Katy knows that many of you listeners are working on cultivating behaviors, practices, and a community to support your health, especially when it comes to moving more - despite a culture that doesn’t seem to support your efforts. So Katy asked Pilar Gerasimo, award-winning health journalist, founding editor of Experience Life magazine, and author of a new book The Healthy Deviant: A Rule-Breaker’s Guide to Being Healthy in an Unhealthy World to talk to her about just that.
The definition of health is tricky but hopefully can agree on many elements of what it looks and feels like. On that note, in this episode, Katy and Pilar talk about why health is becoming more and more elusive and why our society is becoming synonymous with behaviors that lead to those deviations away from our physiological or biological needs that result in disease.
(time codes are approximate)
03:40 - The Healthy Deviant (Jump to section)
10:30 - Finding Purpose as a Healthy Deviant (Jump to section)
16:20 - Online and in-person communities (Jump to section)
19:50 - The Risk and Cost of being a Healthy Deviant and Doing it Well (Jump to section)
27:55:00 - How Did We Get to the Point Where What's Healthy Isn't Normal? (Jump to section)
35:55:00 - What about the Kids? (Jump to section)
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE SHOW
This is the Move Your DNA podcast, a show where movement science meets your everyday life. I’m Katy Bowman - biomechanist, author, and healthy deviant. All bodies are welcome here. Let’s get moving.
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So here is a question I think about a lot: What is health? Meaning, what is the definition, or the experience of health?
On one hand, the definition can be simple - “the state of being free from illness or injury.” In the Western world, disease is often defined as a deviation from some biological norm. This is a typical biomedical model where the norm is supposed to hold up across the human species for the most part. Meaning, it’s not believed to be influenced much by culture. It is influenced by culture, of course, but at the same time diabetes is diabetes. And there are many examples of diseases or illnesses we can all agree on.
In other cultures, the concept of health has more to do with relationships and fulfilling one’s role, like being able to get up or out and do what is required of you.
The Western understanding of culture is expanding - necessarily - to include the relationship one has with their community and with nature. Meaning, maybe health isn’t just a lack of a medical diagnosis. There are many people, maybe even you, who don’t feel well, who don’t feel healthy by their own understanding, and are, by all counts, free from disease and injury as measured by the system that is in charge of saying what constitutes a disease or injury.
One of my favorite cross-cultural statements explaining health comes from a paper titled: Roads to Health in Developing Countries: Understanding the Intersection of Culture and Healing. It says: "The most important attribute for which all mankind aspires is good health because it enables us to live, enjoy life, go to work, go to school, participate in sports, engage in hobbies, contribute to society, fulfill dreams, and undertake different forms of activities of daily living.”
So yes, the definition of health is tricky, but hopefully can agree on many elements of what it looks and feels like. So, on that note, today we are going to be talking about why health is becoming more and more elusive. Why our society is becoming synonymous with behaviors that lead to those deviations away from our physiological or biological needs that result in disease.
Now I know many of you listeners or transcript readers out there are working on cultivating behaviors, practices, and a community to deal with this issue, especially when it comes to moving more, despite a culture that doesn’t seem to support your efforts. It gets exhausting walking uphill all the time, both literally and metaphorically, doesn’t it? What can we do about that?
I thought I’d ask Pilar Gerasimo, award-winning health journalist, founding editor of Experience Life magazine, and author of a new book The Healthy Deviant: A Rule-Breaker’s Guide to Being Healthy in an Unhealthy World to talk to me just about that:
PILAR: Oh, Katy. I'm so happy to be here with you.
KATY: This is an interview that my husband really wanted me to do because he loved your book, The Healthy Deviant. And when we got your book, thank you for sending it, it came with a sticker which he proudly displays on his water bottle. And he definitely would identify as being a healthy deviant, but I want to just start there because deviant is a term - I'm more sensitive, I would say, around language, just writing a lot of books, and so deviant is often a term that feels pejorative.
KATY: Or is used in the pejorative. But I've also spent many years in math courses and it's also simply a mathematical term.
KATY: And I think that's how you're using it. So can we start by explaining what is a healthy deviant?
PILAR: Yeah absolutely. And I do think statistics are a great way of beginning because you mentioned mathematics and effectively a deviant is anyone that doesn't conform to the majority norm. And you're right, it has a negative connotation in our culture because historically we've used the term to apply to people who are doing things that we don't approve of. There are sexual deviants and criminal deviants. They're people that are potentially dangerous to us and dangerous to the values and manners that we hold dear. The reality though is that statistically speaking we're living in a culture where the things that pass for normal are really quite frightening in their own regard. And what I'm talking about is statistics like the fact that more than 50% of the US adult population has been diagnosed with at least one chronic illness. Or the fact that 70% of people are taking prescription drugs on a daily or near-daily basis. Or that 80% of US adults are not thriving mentally and emotionally. So we're already up into 20% of people, maybe, are doing ok. But the numbers get worse. And I introduce these in charts at the front of my book. Because until you see this visually, on paper, it's almost impossible to comprehend the impact of this. But 97% or more, 97.3% of US adults aren't practicing even the most basic fundamental norm-y healthy behaviors that you would need to practice to stay healthy and happy for the long haul. And these are not standards that, Katy, you and I would consider to be healthy standards. These are really kind of low-level standards - like observing something like a balanced diet as measured by the nutrition guidelines - the USDA nutrition guidelines which I'm sure neither you nor I are very big fans of. Maintaining a moderate amount of movement, like 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Not smoking. Maintaining a so-called healthy body composition which we can argue about because they measure by BMI. But effectively you're figuring 97.3% of people aren't practicing even those healthy behaviors much less worrying about anything like sleep, stress management, social support, and so on - those things that we know to be as important or more important than the things that they did consider in that statistic. Now, what that means, fundamentally, is that a single-digit percentage of US adults is potentially healthy, happy, and on track to stay that way by virtue of their basic habits. And I suspect the numbers are drastically lower if you then throw in some considerations like social support, and stress management, and sleep - my goodness - if you're not sleeping you can be doing all those things and still keel over pretty early. So I estimate that less than 1%, likely, of the US adult population, is currently reasonably healthy and on track to stay that way. And in that context, if you are choosing to be a healthy, happy person in a society that is producing those kinds of statistical results, you have to be deviating, constantly, from most of the norms and conventions that pass for normal. Because if you go along with the status quo, you're inevitably going to end up unhealthy, unhappy, and at danger for dying an uncomfortable and early death. Potentially more important than that, going back to the idea that deviance is a bad thing, we're also, it means we're living surrounded by people who are mostly unhealthy and unhappy. And living in communities, living in societies, where the vast majority of people are really in desperate need of more support than they're getting. And certainly, more support than the 1% can provide is really a recipe for large-scale social disaster. And I think that's some of what we've been seeing writ large in everything from violence to economic problems and issues with our health care system as revealed under pressure by the pandemic. So we could talk more about deviance but in essence, the dictionary definition is really just: a deviant is someone who defies norms and conventions that are approved of in their society that are considered normal. And I'm reclaiming the term healthy deviant to apply to any person who chooses to be healthier and happier even in the face of social resistance. And frankly, that's pretty much what we're facing right now as there's not a lot of support for healthy choices.
KATY: Yeah. Well, I often use the term counter-culture - you know movement is counter-culture. So this is essentially saying the same thing. And we have a lot of listeners who have been doing so many, we'll just call them counter-culture behaviors. You know, standing instead of sitting at a meeting or at an airport. Or just choosing to walk somewhere instead of accepting a ride. Choosing to wear weird-looking shoes...
KATY: ...there's so many different ways that people feel this resistance. It's not visible but it's the resistance to ideas. It's the resistance to the way that you should, you know, in air quotes, be behaving.
KATY: People are pushing through it. But I think you had brought up this idea of community. It would be so much easier to make choices that were better for us if there were other people around us making those same choices. So how do you guide people to the community that would make... I guess it wouldn't make being a healthy deviant easier, it would make them less of a healthy deviant.
KATY: I mean that's what happening, right? When you have more doing it your way you become less deviant in nature so ... what do we do?
PILAR: Yeah. That's right. The norm becomes the healthy norm and then within that smaller sanctum of support, you find yourself finding - you find yourself with social support rather than social resistance. And that is really the name of the game. Now, how to do it. Let me answer that in a slightly circuitous way because I think the first thing is that you have to accept yourself as a healthy deviant. And part of that means accepting that you're choosing to do this in the face of resistance. And sometimes even more so finding meaning in the resistance. That's really important because if you can't sustain a sense of purpose and meaning in your decision to be different from other people, even when you're surrounded by a small close-knit community, you're still going to feel beleaguered by the larger community looking down on you or making you feel less than or that you're weird. So I really think finding purpose in healthy deviance is the first step. It may not be even that you identify as a quote/unquote healthy deviant. Some people just never get comfortable with that word. And I'm not attached to labeling anybody anything. But recognizing that if your health and your happiness - for me health in general mental well-being are enmeshed. I know your philosophy is the same you can't disconnect them - but if your mental and physical health are important to you then choosing to live in ways that are different from other people needs to bring a kind of innate gratification. There has to be a bigger reason that you're doing this. To show up with your best gifts, to participate in changing the world for the better, for example. The whole last part of my book is called "Taking it to the Streets" and it's about the value of healthy deviants as a force for social change. A change for good in our shared communities. For a lot of people right now, I think we're so fed up with what we're seeing in the so-called normal world - what I call the unhealthy default reality - the reality where all of the unhealthy choices are easy and convenient and the healthy choices are difficult and socially awkward, are expensive, or inaccessible. Most of us are feeling so fed up with that that I think we can find some purpose. This is just plain wrong - this level of rebelliousness, for me, that comes up where I'm like, "I don't want to be part of that system." I don't want to be part of a system where consumerism runs everything and greed runs everything and I'm being fed all this stuff I don't want or need that's making me break down and making the people around me miserable. So I find a sense of purpose and in finding purpose I begin to find other people that share those values. And who are willing to adjust their lives in some sway, shape, or form whether it's by using their own steam to move around rather than relying on fossil fuels so much, whether that's eating foods in ways that connects them to their food shed - their foodways, their cultural preferences, their agricultural preferences. Whether they're finding purpose in family and friends and wanting to see the people around them thrive, knowing you can't control other people, you can only create environments where people thrive naturally. All of these things start to create healthy community by attracting people who share your values. And you being to find those people in places whether that's a local food coop or a farmer's market or yoga class or a biking coop or, you know, name the thing. You find your people doing the things that you love and sharing enthusiasm for the things that you value.
Now, I said this was a little circuitous because I want to go a tiny bit off this track and talk a little bit about the challenges of the communities that we are put into by default. This is part of the healthy default reality, as I call it, which is just again my name for our society. You begin, first of all, with a family of origin. And if you are connected still with your family, you're connected with a group of people who may or may not share your values. And that can be really hard because sometimes our parents, our grandparents, people who have experienced things we haven't bring us into households and into environments and family systems that are inherently unhealthy. And having to choose between leaving behind your family of origin or say your childhood friends in order to be healthy yourself can be an extremely painful, difficult thing to navigate. So I like to acknowledge that while we tend to celebrate the idea that you can quote/unquote I use this word with advisement that it's not a very - there’s problems with the word - but imperative to find your quote/unquote tribe which really kind of grew over the past decade. I think people recognized the difficulty of being healthy in an unhealthy world. That imperative is great. And it's also true that we still need to learn how to either navigate or in some cases avoid the circumstances we're put in with our own families or at our workplaces, where communities or societies create norms that we find very difficult to avoid. So one thing I really like to encourage people to do is think about how to build up resilience for living in unhealthy communities even as we are seeking out healthier communities of support - social support and environmental support which you've done beautifully, Katy. I know the people who tend to rotate around your community are people that are willing to defy unhealthy conventions and norms. We're getting rid of our furniture! We're doing this for fun! (laughs) So then what do you do when you still have to go home to visit your parents or to visit your sister and their family? I think that, to me, healthy deviance is a way of acknowledging I can't control every aspect of my community. But I can be moving my community in healthier directions by my own influence and preferences. By asking for what I want. And by choosing, seeking out communities where people, like me, likeminded, like valued people are gathering and noticing who I'm attracted to or interested in and whether we can be healthy deviants together which certainly makes it a whole lot easier.
KATY: Do you think people are using online communities more now to find those like-minded individuals. That's the first part. And then the second part of the question is, do you think, I mean there's got to be an element of support that that offers. But do you think it replaces our need for the in-person tangible version of the community as well?
PILAR: I'm gonna answer with yes and no. Yes, I do think online communities are making a very big impact in helping to connect people, helping people find each other. I have a healthy deviant Facebook group, for example, that has 2500 people in it, that often are giving each other shout-outs and finding, I think, gratification in sharing resources and learning things together and explaining what's working or not working for them and why. And I also have a group, a much smaller group, of about 100 people who are in my, I call it my healthy deviant view. Which is a year-round membership experience of learning, discovery, practice, growth, sharing. What happens in that group, even though it's online, is that we connect in zoom spaces that are meeting spaces where we see each other's faces and can hear each other in real-time. It's not exactly in person. But what I can tell you is that the difference between just having a group, you know, a kind of nameless, faceless Facebook group - where good things happen and there's community and it does count - versus the quality that happens when you can see and hear each other and maybe not touch each other but be in the space at the same time, empathetically listening, there's an incredible uptick in the level of meaning and connection and support that comes at that level. I think going to an actual in-person community, where you can quite literally smell and touch each other and feel the presence of someone's body language and sense their energy, the laughter in the space is so different when you're in human form. There's no doubt in my mind that that matters and it's important that we are able to hug and hold and touch and help each other. Move objects together. You know how there's nothing more gratifying than to make physical work with a bunch of people.
PILAR: We have projects here on our farm, for example, people don't know each other at all but they get together and move a pile of bricks from point a to point b and they're all best friends by the end. They're dirty and sweaty together. And I don't think there's really any replacement for that. From an evolutionary biology perspective, we developed our DNA in close connection with a small group of other people - hunter/gatherer reality. And I just think we're hungry for that and when we don't get it, as many of us have been missing out on over the course of the past couple of years thanks to the pandemic, we are deprived in some way. We're deficient of it. So I think some community is always better than no community. And I would pick an online community before I decided to try to go it alone for sure. But I really like having a wardrobe of choices and ways to connect. I think it's extremely important.
KATY: You had mentioned this first step of accepting your own deviance. And I would say that I struggle with that step. And maybe all of this, the podcast, the books, is because I would feel so much more comfortable if everyone else would just do the thing with me. I mean I do it not only for that element but I don't like making people feel uncomfortable. That has been with me from a very young age. Whether it was always there or a strategy for survival within my own family, which I can say it probably was. Making sure that I'm never offending anyone has a lot to do with my personal safety - or I perceive it has a lot to do with my personal safety. What is a good first step to - and I would say that, you noted this in your book, and I felt like, "Right, I'm so uncomfortable stating this clearly". Like I said, where my husband slapped it on his water bottle which he carries when he's walking barefoot into places that ...
PILAR: Oh my...
KATY: ... you know, and I was like I don't think that it's not beneficial, it's just that I am just - I feel all of the glances and all of the hate that can come with the difference. And my volume of hate coming towards me is so less risky than for other people who have even greater volumes of hate coming to them who would never consider healthy deviation behavior because they're already more at risk. And I'm thinking of like other marginalized groups. I could never even start by doing this because I feel so vulnerable. How, what is a good first step?
PILAR: Hmmm. Well, I think that awareness that it is scary is the first step. I mean, naming it and acknowledging - that there is a social risk and a social cost to being different. And that's part of the reason that people don't do it. I talk about that in the book because I think, you know, I open the book with this question of "how are you"? And we all know that the rhetorical question of how are you is answered with the answer "Fine". "I'm Fine". Or "Great".
KATY: We need a new question. What's the new question? I feel like since 2020 I refused to use that question because we need a new question. A new opener. You know another one is "What do you do?" Like that's another question that just needs to go. All right so...
PILAR: So true. Well, let's come back to that. Because I think that that's a great other social norm question.
PILAR: So, the reason I raise it though is that if we were to answer it in a different way, which is honestly, you know. "Well, here's actually how I'm doing." it would break down the social fabric and make us weird right from the get-go. So if you think about the fact that even answering the question, "How are you?" confronts us with a certain amount of social risk, when you get into things like wearing the wrong clothes, or having the wrong hair, or God forbid, choosing not to participate in something that everyone else is doing or eating or drinking differently, there is, I think, a justifiable level of angst and fear that comes from that. And if you come from an environment where you've already experienced rejection, prejudice, discrimination, hatred, being afraid because of your difference for some other reason, there's just a whole different set of layers of trauma around that that are very difficult to tell some other person, "Well, you should just get comfortable doing this."
PILAR: So beginning with the awareness that there is risk and cost is important. The second thing is radically altering your priority set around what healthy behaviors really are necessary and meaningful. By this I mean we've been educated to believe that nutrition and fitness, what you eat, and how you move are really the most important things. I think in this society the most important skill sets are really about reclaiming and maintaining your basic level of autonomy. Of what I call Mojo - the sense that you have a personal power, of being ok in your skin. Of not being in reaction and terrified all the time. Managing your mental state. Your mindset. Your emotional set. Now the practices I suggest for that are daily practices I call the renegade rituals. There are three of them, although there are many rituals but in the book, I talk about 3 fundamentally. I won't describe those practices right now because I want to finish my thought and we can come back to them. But the reasons to do those practices are not to burn calories or to get the right levels of macro-nutrients. The reason to do those practices are to step into a mindset where you can be conscious and where you can, even in the face of fear or anxiety, choose to make a decision that's in your own best interest. Now that sounds like kind of maybe a vague thing. So I want to put it in more specific terms. If I begin my day by looking at my cell phone, seeing something on Instagram that makes me feel badly about myself or it makes me convinced I should have something that I don't, or I see the news and I'm aware that people are being blown to smithereens somewhere or something terrible is about to happen, or I get obsessed about who has or has not liked my most recent feed, I have lost right from the very beginning my sense of connection with myself.
And so, from that point, just that very first point of the morning, my day is now off to the races and I'm responding to the agenda of a world out there. From that place, I am so vulnerable to other people's judgments, my projections about other people's judgments, my giving a crap about what other people think of me. And my own confidence in being able to be ok in the face of other people's judgments. I'm so down the road of my fear-based body-mind that I don't think I stand a chance of being able to resist the social pressures that are coming my way. So a lot of my philosophy is, if I am aware of the fact that doing this is going to be challenging. Doing this is not going to be the easiest sets of choices during the day, I begin with what I call a preemptive repair mindset, which is setting myself up to be able to persist even in the face of resistance. So when you know that about yourself, I'm a person who doesn't like to make other people uncomfortable, I'm a person that doesn't like the feeling of somebody's weird stares, even more so a reason to surround yourself with social support, to get healthy things going on from the first moment rather than being subjected to the outer influence of the world. And that brings us to the renegade rituals which are all simple, free, don't require special equipment, can be done anywhere by any person. Although you do need to safeguard some of your time and attention and energy around them. One more thing I'll say and then I want to throw the floor back to you. If you can imagine that as an adult you feel that way, that sense of like, "ugh, this is gonna be weird, I don't know if I want to put the sticker on my water bottle" remember that as children we are learning how to be acceptable people from the time that we are infants. And we pick up messages, subtle and overt, during the course of our lives that are thrown by media, by our family, by school, by books, by everything. And now 24 hours a day by social media and digital media. This is not the way that previous generations of human beings were raised. Yes, we were all raised with social mores and social manners and expectations of our community that were really oriented around survival and the well-being of a whole group of people, but this level of being on the alert for other people thinking you are weird, based almost entirely on social constructs that have nothing to do with survival. And in fact, those social constructs are driving us to do unhealthy things that are killing us, it's a really difficult thing to navigate unless you hold that amplified awareness. This isn't gonna kill me. It might make people look at me weird. I don't have to make other people uncomfortable. They're just gonna be uncomfortable. And I need to strategically prepare myself on a daily basis for going out and, if not doing battle, then doing the dance of being a healthy person in an unhealthy world.
KATY: Right. Well, another question, and you might not...this would just be your opinion because I don't even know if anyone knows the answer: The idea of health, as you sort of alluded to it ... the idea of measures to meet your physical needs. Let's just say your physical and emotional - mental needs. Being deviant's behavior, from someone who comes from a biological - lots of training in biology - I can't even wrap my head around it. I can't even wrap my head around it - and I think so much of what I do is because it's so clear how many behaviors are not good for us. So many of the things that we're talking about - even the most basic thing like you said - the most basic things of eating a well-balanced diet, getting enough rest, moving your body, at least minutes per day, without getting into the technical like what about this diet, what about this movement, we're not even addressing the things that we can all agree on... ALL. You know, like almost ubiquitous agreement. I guess ubiquitous isn't the right word - Unanimous. Almost unanimous agreement. Why? How did we get here? I know that's such a big question. But do you have... I have a hunch that it relates to - I mean I'm gonna say tech-nay. Technology but sort of advanced technologies. I don't even know if I can name it computer... anyway, what is your belief around it? Where do you see it stemming from?
PILAR: Oh I'm so glad you asked that question. It's such an important question. I want to first say there's, in my book, I chose to illustrate the book. I chose to make a lot of pictures to explain some of these things because I think in some ways the answers that are so obvious that they're in front of us be we can't hold them in our mind in words we need pictures to retain them. And I talk about the reason for it - the reason that we are so unhealthy and so unhappy and struggling to make healthy decisions and all of that. The second chapter of the book is called "Seeing the Unseeable". And I use the metaphor of The Matrix. The film The Matrix. Where Neo kind of wakes up in this world and realizes it's not what he thought. But he's been living in it a long time and not knowing. One of the problems is that the central factor that is responsible for our most pressing health problems is so big and so in our faces all of the time that it's just become largely invisible to us. And you exactly nailed it, Katy. That our most basic human needs are not being met during the course of our daily lives - what passes for normal daily life.
PILAR: Now I'll say that again because I'm gonna have to explain what I think and what probably scientifically is fundamentally, is demonstrable, that our most basic human needs are not being met during the course of what currently passes - currently passes - for normal daily life. How that happened is a 2.5 million-year-long story.
KATY: Right right.
PILAR: But it's told quite shortly in the chart in my book where I basically say dawn of man, 2.5 million years to the present. And it's basically a flat line for everything but the last 10,000 years since the agricultural revolution or around there where we began changing every aspect of our society in accordance with some fundamental changes primarily around domesticating plants and animals, having surpluses of things, specializing, being able to do that because we had these extra surplus things that we didn't have during the 2.5 million years in which all of our DNA was formed. So all of the DNA was formed by our ancestors in hunter-gatherer environments, suddenly met up with this abrupt change of about 10,000 years ago. And I know folks who have read David Graeber's book The Dawn of Everything will understand that this is not like it happened exactly at 10,000 years ago. But fundamentally that change of surplus, people moving into villages, then towns, then cities. Having more people together with more resources. Having a separation of haves and have nots, all of that's what led to the industrial revolution, which was like steam engines and mass printing and big cities and mass production of things including food, to then the technological revolution which you're referencing with computers and so on. And push-button appliances being convenient. And people having machines around them all the time. And being dependent increasingly on machines in order to get time back to be able to go interface with machines - we gave up all the manual tasks as you write about so beautifully in your work. And that's really all of that escalation of change technologically, environmentally, and socially intersected to produce the digital revolution as we know it today of about 25 years ago. I point out in my book that we are the first generation, right now, in the history of humanity, to be living lives anything like we are living now. And to have our body-minds subjected to conditions anything like the conditions that we're living in. That can't be said of our grandparents or our great-grandparents or their great-grandparents because there was enough similarity from generation to generation that there were people to show you how to live. And those were social norms and expectations for sure. But they functionally worked better generation to generation. Right now the way we're living is unprecedented and it's accelerating at a level that is - I do'nt know how survivable it is. We're gonna find out. But I have an illustration in my book I call the ape in the arcade. Again to try to visually explain what it's like for us - our body-minds. It's very much akin to what would happen if you would take a great ape, like a gorilla, out of a jungle, its natural environment, and throw them into a video game arcade. And suddenly be confronted with the discrepancy of everything that they were used to - their body-mind was used to - the sounds of the forest, the grubs, other apes, and being tossed into an arcade where there's blinging lights and flashing things asking us to respond to a machine's call. There's a concession stand with soda and popcorn and candy. There's a cash machine. There's a pill dispensing machine. And leave this poor ape to try to figure it out. That's really what we're being confronted with. Some version of that. If you think about it at a metabolic level, at a neurosynaptic level, at a digestive level, certainly psychologically, that level of chronic stress as the result of that separation - of not having our most basic needs met, while being confronted with an almost endless series of distractions, incursions, small scale traumas, death by a thousand cuts. And I think what we're seeing right now culturally, sociologically, is the result of that. A whole lot of people under chronic strain and stress without any of the supports that they need to tolerate even a basic level of angst or trouble. And what happens when you multiply that times billions of people is what you're seeing in the breakdown of our social fabric and our environment right now. Because let's not forget, the earth is our home. And it's in the same kind of distress we find ourselves right now with deleterious effects on us. So that's why.
KATY: There's a song by Father John Misty who is an indie singer-songwriter and he's got a lyric: From a cave to a city to a permanent party. Not bad for a race of demented monkeys. From a cave to a city to a permanent party. To me, that goes along with your ape in the arcade.
PILAR: (claps) Yes. Yes.
KATY: So, I have children. I have a 9 and a half-year-old and an 11-year-old. And I think of myself, you know certainly for the last 10,000 years we've been in tech-ny I think of just ... it's anything sort of assembled, you know. Spears. You've got Technay as a very broad category. But when we talk about what people are thinking about when they think about technology, it's been exponential. So it's just the rate of increase is increasing.
KATY: Very much accelerating. And I went into this latter stage of let's say smart technology, handheld technology, and then something different which would be constant entertainment. Which to me is more to do with what's on the devices, not the devices themselves. I think we really, to move forward, we need to start holding these things separately to differentiate the tool from the way that it's being used. Because there are tools and then there's a subcategory of tools called weapons.
KATY: Not all tools are weapons. So we have the potential to utilize the tools in a way that it's not weaponized. And I think as long as we conflate them it's going to be hard to understand them and have a good use.
KATY: And a good set of practices. But I came to smart technology as a physically set, I feel like my identities were known to me. 40-year-old, right? I had relationships. I had hobbies. I had - my brain had had a long time to sort of establish myself in a world without this. Now I don't think my children have an equal - they're not on equal footing any longer. They will not have that chance. And I can stand - or to me I feel like a salmon, I can swim upstream in very turbulent waters. And I understand that I have the capacity - I'm a very strong person. My desire to make people feel comfortable, it's just part of who I am. So I can work with it in a way that I also don't feel the need to engage in negative behaviors to make other people happy. So I have the strength - but I think that my strength comes from my background that I also think perhaps subconsciously got. I grew up in a family where the unhealthy behavior was so permanent and I felt like I was deviating somewhere underneath and going "I know that this isn't the right thing for me, but what do I know" besides this inkling of intuition or cellular rebellion. Who knows what it is? Mitochondrial rebellion.
PILAR: I love that.
KATY: Yeah. I was talking to the Force. And anyway, so what are ... I know that I can't swim upstream much longer, especially when children also still - I'll just talk about my children in their stage - that also in that ape-ness of them, in the part of their brain that is on track, is the time to move to the culture. This is the time ... it's not right for them to move towards me and my ideals. It's their time to get away from my ideals. And I'm just probably the reason we're talking right now is, do you have insights or tools? Because it's so much easier to do when you're an adult. It's not as easy to do when you're 12. Other than what makes it easier for me in my mind is to recognize this is also a natural state of things. And I can work on the in-person... and online communities are also not the right thing for them. That's not what they need at this time. They definitely need peer support and they need other groups of people doing the behaviors that they need on this cellular biological level. Any idea? Any - I know right? But I think that this is going to be the next big question: What about them? What about them who are the digital natives.
KATY: Who are entering this space without these other facets of themselves set. How do we go about ... what is community like in a time where community has changed definitions. Like what do we do? I don't expect you to have an answer but do you have a tidbit?
PILAR: Yeah. Well yes. I mean, I guess, I'd like to share just a little bit about my own experience growing up in an environment where weird was good. I was raised by counter-culture parents. In a reasonably healthy system. But the messages from them, this is in 1967 mind you when I was born, so this was at a time of immense cultural change for different reasons, but unprecedented in its own way with hippies and you know race riots and going to the moon and experimental drugs, sex, rock-n-roll. Everything was sort of up for grabs. And my parents' message was "be yourself. Let's look at the society and acknowledge it's crazy. And we can make our own sanity." So I grew up in an intentional community on an organic farm by people who are very intentional in choosing to reject the cultural norms of the time and to be together doing that. But rejecting consumerism. Rejecting mass everything. We didn't have a television. We barely had electricity. So I grew up in a very healthy environment. And again this is a story I tell in some depth in my book and I encourage people to go through - this would be a great thing for kids to do - actually go through the process of examining where they are on their own journey. And I provide a tool for this. It's called the Healthy Deviant Heroes Journey. But in my journey is what happened is that I grew up a reasonably healthy kid and then when I went to school and realized I was weird and that kids thought we were weird and therefore did not want to accept us or play with us or approve of us, I got busy getting normal real fast. And for me that was probably 8 or 9 years old when I really started what I call the compliance phase of my life. That phase, it is impossible I think, without incredibly great cost to yourself and some risk to your children to try to entirely isolate them from a society. We see what happens with that too.
KATY: Its own problem.
PILAR: It is its own problem. But what happened for me is I went radically downhill from there for quite some time. And compliance for me led to what I call darkness, which was this period of eventually feeling like I hit rock bottom. I didn't like my body. I didn't like my mind. I didn't know who I was. I was depressed, anxious, getting sick, just feeling kind of hopeless about life in general. And that rock bottom period, sort of hitting that low part of that U, for me was when I began questioning a lot. Now compliance for me came along with rejecting actively everything my parents had taught me. In fact, I was angry at my parents for not explaining to me the right way, the normal way to live. And for letting me go to school in homemade clothes and bringing my lunch in a used sandwich bag that had been recycled with...
KATY: Oh we did that. We did that all the time at our house too.
PILAR: Yeah. Why can't I have a normal bologna sandwich on white bread in this perfectly new ziplock bag? Well, my mom had a reason for every part of that and would tell you. But it was no good.
PILAR: So rejecting my parents, my form of rebellion, was getting normal. Which is kind of the opposite of what happens to a lot of kids. And I think your kids are probably gonna have that same thing of like, "C'mon Mom. Everybody has a ... C'mon mom everybody's doing this." and "If I don't have a phone, and video game set, and a virtual reality goggle set, no one's gonna like me. And I'm not going to be able to talk to the other kids." And they have a point. I mean there is some part of it which is like you're not going to be able to completely protect them from all of that. Or would you even want to? Because there are some - you know - I think this generation of kids is going to, like every other generation, find some very creative ways of putting their technological skills and sensibilities to use to help solve this current set of problems.
PILAR: So I don't think, like you said, the technology is necessarily the root evil...
PILAR: ...it's just an evolution of this thing. So what to do about it? Here's what I would say based on my experience of coming back from compliance, descent, darkness, into divergence, and then ultimately into my healthy deviance. Know that this is a predictable path. Understand that your children, for whatever reason, are probably going to, at some point, hit the version of bottom that for them is bottom. And they will be the only ones who will know or who will be willing to make the changes that get them out of that. But, or and, the things that you have presented them with and that they have experienced in their body-minds as the result of living healthy rhythms and patterns, having had the experience at some point in their early childhood of going to bed early and waking up with the sunrise or of moving their bodies and having the gratification of that, of learning basic skills - of how to make food and have fun without all of that stuff, even if at little tiny intervals, it does implant something that I think is an advantage that they can return to. Because when I did hit bottom and I decided to begin changing my life and I began -magic word- experimenting, I began discovering that a lot of what my parents had taught me was right and did work. And I had rejected it because I needed to reject it. But I now knew how to reembrace it much more easily than a lot of my friends who had never been exposed to that. And so I think while we can't control every minute of every day of every kid's life, I think teaching kids about how their body-minds work and the fact that they come from DNA that was formed over 2.5 million years is useful. I think letting them experiment with the arcade and recognizing that it's a predictable set of results that come from living in it. Namely feeling depressed and anxious, having weird fluctuations in their appetite or weight, having hormonal dysregulation, having strange nervous ticks or habits like picking at themselves. Looking around at our society and being able to point out, these are the natural results of living inside the arcade. And it doesn't mean that you can't ever be in the arcade but it means you do need to find ways of being either resilient within it or escaping at the intervals that are necessary for you to feel good about yourself and good in your own body-mind. And that, to me, is the art form I call healthy deviance and that you explore in your world, Katy. It's like how can we find ways in the context of our current unhealthy world to get slices of what we need to get our basic needs met so that we can survive long enough to figure out the solutions for this next generation and help them create enough baseline health and resilience to find their own way.
KATY: Well thank you for that. And fun fact, I actually took my kids to the arcade yesterday just for that reason. You know they want...
PILAR: The actual arcade?
KATY: The actual arcade because I was thinking, I used to love, I played PacMan... Ms. PacMan actually. Sorry.
PILAR: Me too.
KATY: Played Ms. PacMan for hours a week. But my version of playing Ms. PacMan included me saving up my quarters and then walking a mile down to the arcade... actually to the laundromat and then meeting my friends there and we'd all stand around and take turns playing. And the rest of the time we're chatting and then we leave and it's just a...
KATY: ...there's always a more nutrient-dense version, I would say. And that's been my solution is, what are the things we want? We want takies in our lunch? Great. Get your bag of takies and throw them in and they can nestle in amongst all the other vegetables that you actually love already - pack it with your artichokes. You know what I mean? So I am a fan of autonomy. I think that diet and exercise are great but I think that autonomy is tops. You know? And so I am very thankful that you came on to talk with me and I hope that everyone goes and gets a copy of Healthy Deviant in paperback. Is it an audiobook? Do you have an audiobook version?
PILAR: I do, I actually narrated the audiobook myself. It's fun. You can find a free sample of the first chapter and the introduction - the print book - available at my website which is healthydeviant.com. And there's also a link to the audiobook which has a sample of the introduction. And the introduction really gets into a lot of what we've been talking about and the fundamental principles of the book. And I do think, I encourage anybody who is interested in Healthy Deviance or the idea of that it is a skill set - to be a healthy person in an unhealthy world requires skills and strategies - will enjoy that. I'll say too, I do have a fun quiz called "Are you a healthy deviant" quiz that folks can take for free. I think I've given you a link too but it's also available right from that healthydeviant.com site. It just takes a couple minutes but it does give you a better idea of healthy deviance is about and where you fall currently on the healthy deviance spectrum. I suspect a lot of your listeners are hard-core healthy deviants.
KATY: As am I. I'm a confused healthy deviant who just still cannot understand how we got here. The steps.
KATY: But I'm gonna think about that and continue thinking about that.
PILAR: If I may say one more thing relative to the question you asked about how to raise children. And I mean we're all raising ourselves - we're like children in this society right now. As I said, there's nobody to teach us. We're just figuring it out as we go. I do think that having patience with ourselves and accepting something other than perfection is really important. It's like we are in a survival mode. And it's important to be gentle with ourselves and approve of our efforts and experiments along the way. It's gonna take a whole crew of us experimenting and sharing the best results of those experiments. So thank you for doing what you do too, Katy. I share your work with my healthy deviant community. I would love to have you on in my group and I know folks will have a lot of questions for you about how to move their DNA and other parts of themselves through this world of ours. And it's always such a privilege and pleasure to talk to you.
KATY: Any time. Any time. Thank you so much for coming on! I appreciate it.
PILAR: You bet.
Many thanks to Pilar for speaking with me today and to all of you for listening. I asked her afterward, to share her definition of health with me and she said that health, to her, is "a feeling of integrity and agreement within your body-mind that you have adequate energy, vitality, and resilience for your chosen life."
Thanks for listening, friends. It is my hope that this show, and really everything I put out, is landing at the intersection of many definitions of health - that yes, you get the movement your body needs. But that you're able to get it in a way that positively impacts your relationships with the other human and non-human entities that make up your life. I do hope, quite deeply, for better well-being for every body - including this body we all sit upon together.
Hey there. My name is Carla from Fredricksburg Texas. This has been Move Your DNA with Katy Bowman, a podcast about movement. Hopefully you find the general information in this podcast informative and helpful but it is not intended to replace medical advice and should not be used as such. Our theme music was performed by Dan MacCormick. This podcast is produced by Brock Armstrong. And the transcripts are done by Annette Yen. Find out more about Katy, her books, and her movement programs at NutritiousMovement.com
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