I know it’s been too long since I’ve written to you.
I’ve been traveling and figuring things out lately, and haven’t sat down to write in a while. There’s lots I want to share with you. Here are several things I’ve been pondering, developing, and talking about with people around me. Most of them you’ve seen from my blog before, but wellness is never a one-time deal for me. Being healthy is about practice, trying, developing, and building layers.
These items mostly came out of traveling and being “on the road”, meaning no gym, no permanent home, limited resources for training and cooking. I hope you find this useful, whether or not you’re traveling. After all, I started a lot of these things while working in a corporate office and living in Los Angeles. So it’s all transferable. Here they are.
There’s a book I love called The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness, by Pema Chodron. It’s about the wisdom in accepting your circumstances, loving yourself, and not rebelling against who you are. The book is written by a Buddhist teacher, mostly for people seeking the philosophy and technique behind Zen meditation. I read this in college, and the book has carried over to all other aspects of my life. Including physical training.
One of the biggest downfalls of the fitness industry is that consumers are not encouraged to take things slow, to work on themselves gently, and to train for the long game. Trainers, coaches, supplement companies, and magazines are full of the notion that the body has to be broken to become better. It’s your body. You don’t have to break it, or suffer, to become stronger. That’s not how things work.
In the short run, you might get big muscles, snaky veins, and a six pack. I understand the need to have these things. It’s been pounded into our psyches by mass media, and it’s part of our primordial urge to be fit. But what about the long run? Will you be well, functional, pain free, and freely moving years, decades down the road? Do you care?
There is a way to be strong and to remain strong for the long game. And that way involves gentleness. It requires you to learn about your body in every possible way as you develop your wellness. Be gentle with your eating. Be gentle with your body, your moving, your training. Be gentle with your mind. This comes into play when you realize that you are not going to get some specific result immediately. Eating a salad today won’t make you skinny, lean, and virile tomorrow. And it doesn’t help to eliminate fats, proteins, and carbs from your diet. See how going rough leads you into a downward spiral?
Step back, make gentle pushes, observe results. Test yourself, but don’t break yourself. The object of the game is to grow, to learn, to be healthy, happy, and capable.
Feet have a structure and function that work only when they are unhindered. You have the ability to redevelop your foot structure, the right stance, the right walk, and the right movement patterns. It starts with taking off your shoes. Go barefoot at home, around the hood, and wherever you can in the outdoors. It’s just one of those things that gets easier the more you do it. So start tiny.
We will see many products hit the “barefoot” market. Shoes, sandals, socks, sports equipment, and hopefully even transportation that lets us be close to barefoot all day long. I think this is progress. However, these products do not make you barefoot. Simply using your bare feet is different. Barefoot cannot be replicated. A “barefoot running shoe” is not barefoot. It is a shoe.
Train barefoot. Do strength training without shoes or socks. You can do them all if you start from zero, go gently, and progress responsibly. I have done deadlifts, squats, kettlebell, and body weight exercises barefoot. Orthopedic insoles did not help me. I had prescription plastic insoles for most of my adolescent years, into college. The pain of walking, running, and standing in shoes went away like magic. But guess what the price was? My feet got flatter and weaker, more prone to strains, and less and less able to hold me up the way they are supposed to.
Then I started following Kelly Starrett, and shed the insole supports. I wore flat shoes instead. Then I wore huaraches. But nothing beat walking barefoot outside, running barefoot on the grass and sand, and lifting barefoot at the gym. These activities, over three years, rebuilt the shape and mechanism of my feet. I now have arches.
So this is where I would link you to a product that I used, but I can’t because there is no product. You just simply need to take off your shoes and socks. However, there is technique that you need to use for proper development. Just like with all other parts of your body, such as your knees, your back, and your shoulders, for example, feet have a correct position and movement pattern. Place your weight on the parts that are meant to hold weight: the sole, the outer blade, the balls of your feet, and the toes. You’ll see that your arch, or insole if you don’t yet have an arch, doesn’t have to touch the ground. You’ll feel that springiness in your step. Walking, running, jumping. Try them all barefoot.
Figure it out and rebuild yourself from the ground up. If you need coaching, I can help.
From five years of self experimentation, drinking butter coffee almost every morning, traveling and eating for optimal energy, and talking with others experimenting with eating more fat, I continue to find that “fat first” works. This means eating fat for the first meal of the day, whether that be in the morning or afternoon or night. It means eating fat before eating other foods during any meal, or at least at the same time. Try grass fed butter melted into rice. And “fat first” means making sure to eat good fats, from good sources. Why?
Because fat is filling, fat is the building block of cell membranes and your nervous system and your brain, and fat gives you energy. Eating good fat from healthy animals ensures that you get the nutrition your body and brain needs before you fill up on other things like starch. Eating fat first means you get satisfaction and feel fuller from it. It helps guide me in my meals, because as long as I eat good fats I know how much of other stuff to eat. I feel more balanced in my urge to eat rice, veggies, and meat when I am eating good fats. Don’t think I don’t eat carbs. I eat lots of carbs, because I need it for my body composition, level of training, and daily activity. But my eating is moderated by the fat I’m eating. I guess I can say that fat is my primary source of satiety and energy, and my starting point for measuring hunger and portions.
Here’s an example of how fat is my nutrition measuring tool: if I feel the munchies, cravings, or urge to eat dessert at night, despite having eaten dinner, I’ll rewind through the day to see how much fat I’ve eaten. Most times, I’ll realize I forgot to mix butter into my rice, or didn’t have my usual butter coffee, or didn’t get the chance to eat any good quality fat that day. If I can, I slap a slab of grass fed cow butter onto some sweet potato and have at it. Fat first.
Kids and perfect form
I am fascinated by kids who are allowed to develop physically without the restraints of bulky sneakers, cribs, seats, and overprotection. My friend lets his son walk, run, roam, climb, and play more than most parents I’ve seen. He also lets him do this barefoot, even outside. When shoes are necessary, they are soft, flat on the bottom, and flexible enough for the feet to do their natural job. The result is incredible.
My friend’s son is a dense-bodied mover, and he is able to hold his core rigid when he’s lifted off the ground, flipped overhead, and swung back down. He holds perfect spine alignment as he deadlifts a suitcase off the floor. This beloved mini-athlete sometimes gets into a yogic child pose, stretches out on his belly, and lifts his arms and legs off the floor in a reverse plank. It’s all play to him. And he’s barely a year and a half old.
I laugh and marvel at his feats of mobility and strength. At the same time, I feel excited about what this little kid represents. He shows me it’s possible to have a perfect squat as natural and easy as yawning. He proves to me that movements like the deadlift and positions like straight feet and straight spine in the squat are natural. It gives me an example to follow. Since the kid hasn’t been molded into cushy shoes, and since he hasn’t been confined to classroom chairs, his movements are intact. He pushes his limits all the time in the weight of the bins he lifts, the suitcases he pushes, and the stairs he climbs.
Doing these things is challenging in themselves, but doing them with minimal risk of injury and optimal strength is natural only because limitations are not yet put on our little friend. So what if you’re starting today, having already gone through the body-morphing gauntlet of “civilization”? You’re not alone. Modern life’s walls came up, boxed you into the appropriate shapes, and contracted your physical and spiritual expressions into the norms of the day.
It’s not about being a kid, or about glorifying childhood or youthfulness. No. Just look at the human form in its beginning stages, and you can find movement and position as it was meant to be. You can train your malleable body to obtain the strength, movement, and positions of human expression. The full squat, the unhindered overhead arms, the use of joint torque, and spine alignment are all obtainable with training and practice. Possessing natural physical expression and the strength to maintain it will free your mind and soul to build toward your greatest goals.