Building A Body-Friendly World
An improved civilization can happen only if human beings admit what they truly are.
The Design Of Human Reality
Design is fundamentally and always about the human body. Design is about what the body sees, what the body feels, and what the body thinks.
The human body is the physical substrate of human existence. The human body is the foundation of consciousness, feeling, and thinking – it is the foundation of mind and spirit. Without the human body, none of these other aspects of human reality could be.
Out Of Touch
Unfortunately, in an era where a large amount of health and physical fitness information flourishes, we are a civilization sorely out of touch with the realities of our anatomical and physiological bodies. Body ignorance—as revealed by daily patterns of behavior and design—causes all manner of societal disharmonies. Among these disharmonies are illness, crime, overpopulation, pollution, clutter, and urban sprawl.
“Fitness” Is A Failing Concept
For twenty years, I instructed people in the physical maintenance of their bodies. I practiced, preached and taught health, physical fitness and dance. In effect, I was a body designer. I eventually realized, however, that the dominant design of civilization disables even the most dedicated attempts to make people’s lives better. I realized that basic principles of human well-being fail, because human beings fail to incorporate these principles into all the following aspects of their lives:
- building architecture,
- business practices,
- educational priorities,
- city planning,
- environmental design.
All these things currently are in conflict with the human body.
On one hand, I have seen a massive information campaign to educate people in the proper practices of a “fit” lifestyle. On the other hand, I have witnessed a simultaneous mass of obstacles in the path of putting this information into daily practice. Today I continue to see the current design of modern civilization forever defeating a fit lifestyle.
Human beings who conceive of health ideals are NOT physically enabling these health ideals in the tangible substance of the world around them. “Fitness”, thus, has become a failing concept for the majority of people who have tried to embrace it.
Twenty years after starting my fitness quest, obesity statistics have gotten worse. The low percentage of people fully committed to maintaining their bodies has stayed the same. Childhood obesity has gotten worse. Morbid obesity has gotten worse. Work practices have gotten more stressful. People devote even less time to focusing on their health. Smoking behavior has NOT changed significantly. Excessive drug and alcohol use are more widespread than ever. In fact, prescription drug use is a ridiculously common practice, because pill popping outpaces body nurturing.
Even during my most fertile years as a fitness/dance instructor, I remember observing some people occasionally standing outside a health club smoking. I remember students routinely smoking underneath a “School Of Nursing” sign at a major university. I remember people thinking that they could atone for their bodily abuses by cramming their good intentions into only an hour a day, three times a week at the gym.
These people were under the influence of a far greater design than my instruction. They were victims of a body unfriendly world.
Why We Are Failing
The human body inhabits physical structures. The human body inhabits patterns of daily activity. We put ourselves into containers, both in the form of material compartments and in the form of physical activities or postures.
Roads, workspaces, landscapes and visual images shape the human body every second of every hour of every day. These are the overriding designs that collectively sculpt a human life and personal sense of self. If these designs are not in sync, if these designs do not echo one another, and if these designs do not connect with one another by way of a cultural philosophy, then dysfunction occurs. If these designs do not follow from a primary concern for physical well being, then bodies remain fragmented from their own, visceral, day-to-day, physical needs. Lofty concepts flourish amid false bodily percepts. Mind and body remain separated, and this separation perpetuates a mass failure to honor and sustain what we really are.
Visual Evidence Of A Body Unfriendly World
Strip malls still abound. These box-like buildings line many main streets that overflow with traffic jams. The traffic jams pollute air and sky with exhaust, noise and trash.
Lost Sense Of Beauty
Architecture, whose once deeply layered window moldings gave a fulfilling sense of depth, has flattened into cookie-cutter panes that look like cheap, gigantic plastic toys. A sense of beauty in everyday, functional design seems lacking, and this lacking does little to boost the morale of people who must face it or inhabit it everyday. A deep sense of connection to nature also seems lacking. As with the physical fitness revolution, a few people have tried to improve certain design practices, but the dominant behavior overpowers them. How can healthy bodies inhabit unhealthy building designs, unhealthy traffic patterns, and unhealthy landscapes? No wonder the world is sick.
Consider how closely we space houses in modern civilization. Consider how narrow we make traffic lanes in many instances. Consider the amount of concrete and asphalt that blocks out Earth’s green growth. Consider how inaccessible certain health opportunities are for a large number of people.
Landscapes are crowded. Institutions that revere health are limited. The dominant behavior is insensitive to health. Consequently, access to a fit lifestyle is a privilege for a relatively few people. Even the most basic of human activities—walking—is not inviting for many people, because:
- cars rule aggressively,
- criminals threaten violence,
- concrete and asphalt offer no sense of a body-friendly world.
Again, the dominant infrastructure of civilization does NOT support bodily well being.
A particularly disturbing trend is the large-scale contamination of oceans by plastic waste. Few people travel the span of an ocean to observe the expanse of this problem, but the problem, most assuredly, exists. It is both a health problem and an aesthetic problem. More profoundly, it is a problem out of sync with the body on a most fundamental level.
A large number of people are in denial about their bodies. We are denying our bodies their proper places, and we are denying that a new civilized sickness is overtaking our bodies. We are grossly underestimating the simultaneous bad that our modern ingenuity is creating along with the good. Many of us are simply out of tune with our main instrument of well being—this instrument is a flesh-and-bone organism and the motion of this flesh-and-bone organism in relation to a tangible world that contains and nurtures it.
Designing For The Body
In my personal quest to find harmony in life’s design, I have attuned uncompromisingly to my own physical being. I have attuned to an anatomical design that has not changed significantly in 200,000 years:
- two arms, two legs, and a spinal column,
- upright posture that enables walking on those two legs,
- a system of muscles that increases in strength from center to periphery of the system.
These fundamental aspects translate what existence means to a human being. These fundamental aspects require consistent attention daily, over a lifetime.
What The Body Needs
A fulfilled, healthy body seeks a combination of open space and cozy hideaways that do not suffocate, and a pattern of physical activity combined with sufficient rest to invigorate. A body-friendly world accommodates these visceral needs.
Elements Of A Body-Friendly World
- organic design,
- open views,
- sky lights,
- ergonomic and economic furniture,
- wide clearances in road construction and in home construction,
- wide traffic lanes,
- high ceilings,
- uncluttered surroundings (our clutter is choking us),
- clean transportation,
- green building codes,
- spaced-out buildings and homes,
- humane and inspiring work settings,
- body-friendly scheduling both for work and for home life,
- population number awareness,
- awareness of quiet spaces and quiet times,
- awareness of body health, fitness, movement, and quality performance.
Life is Liquid
A human organism is NOT an isolated particle. We cannot treat human organisms as a collection of solid particles. We cannot ignore the dynamic relationships between the living organism and its surroundings. There is an undeniable continuity here – between the blood that flows in our veins and the actions that flow in our civilized spaces.
Human organisms are aspects of a great fluid existence whose massive currents we shape with higher intelligence based on treating the body as reality’s living substrate. In this great fluid reality, it is NOT enough that fragmented parts of society improve themselves, while others remain unimproved. Fragments of improvement must unite into agglomerations that share a common, overriding purpose to create a body-conscious, body-friendly world.
Society Is The Master Container
The overall societal design that contains our bodies daily determines what our bodies and our lives can actually be. Dominant societal forces sculpt attitudes, emotions and daily practices in relation to our bodies. Currently, dominant societal forces do NOT favor the human body. Again, the present view of a human being leans more towards a spirit or mind that inhabits flesh separately and operates independently of flesh. Society’s major policies and practices continue to orbit around this erroneous view.
People cannot extract themselves from crammed, hectic behavior patterns that dominate their lives, and enter a pristine space/time/energy setting for only an hour or so occasionally – this cannot significantly maintain their daily, flesh-and-blood being. The majority of their living hours cannot consist of healthy spacing and rhythms, when the dominant, erroneous ethic is in control. This is like professing that water is necessary for survival and offering only a tablespoon of water daily. The portion, proportion and frequency are completely wrong.
Summary -- Critique Of Civilization
The portions, proportions and rhythms of our substances and of our actions are completely wrong on a mass scale. Fragmented efforts cannot fix this. We need a new collective consciousness that reveres the human body—a consciousness that echoes throughout educational institutions, government institutions, work places, and individual lives, respecting all life stages and ages.