? Walks in the forest? Refreshing swims in the ocean? A fluffy friendly dog? What’s not to love?
I’m incredibly curious to hear your feedback. Do any of these honorable mentions deserve full Primal Law status? Which do not?
That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading!
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