Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Know thyself.

"His straight and perfect figure, muscled as the best of the ancient Roman gladiators must have been muscled, and yet with the soft and sinuous curves of a Greek god, told at a glance the wondrous combination of enormous strength with suppleness and speed.  A personification, was Tarzan of the Apes, of the primitive man, the hunter, the warrior.  With the noble poise of his handsome head upon those broad shoulders, and the fire of life and intelligence in those fine, clear eyes, he might readily have typified some demigod of a wild and warlike bygone people of his ancient forest."
--from Tarzan of the Apes

When I was 4-years-old, my father bought a comic book for my older brother and I.  It was the first of what would become a vast collection, and I still have it, coverless, pages missing, tucked away carefully in a protective plastic bag.  On its yellowed pages can still be seen the exploits of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, as he hurls his mighty spear, swings on vines through the jungle canopy, swims through the rushing current of a wild African river, stands inside of and presses open the jaws of a monstrous aquatic dinosaur, and--of course--saves the lovely Ms. Jane Porter.  Pretty heady stuff for a little boy.

Who then could have guessed that, decades hence, I would still be inspired by it?  No, I'm not about to pilfer a butter knife from my mother's kitchen drawer and run around outdoors in my underwear.  I have my own knives, now.  But Tarzan--the primeval man, the forest god--who was drawn, I think, from the collective unconscious of humankind through the pen of Edgar Rice Burroughs, still rouses me to action, the victorious cry of the great bull-ape echoing loud and clear in my heart and soul.

From what deep, dark corner of our collective unconscious was this modern myth brought into the light?  As with many of the great questions of the ages, the answer to this one is, I think, simple.  Its wisdom, however, is not necessarily easy to implement or apply to our modern lives.  In a figurative sense, Tarzan is us, our ancestors, our primal selves, stripped of all the artificial conventions and restraints imposed upon us by what we deem to be "civilization."  It is the perfection of this simplicity, the echo of our own "inner Tarzan," which beckons us back to our original and natural state of being.  We all want to move as Tarzan moves, through the often challenging world in which we live, with confidence, power, ease, and grace.

It can be a tough paradigm to wrap one's head around, in a society as unhealthy as ours has become, but believe it or not, incredibly healthy physiques used to be the norm!  The quick, strong, supple frames of our pre-agricultural/pre-industrial ancestors were needed as vehicles for their burgeoning mental capacities.  Strengthened through the natural fuel and movement of their bodies--and the ingenious tools with which they eked a living out of a hostile and unforgiving environment--our ancient predecessors were possessed of an athletic prowess virtually unknown amongst the general population of today's world.

The staggering power and beauty of Primal Human.

Doesn't this seem counterintuitive?  With the advancements humankind has made over the eons since first swinging down out of the trees, shouldn't we be healthier and fitter than ever?  You'd think so, but in fact, in a dizzying variety of ways, the exact opposite is true.  The question therefore becomes, "What the heck happened, and how do we get back on track toward realizing and achieving our true genetic potential?"  The answer, happily, isn't really all that complicated.

About 10,000 years ago, the agricultural revolution began in Asia and near the Mediterranean region.  Between 4,000 and 8,000 years after that, the process of cultivating land and producing crops made its way into Europe.  Prior to this, during the 3 or 4 million years of the evolution of the hominid species, our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, adapted for survival on perilous savannahs and in treacherous jungle forests.  From our ability to walk upright, to our small stomachs and large brains, there have been no significant genetic or metabolic changes in the way our bodies were designed to function since before the advent of agriculture.

Fossil records demonstrate that, by far, the most robust humans ever to have lived were the hunter-gatherers who preceded our agricultural forebears.  Don't believe the myth that ancient man was small compared to the average person today.  Even archaic humans, whose bodily features were fully modern, were, on average, as large or larger than typical 21st century Americans, and built much more powerfully.  Consider, if you will, our genetic cousins (though not direct ancestors to any but a tiny percentage of humans alive today), the Neanderthals.  It is estimated that the typical Neanderthal man was about 4 times as strong as the average, modern, adult male.  Four times!  An ordinary man today can lift about 50 to 75 pounds overhead.  By comparison, the average Neanderthal man could have hoisted an incredible 200-300 pounds above his shaggy dome!

Interestingly, the development of these tremendous prehistoric bodies actually occurred before the more recent expansion of human brain size.  In other words, our amazing, adaptive bodies had to develop first, in order to serve as vehicles in which our advanced brains could survive and find purpose.  We needed the brawn first, to grow the brain later.  So, while we humans may prize our powers of intellect--and rightly so--the fact of the matter is that our capacity for complex thought is expressly designed to operate inside of a powerful, healthy body.

The really good news?  Genetically and physiologically, there is no reason that a modern human cannot be just as physically robust as his or her primeval progenitors.  Add to that the countless material advantages and luxuries enjoyed by people today (advanced medical technologies, abundant sources of food and clean water, improved clothing and shelter, the pronounced absence of hungry sabertooths wandering through neighborhoods), and one would think we really have it made, right?

Why, then, is the health of so many people in such a pathetic state today?  Surprisingly to many, agriculture itself is a big part of the problem.  Prior to the advent of deliberate crop cultivation, grains did not comprise any appreciable amount of the human diet.  Early humans were--and we still are--genetically adapted to subsist entirely on meat, fish, fowl, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.  As humankind learned to rely on a few cultivated grains for most of their caloric and nutritional needs, and as they traded the varied physical activities required to hunt and forage for the repetitive, daily grind of an agricultural (and later industrial) lifestyle, health, vigor, physical stature, and even brain capacity waned dramatically.  Fossil records clearly show that, concomitant with the agricultural revolution, there occurred a marked decline in the muscularity, stature, and brain size of our ancestors.  Since that time, there has been no large scale, cultural return to the original hunting and gathering lifestyle for which our bodies are evolved... and none appears to be forthcoming.

Most people today still rely on a few types of grains for the majority of their diet.  For a number of reasons to be discussed in the future, the ingestion of grains (a food type better suited to certain types of birds and rodents than to humans) results in a cascade of hormonal and metabolic processes within the body that have proven to be catastrophic for long-term health and well-being.  The final product of this unfortunate state of affairs is a world full of people whose bodies are woefully over-sugared, hyper-inflammatory, and at the same time, malnourished.

To make matters worse, when physical activity occurs, from factories to farms to fitness clubs, it is almost invariably of the monotonous, repetitive, body-grinding variety, as opposed to the varied-intensity/ varied-type activity patterns for which our bodies are adapted.  Rather than spending most of our waking hours walking--and occasionally sprinting, jumping, climbing, and lifting objects of various shapes, sizes, and weights--we tend to either do practically nothing at all, or to perform tasks (e.g., "work out") which are so frequent, repetitive, and unnatural as to wear out our bodies prematurely.

In short, the mass consumption of a few grain types, especially the highly refined sort eaten by most people today (to the veritable exclusion of fruits, vegetables, and good quality meat) has, combined with the average modern sedentary/ factory lifestyle, culminated in nearly all of the preventable ailments plaguing industrialized society today.  This is, of course, in addition to the habitual smoking of commercial tobacco... but that should also go without saying.  Add to this the deluge of man-made trans fats, artificial preservatives, colorings, sweeteners, pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, and other synthetic poisons found in most processed foods today--not to mention the myriad other environmental toxins to which we are incessantly exposed--and it's no wonder that the typical modern human is little more than a weak, pitiful shadow of its ancestral self.

Sounds pretty bleak, doesn't it?  Well, it doesn't have to be!  Remember, we are still, for all intents and purposes, no different than our long-distant, pre-agricultural progenitors.  We are still, genetically, our primal selves.  This writing is not, by any means, a call to forsake all of the technological advances humankind has made in recent history.  After all, our inventiveness and ability to reason is just one more of the incredible adaptive evolutionary gifts passed down to us from our ancestors.  Technology is the natural outgrowth of that adaptation.  By all means, take advantage of it, but try to avoid doing so at the cost of your own health or humanity, or at the cost of the well-being of our planet as a whole.

The goal of Evolutionary Power is not to see humankind regress to some sort of primitive, prehistoric lifestyle or state of being.  My chief aim is to help you assess your current state of fitness in terms of how the human body is designed to optimally exist, and to guide you toward the actualization of your body's ultimate genetic and evolutionary potential.

Evolutionary Power serves as a road map, the purpose of which is to lead you back, in terms of health and fitness, to the place from whence we all came.  It is your natural right to live a long, healthy, vigorous life, fueled by the types of food upon which the human body has evolved to thrive, and empowered by the types of activities it has evolved to perform.  The concepts described here will enable you to move through life with power and grace, unimpeded by the limitations of the typical, modern body suffered by so many people today, and the inhibited mind and spirit which that infirm body so often imprisons.

This is much more than "just another diet and exercise blog."  Evolutionary Power will call you back to your true nature.  It will show you the truth about what you are and what you are meant to be, and that truth will set you free.

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