Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Healthy Living" - The Tenets (part 1)

I think this is a fairly important post in the still young "Healthy Living" series. When I decided I wanted to blog about this stuff, this post was what I saw as the cornerstone - a hopefully comprehensive list of the tenets around which I'd like to build a healthy lifestyle. So, without further ado...

(Actually, that's a lie. I think I'm going to split this up into two posts - this one will be about the two larger issues, and the next one will elaborate on more specific issues.)

Holistic approach - Above all, I think there has been an unfortunate downside of the emergence of science, which is that our logic has tended toward reductive rather than holistic thinking. We're told to throw a ball farther we should lift weights. We're instructed to avoid this or that nutrient (fat or salt or sugar). We're given drugs for any and all ailments.

This doesn't make any sense. You inhabit one body. Everything is connected. To some, this may sound like new age-y rubbish, but I imagine most people reading this generally agree. However, I want to take it further - I want to explore this link. My hypothesis is that it's extremely strong. By cultivating good habits in all the various spheres of life, I believe you can develop overall resilience and competence - physical, emotional, and otherwise.

What does this mean in reality? I think that, for example, if you sleep well, you're better at handling both a bad break up and a tough day at work, and you're quicker on your feet (again, both mentally and physically). Avoiding fast food probably improves your creativity or mood, in some way, and all sorts of other stuff that we don't see as intuitive today.

And I think we know this - our bodies tell us in their own way - but our science has convinced us otherwise, and our minds are too busy to hear the message. Which brings us to tenet #2:

Quieting of the mind - Until very recently, humans have had relatively few forms of entertainment. While this sounds awful to us, I'm guessing it wasn't so bad. People tend to view their experience relative to their surroundings, and it's hard to miss TV when it hasn't been invented yet.

And with this lack of distractions, premodern cultures had a much easier time turning off their brains by focusing on something simple. Almost every culture ritualized this process in some way: yoga, prayer, and meditation are just a few examples. The benefits of these activities are hard, if not impossible to quantify or even qualify - in the Zen tradition, for instance, you are actively told to not desire any particular outcome from your practice, so much so that desiring an outcome defeats the entire purpose of the meditation.

Think about how crazy that sounds. Any modern viewpoint would write such a mindset off on face. But doing so inherently blinds you to any potential benefits and wisdom that such a philosophy possesses.

To make this a little more credible, I will say somewhat paradoxically that this is based on personal experience - in the 2+ years I've been practicing Zazen (sitting meditation) with some degree of frequency (not to imply I have any degree of proficiency - I'm awful - but luckily that's not the point), I've certainly found it to have positive effects. The tradition's point refers to the intention of the process - you're not supposed to go into it or practice it with any "gaining idea" (reason for doing it).

So I intend to make this a strong tenet in the lifestyle redesign. While meditation or yoga are obvious examples of this, it by no means stops there. The idea is to focus on being in the moment - walks, runs, or games of catch can be very meditative and mind-quieting in nature, if approached with the correct mindset.

There you have it - two of the main points of what I'm trying to do. Take them for what you will. More to come - stay tuned.


  1. Your posts may get me back on track with yoga- my practice has lapsed in the last 1.5 years and I miss the holistic physical benefits as well as the opportunity to turn off my brain.

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