Once upon a time, we had it figured out. If you look around at the animal kingdom, they still do. Somehow as modern society developed, we left behind some of the best of our natural state of being. Don’t get me wrong, technology and modern advances have given us many things that improve life but they often take away some of what makes us human, sap our energy and leave us with a new problem of modernity.
Today, we eat “food” that is unrecognizable, by ingredient or design. We sit too long, stare at lights on a screen endlessly and practice poor posture while texting and miss noticing our environment. Often when we exercise we move in linear patterns that are more robotic than human, engaged on a machine inside a room that is conditioned to offset the natural conditions on the other side of the window.
Ahhh, aren’t we comfortable? Maybe. But are we living fully charged? Are we living better?
We think that technology, “adult behavior” and luxury will lead us to better lives and anything that is from the past, wild, childlike or lacks the sophistication of 21st-century design is an obstacle to being more.
Let’s look at some common items of modern life and examine how they’ve become a problem of modernity and could be used better.
Of all the following items, the chair, the TV, the shoe, the shower, and the bed, I believe we use them all too much except for the bed (at least, for its optimal functions).
Here are each item, why they are not serving us well and how we can improve this.
A Problem Of Modernity: The Objects
A problem of modernity: We might sit more than anything else we do. Whether that be driving, working, eating or relaxing, we find ourselves in some sort of chair. Dr. James Levine coined the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” a couple years ago. After many studies and years researching the problems associated with prolonged sitting, Levine wrote a book. In Get Up, he concludes
sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.
If you have to sit, you have to sit but there’s no reason you can’t take more breaks from sitting. Make a conscious effort to get up and move every 55 minutes at the longest. Set a timer if you need to. Go for a walk. Consider getting a standup desk, adjustable desk or active workstation.
For a more comprehensive look at sitting, sedentary lifestyles and lots of strategies to improve your health that transcend a trip to the gym, read my article, Move Beyond Exercise.
A problem of modernity: TV can offer great entertainment and catch us up on the events of the world but most programming is designed for the agenda of the network, to generate revenue and increase consumerism. We are usually pawns in this strategy. Often we are only vaguely aware of it. In fact, a significant solution is just being conscious of this.
Beyond the concern of being manipulated by others agenda, is the issue of being sedentary. This is similar to our chair problem. Yet this is also a problem because TV is not interactive. It reduces both activity and creativity by drawing us into a mode of still consumption. This can be exasperated by the carefully designed programs that push us to watch more and more.
Add commercials and psychologically, we are shifted away from true ourselves and into a stats for the Nielsen report.
Easy. Turn it off. Maybe, that’s too drastic for most. Reduce consumption. Pick quality over quantity. Get rid of commercials by either watching with a video recorder of some type, opting to use the internet to only watch what you want or favoring Netflix type of applications. Even then, ask yourself how what you watch and how much of you watch affects your mood, productivity, and outlook. If you are unhappy with the answer, make changes.
Try a book, a conversation, creating art, music or getting outside. It’ll probably be more rewarding. Consider a media detox and see how good you feel afterward. I wrote the Right Kind Of Detox all about this idea.
A problem of modernity: Today, with a little research and care, you can get a great bed. In fact, I believe we have better bed options than ever. Still, there are lots of poor beds and other issues with the environment around the bed that compromise your health.
Many mattresses are made with flame retardant chemicals which are endocrine disruptors and have been linked to a host of health issues including infertility, neurodevelopmental delays,1 reduced IQ and behavioral problems in children, and hormone disruptions.2
Besides the chemicals in mattresses and sometimes, bed frames, often people create an environment in the bedroom that is at odds with the two things a bed is really for, sleeping and sex. Yes, you can do both of these things elsewhere but if you want to maintain an environment that fosters good sleep hygiene and gets you in the mood, then keeping certain things out of the bedroom will go a long way to making this happen.
Too many people have and watch TV in their bedroom. The blue light that is emitted from the TV interrupts melatonin production and throws off our circadian rhythms. This results in poor quality and less sleep. Similarly, having light come into the room while you are sleeping interferes with the restorative potential of our rests.
In the same light (pun intended), keeping mobile devices, with wifi capabilities and blue light emissions, on and in the bedroom not only blocks good sleep but can be a real distraction to intimacy. Nothing says love like a couple both on their phones and in their own world (virtual world) next to each other in bed…sarcasm 😉
Firstly, get chemical-free sheets, pillow cases and strive to replace your mattress as well. We use Casper mattresses. It gets delivered right to your door. They let us try it for 100 days and return with no questions asked. So we bought 2. Still have them. Most comfortable mattress I’ve ever slept on and no nasty stuff in it. Here’s a coupon for $50 off (it has limited uses though).
Now, get up the courage to move that TV out. You can read a book or use audio tracks to help you fall asleep if you need to. Consider ways to block out all light and sound from the bedroom. You can read my Restorative Sleep Guide for lots of ideas.
As far as the other bedroom activity goes, ditching the mobile device in bed is a small price to pay for the benefits of healthy intimacy. If your willpower around the internet, Facebook and email are too limited, consider plugging your wifi modem into an outlet timer designed to go off a little before bedtime. This will get you to bed earlier and it’ll be enough of an inconvenience to reset the timer that you’re more likely to avoid doing it.
A problem of modernity: The human foot is an amazing mechanism of nature. Its exquisite design allows us to stand upright when other creatures are on all fours. For thousands of years, we did everything from running, balancing, jumping and climbing with just our bare feet.
A look at the history of shoes, reveals minimalistic design and a preference for bare feet. Alexander The Great’s army conquered a vast kingdom barefoot. The first marathoner in ancient Ancient Greece ran barefoot for 36 hours. In fact, all ancient Olympians competed barefoot and naked.
While we used shoes for warmth in certain climates and to protect against the hot ground, the invention of heels and the modern anatomy of the shoe is only a few hundred years old. It began with the need to look taller, for fashion and as a sign of nobility.
Certainly, some pursuits require a carefully designed shoe. But the fact that we wear them all the time, indoors and out, often with no function other than style has, according to a growing number of biomechanics experts, resulted in issues with the health of our feet, gait, balance, posture, and strength, just to name a few.
Without going really deep into it, our current daily habits have left us with a disadvantage compared to our resilient and highly capable barefoot or minimally shoed ancestors.
Consider dialing down the heels, and the fashionable footwear, at least, some of the time. Enjoy going barefoot and learn more about minimal footwear. You can start in the home and gradually move from there. In the summer, enjoy the feeling of the grass on your toes. Take a look at kids, they know what’s going on.
The value of being barefoot and escaping the cramped, unnatural designs of most shoes are extensive.
Look up Katy Bowman or Kelly Starrett. They both have a wealth of information about the ills of modern footwear and habits as well as the benefits of minimal footwear. They break it down a lot better than I can. Read Dr. Starrett’s, Ready To Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally and Becoming A Supple Leopard. Check out Bowman’s Whole Body Barefoot or anything else she’s written on getting back to natural movement.
A problem of modernity: There’s nothing wrong with a shower BUT… we have too many, that are too hot, with unclean water and combined with too many chemical-laden personal grooming products.
We have a natural balance of good bacteria on our skin that is beneficial in many ways. It aids in keeping our skin moist, intact and healthy. By washing excessively, we reduce our skin’s flora and this leads to a compromised state.
Add overly hot water for prolonged exposure that contains chemicals like chlorine and whatever else is coming out of your tap water and we start to not only change our skin’s microbiome but also absorb these things deeper into the body.
When you consider that our skin is our largest organ and becomes more porous when heated, then you get the idea that our shower water, our soap and shampoo are potentially all being soaked up.
Have you ever felt your skin after being in a pool with lots of chlorine?
Do you drink your tap water, unfiltered?
Do you recognize all the ingredients in your shower products?
Would you eat them?
You still can enjoy a nice hot shower but consider getting a filter on your shower head. You hair, skin and health will thank you.
If you really want to get back in touch with nature and enjoy the benefits of ancestral health, try a cold shower. Yiiikes! I know. No way!
(Disclaimer: it’s not for everyone… check with your physician if you have a serious underlying medical condition.)
Start small. Go for lukewarm then cool, then cold. Why do you say? Well, the benefits range from anti-inflammatory effects to immune boosting to testosterone enhancement to fat loss to mood elevation and more.3 Every shower doesn’t have to be cold but mixing it up has great value.
Consider the first shower. It was a waterfall. Hot? No. Awesome? Yes!
Now, consider a 100 years back or so. Or even other parts of the world. Heating water was always an effort. It took a long time and you couldn’t heat that much. Well, taking a page out of their book… at least, once in a while. If nothing else, it’ll help you appreciate the luxury of hot water on demand.
It will energize you and wake you up.
Living in the Pacific Northwest, I make a point of swimming in the ocean and it’s never warmer than 9°C or 48°F. I was in at the beginning of January when the air temperature was cooler than the water too. Invigorating! I feel all my cells come alive and I’m seriously elated afterward.
If you need more convincing, check out Wim Hof.
As far as body care products go, read the labels. Get informed. There’s a lot to know but don’t worry the Environmental Working Group (EWG) can aid in your buying decisions on body care products with their extensive database analysis.
There’re actually many modern advances that draw on ancestral wisdom solving many a problem of modernity. Things like shower filters, minimal footwear, active workstations, blackout blinds and more, can be dramatic game changers.
Moving Forward… Well
You might think I’m a Luddite. I don’t mind if you do. But I do use all of the items above and enjoy them. I just resist using them too much.
There was a time when balance might have come easier. Perhaps, I’m glorifying the past. Regardless, being conscious of the way we use technology and our environment can be empowering.
Let me leave you with a Robin Sharma quote I modified:
These objects of modernity are “great servants but terrible masters”. They will affect us for better or for worse depending on our awareness and consequently, our use.