Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Stop 'Getting Through'!

[Originally published in Can-Fit-Pro, Jan/Feb issue 2010]

By Cliff Harvey

Just as I begin to tap away on my keyboard for this piece I feel a growing rumbling in my stomach…
It has been a few hours since my first meal of the day and it is probably about time to eat again…
But I have to finish this article! So I guess I’ll just ‘get through’ this until I finish and then I’ll have something to eat…

WRONG! (Note to self: “smack yourself on the back of the hand, go and eat something and think about what you’ve done…”) Please excuse me while I go and eat!

Ok so I’m back after having had a hearty meal of grass fed organic steak, wild organic rice and organic salad greens. I feel better, more balanced, less on the wire and really glad that I didn’t just ‘get through’.

A symptom of our modern lifestyle and our addiction to rushing, movement and constant activity is our seemingly constant desire to ‘get through’ tasks and activities we are involved in.
When we seek to simply ‘get through’ tasks we become overly focused on an indeterminate future that we think will be more agreeable than the present in some way. This can lead to us constantly looking forward into the future and creating a fantasy of what it will be like without ever really appreciating the present moment.

On a physiological level it also often encourages us to ignore the subtle signals from our body telling us what we need, and what we need to be doing.

I see this in practice in several common scenarios:
Here are just a couple of examples of how we seek to ‘just get through’…

I used myself in a hypothetical situation to introduce this article. I was beginning a task that I had outlined as being ‘mission critical’ for my day, but as I began I realized it was time to eat (because my body was telling me so!) I see this situation time and time again in my nutrition practice where people do not listen to their bodies but instead say to themselves “Oh I’ll just get through this…and then I’ll have something to eat…”
The problem with doing this is that as soon as we say ‘I’ll just get through this’ and we subvert our natural instinct to eat, we are telling our bodies “I NEED to get this done!” in other words it becomes a survival imperative.
When faced with a task necessary for survival our bodies will produce stimulatory hormones (norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine) to allow us to remain alert and active and to encourage continued physical performance and mental acuity. They also act as appetite suppressants.
Have you ever noticed that when you continue to work, in spite of being hungry that you stop being hungry? Well that’s the reason why.

This can continue for some time and I’m sure you all would have noticed how when you get into this state you can work for hours on end and simply ‘forget’ to eat.
BUT – when you get a chance to relax what happens?
You crave everything under the sun! You have been through a period of deprivation and your body, once the perceived ‘threat’ is gone wants to restock and it wants to do it by elevating blood glucose rapidly (by eating sugar or highly processed carbohydrates) and by eating the most calories possible (fat). This is what many people experience when they get home after work, having not eaten well during the day…and this is the reason there is a line up for donuts at the Tim Horton’s located under my office at around 3pm!

When we tell our bodies to just ‘get through’ it responds as if we are in danger. I mean really, why on earth would we not eat food when we are hungry? Surely we must a) be out of food and need to go out hunting and gathering or b) about to be attacked by a saber toothed tiger!
We can see then why this response is so very valuable…
You don’t want to be eaten by a saber toothed tiger now do you?

However in the modern world we tend towards overusing this ‘fight or flight’ response and as a result are overly stressed. Acute stress is something the body can deal with well (running away from a predator, chasing down game etc) but it needs to be in small doses and for tasks that are able to be completed and then put aside and alternated with periods of rest.
Chronic stress is when we are constantly utilizing this stress response, and this is what we tend to do in the modern world – we beat ourselves up with too many perceived survival imperatives without listening to the signals our body is giving us.

I see this exemplified particularly in two other major habits that people have nowadays:
1) Caffeine use and 2) ‘Snacks’…

I want to say firmly that I am not ‘against’ coffee. In fact I love the stuff…but because I do I need to make sure that I do not over use it. And unfortunately over use it we do…
Caffeine is the world’s most used drug. In fact the total world consumption of caffeine equates to 70mg (approx 2 cups of tea or a shot and a half of Arabic espresso) per day for every man, woman and child on the planeti! In North America up to 90% of the population ingest caffeine daily at an average of 200mg-280mg!
This to me is chronic use. Coffee can give performance benefits and it has many healthful properties (providing certain beneficial alkaline compounds and antioxidants to name a few) but it also provides the stimulatory response that we all tend to over utilize. The reality is that most North Americans are tired and exhausted and we subvert what we need to be doing by taking stimulants to just ‘get us through’ our days.

If we are tired what should we do? – have a nap? (or even better re-evaluate our sleep routine, diet and lifestyle habits so that we are more rested and have better energy reserve)...OR gulp down an enormous coffee? The answer by now should be obvious.

Snacking is good right?
I’m not so sure. I am a fan of eating frequent meals but too often snacks are seen simply as a means by which we ‘get through’ until our next proper meal.
When this happens we tend to overeat at the larger meals and under eat at snack time. This serves to provide big rises and falls in blood glucose (causing poor energy and potential for fat gain) but also rises and falls in blood protein levels that negatively affect protein synthesis and thus muscle retention, metabolic rate and repair from training. Not to mention the fact that many ‘snack’ foods are fairly nutritionally devoid.

Snacking also promotes ‘eating on the run’ something I encourage my clients to never do. It is much better from a digestive standpoint to stop, sit down and eat a meal (which helps encourage more effective peristalsis and motility as well as gastric and digestive enzyme efficacy), and it really doesn’t take a lot of time to do this. In fact I have measured time and efficiency of stopping and being total and present in the act of eating vs. eating in front of the computer and trying to ‘multitask’ (by doing emails or other tasks) and it is actually MORE time effective to do one thing well at a time than trying to do more than that.

By eating frequent balanced, quality meals as compared to a few big meals separated by ‘snacks’ we help to break the cycle of ‘getting through’ plus we provide more consistent nutrition and ‘nutrient density’ to help us perform (and look!) better.

Stop ‘getting through’..
…and start listening to your body. It will tell us most, if not all, that we need to know…if we only listen.
Our bodies are not a ‘machine’ that we can afford to run into the ground through future focused ‘getting through’ patterns. It is a vibrant collection of interdependent cells with independent and collective consciousness.
By honouring this wonderful community we honour ourselves!

‘When you’re hungry - eat, when you’re tired – sleep’
Buddhist Proverb

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Barefoot Earth Drumming....Addendum....

Part 1 of "Barefoot Earth Drumming" created quite a stir!
And it also got my wheels of thought turning too....

A few things that I didn't mention in Part 1:

Soft Walking
I have noticed when I am walking barefoot (which is mot of the time!) I walk more softly. You can't be slamming your feet with wanton abandon into the pavement, and so you tread more lightly upon this earth...and what better metaphor for a life of conservation and charity could there be!
So many concepts are framed in words and then the real context of those words is quickly forgotten. The feeling that we have in the 'pit of our stomach' is really in the pit of our stomach! Being grounded really does mean being in contact (and connection) with our mother Earth...and walking softly is something that we do physically and philosophically, and just as mind and body cannot be separated neither can the morphology of words with society, culture and action...

Mindful Walking
In Chapter 4 of Choosing You! I mention several 'active' mindfulness meditations. One of which is mindful walking, an ancient practice. Walking barefoot to my mind is that much more mindful! You are aware of the sensation of your feet carrying you forward and of the texture and the tiny undulations of the Earth. You become immersed in walking, often to the point that Cliff ceases to exist and there is simply the 'flow of walking'!

As well as becoming more mindful of the act of walking, and the feelings and sensations associated with that, in walking barefoot we are also forced to be more aware of our surroundings. We pick a path more appropriately, avoiding sharp objects and pitfalls. I have noticed that in a very real and primal way this 'wakes me up' and allows a sense of calm attention and focus which so often in our world of alternating sensory deprivation and overstimulation is lacking...

I was stopped by a man yesterday who was taken aback by the fact that I was walking barefoot and was fascinated by my explanation of the potential total health benefits of it. He had obviously never thought of doing this as a physical practice and even less as a spiritual one. He left me with the parting words "Well good luck to you young man - perhaps this will catch on..."
To which I replied "You know what? I hope it will!"

What do you think?
Will it catch on?
Do you think that you might be prepared to beat the Earth drum?
Let me know your comments, concerns and feel free to share your experiences!

I'm sure there will be more to come....

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Barefoot Earth Drumming....

A funny thing happened the other day....
I was walking home from a great training session at the gym, and when I was nearly home I passed a group of construction workers...As I walked past, their amusement which had been plainly evident only moments before, now broke into laughs as one of them said "We've all had nights like that!" to which I replied "I guess it's just what I do bro!"

Was I doing the 'walk of shame'?...And why the heck wasn't I wearing any shoes!? (The reason why they thought I had had one crazy night!)

The reality is and was (like most things in my life) that it wasn't by accident and was certainly no misfortune that I wasn't wearing shoes. You see not wearing shoes is one of those things that I 'just do bro!'

For many, many years I have done a lot of walking barefoot. I have considered that this is the healthiest, happiest way to walk. I also – to the chagrin of several podiatrist, therapist and physio friends of mine – think that many of the problems we have with our feet, many of the reasons that we have problems throughout the body is because we wear shoes all the time!

In his fantastic book The Brain that Changes Itself Dr Norman Doidge alludes to at least one situation arising from reliance on shoes - and that is that the loss of balance many people experience as they age cannot be accounted for solely by degeneration of the vestibular apparatus (our inner ear mechanism that lets us know what's up and what's down!) but also stems from the reduction in proprioception and the 'sensory amnesia' that we experience as a result of 'dumming' the mechanorecepetors of the soles of our feet by wearing shoes all the time and by constantly having heavy cushioning on our feet when we are performing activity.

In fact Dr Craig Richards of the University of Newcastle in Australia, published a paper in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluding that after extensive research, he couldn't find any evidence that running shoes made you less prone to injury. He invited shoe manufacturers to respond if they did hold such evidence. None did...

Recently there has been an increased awareness of the detriment that we do to our feet and to our systemic structural integrity by wearing shoes. This has come part and parcel with an awareness of our primal basis of health, and that while we often think we know better than mother nature, there are real and tangible reasons why we have, over millenia taken on this form
[More references available at the Society for Barefoot Living website]

More important for me though than the physical, is the sprituality of barefoot walking.

I had wandered down to the beach from my house (only a few blocks away) in my jandals (flip flops for you North Americans and thongs for you Aussies!) and on hitting the beach had kicked them off and began to walk through the sand, feeling it with my toes, scrunching it with them and letting it dance playfully over the tops of my feet as I kicked my feet throygh the fine grains with glee. When I'm on the sand, or when I'm feeling mud squiah up between my toes I feel grounded. There is not better way to put it, and like so many other words that we have in language for 'feelings' it is no coincidence that we have chosen that word: grounded, to denote how we feel when we are at peace and connected with the world around us.
After strolling along the beach and around on the grass for a while I realised that I had to get home and change for a meeting. So I 'hit the pavement' and as I plodded home barefoot I found myself in a state of peace that I often do when 'mindful walking'. The vibrations of your feet hitting the earth seem to reverberate up through your body, realigning your prana, your 'chi' and restoring vitality... And this peace became profound to the point that I felt enwrapped in the earth itself and as my feet pounded on the pavement, with the sun on my face I had a moment of bliss when the earth became a giant drum and I was playing it's skin with my feet. I had but one thought of drumming the earth drum. It felt natural, primal, shamanic and so very, very connective.

I used to enjoy walking barefoot...
I did it as a child. I think in New Zealand for whatever reason it's just something that perhaps we do more of than in other places.
Here in my new home of Vancouver I'll be honest...people seem to think that I am CRAZY when they see me plodding around barefoot. I get all sorts of comments, ranging from “You do know it's still winter right?!” to “You're not wearing any shoes!” - And by the way thanks for that last comment...I think if I hadn't realised that I wasn't wearing any shoes you could justifiably call me crazy.

[I guess I kind of like being a little out of the norm too....challenging peoples perceptions has always been a bit of a hobby of mine!]

Now I adore my barefoot walks and drumming the earths skin. It is centring, grounding and wonderfully releasing.

I will be running several spiritual workshops and discussion groups throughout the summer that will start with a barefoot walk followed by food, drinks and a workshop/discussion group! Come and join the fun...and in the meantime get out and drum earths skin!

For more information about how you can choose to create the life of your dreams right now check out:

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