Whether you believe…

...in one God...

...in one God...

... or in many

... or in many

...in science...

...in science...

...or in philosophy

...or in philosophy

...in your soul

...in your soul

...or in your sole

...or in your sole

...in Newtonian physics...

...in Newtonian physics...

...or quantum physics

...or quantum physics

...in a pharmaceutical...

...in a pharmaceutical...

...or a farm to suit you all

...or a farm to suit you all

...in doctors, but don't know which

...in doctors, but don't know which

...or witch doctors, but don't know whether

...or witch doctors, but don't know whether

...We believe in YOU

...We believe in YOU

We believe in YOU.

We believe in you…

  • in your individuality,
  • in your ability to heal yourself,
  • and in your ability to express yourself to your fullest potential.  Whatever that may be.

Our role is to help you identify that, and find the right path to get there; using highly refined assessment processes, customised nutrition, lifestyle and exercise coaching, all rolled into one unique bespoke program to integrate into your life.

Since our core objective is to provide a broad and encompassing coaching model, where we give you the tools to help yourself, the progress is both quicker and longer lasting.

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Stay tuned in

To keep up to date with what Matt’s been up to, please take a peek at the blog below or navigate the pages above!  Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have.

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Reconciling the Divides

In this Information Age, the sheer volume of research, publication and change in ideas can leave us bewildered and confused…

What once we based our professional opinions on, and seemingly helped patients with is debased by new research and we are left either defending our old position or wondering if we need to completely change our way of working, of being.

In this series, Jator and I will be focusing on reconciling some of these divides – looking at topics from posture and biomechanics, to nutrition and exercise prescription.  We will investigate how the body responds to stress, and what we can do about it… is “Adrenal Fatigue” really a thing or is it a figment of the imagination?

These interactive iWEbinars will elucidate many of the questions you have and allow you to reconcile the older information with the new, providing tools and insights into how to sift through the incoming barrage of information and change.

The iWEbinars are £19 (~$27) each, or you can attend all 4 for £68 (~$97) as a package.

The first in our series is “What’s Your Stance? Controversies of posture, measurement & the trend toward pain neuroscience

We are offering a free taster Preview of the series on Sunday 11th March 2018 here.

 

Real Barefoot Conditioning

How do I safely transition from running shoes to barefoot?

This post is designed to give you the most accurate answer to the big barefoot question

“How long does it take to transition?”

The more a shoe looks like a foot, the more it behaves like a foot

This question is a perennially challenging question to answer accurately as everyone has a different history, a different level of health and performance and a different goal.

The short (and responsible) answer is that it will take between 6-18 months for you to transition, as this is the reported duration for connective tissue adaptation to occur.  However, for some people this journey will be a little longer, and for others it will be shorter; and of course, this can all change based on your diligence.

For simplicity, the foot can be described as having 3 primary components:

1) the passive system (bones / joints / ligaments / tendons / fascia)

2) the active system (muscles – intrinsic within the foot & extrinsic running down from the leg)

3) the neural system (the sensory nerves coming from the foot & motor nerves running to the foot)

When each of these components is functioning optimally and in harmony, then you will have a stable, healthy, fully functional foot.

In our experience – and based on research, for most people, the nervous (neural) system reacts almost instantaneously to a lack of cushioning (assuming the surface you’re running on is hard) to produce a forefoot strike.

The active system will typically take between 8-12 weeks for adaptation to the new running technique.

The passive system (bones/connective tissues) are, by their nature, passive; and therefore have a relatively limited blood supply compared to muscles.  This means their ability to adapt is a lot slower, and will take between 6-18 months.

The Barefoot Transition Guide below (a downloadable Excel file) should give you a good basic insight into how long it will take you to transition, but first you must establish your goal.  Is it to run a 5K barefoot?  Is it to run a marathon?  Is it to do resistance training in the gym in minimalist shoes?  Or to play full round of golf in your minimalist golf shoes?  There are as many possible goals as there are people (and probably more)!  Please think about what your initial goal is as you wait for your computer to download the questionnaire.  You can always revisit the process if your goal changes.

My initial barefoot goal is to…                                                                                       

 

Barefoot-Transition-Guide

 

General Transition Advice:

 The best runner leaves no tracks” Tao Te Ching

Always Never
… take your time to transition (months rather than weeks) … think you can run your normal distance at first
… remember, the more injured, fatigued, or deconditioned you are, the longer it will take … assume because you’re already a forefoot striker you can adapt instantly
… listen to what your body is telling you; pain is an indicator to STOP! … stop paying attention to the ground beneath your feet
… start at 10% of your normal distance / volume and progress by up to 10% per week-to-fortnight … forget, delayed onset muscle soreness peaks 48 jours after your workout
… run as if you were barefoot – even in minimalist shoes … run in Vibram Fivefingers before you’ve worn them daily for 2 weeks
… run silently … run through pain
… consult an expert if you have any concerns about your transition  

… leave tracks

 

To see this section discussed by Matt Wallden in video format in more detail, please click here.

We recommend to all runners to download a copy of barefoot audio’s album Towards Vertical here.

If you scored high in Section B or you know you have a tendency to over-pronate conditioning tips, please visit here and scroll to the “Bonus Material” at the bottom of the page (here you will find a free video called “Overpronation – or inhibition & deconditioning”).

Other Resources:

There are also paid-for webinars on the same link as above discussing Barefoot Running and The Pronation Myth.  Further resources to understand more about abdominal wall function / core stability, hip function, and nutrition & lifestyle factors that can influence your progress, can be found on the linked pages.

What to do next?

Look at your higher scoring responses (the blue and purple column scores in Section A / the responses to the right hand side in Section B) and address these issues first.  If it’s easier, feel free to copy & print this section off: 

Influencing factor Considerations Tick if you scored 2+
1) Injury history

(major or recurrent injuries)

A higher level of injuries in your medical history indicates either a susceptibility to injury and/or an increased likelihood of adoption of compensatory movement patterns.  If you score high here, consider seeing a movement specialist such as a C.H.E.K. Practitioner, a higher-end personal trainer / strength & conditioning coach, or a manual therapist specialised in sports conditioning.
2) Current injury(ies)

(including “niggles”)

If you have current injuries or niggles, these should be diagnosed and their causative path identified by a manual therapist or movement specialist (see above).  Any niggle or pain you perceive will alter your muscle firing and coordination, decreasing efficiency and increasing risk of future injury.
3) Nutritional Status Nutrition is not only key for fuel, but perhaps more importantly, for repair.  Any new stressor the body isn’t yet conditioned for increases the damage rate and the requirement for repair.  Compromised nutrition will result in compromised capacity to adapt to new stressors, such as a barefoot lifestyle.  If you feel your nutrition is suboptimal, consider consulting a metabolic typing nutritional advisor, a holistic lifestyle coach, or a naturopath (see resources below).
4) Hydration Status If your hydration may be a problem consider the following: drinking approximate 200ml for every 1 stone of bodyweight, 30ml for every kg, or in fluid ounces – half your bodyweight (in pounds).  Be aware of diuretics, such as coffee, alcohol and high sugar / caffeinated drinks. Aside from this, consider that a high quality sea salt sprinkled to taste on your food may be important to facilitate hydration (it is sodium that actually holds fluids in the body, but is often excreted at high rates due to consumption of diuretics, such as coffee)
5) Sleep patterns Like all organisms, human physiology is tightly tuned to the light-dark cycles of the planet.  Primary repair occurs during sleep – and especially during the first half of the night (peaking between 22:00-2:00am).  If you consistently miss this period of sleep and/or have disturbed sleep, consider the following measures: 1) minimize any stimulants after midday, 2) assess your metabolic type (eating the wrong food ratios, such as too many carb’s, in the evening can compromise sleep), 3) ensure you are sleeping in complete darkness, 4) get exposure to daylight (and exercise) early in the day, 5) minimize alcohol consumption, 6) try a dawn simulator / light alarm clock, 7) avoid exposure to computer screens / mobile phones / TV’s beyond 8pm, 8) dim your lights in the evening.
6) Breathing pattern Breathing pattern reflects (and perpetuates) underlying physiological stressors.  If you have challenges with stress, anxiety, panic attacks, asthma or breathing pattern, consider building a relaxation discipline into your routine; such as yoga, general stretching, T’ai chi, Xi gong, zone exercises, a hot bath, or simply a slow walk.  Relaxing music, aromatherapy oils, such as lavender and teas, such as camomile, can be useful tools here.
7) Training Age (years) Training age is the amount of time you have been training for this specific discipline, without any significant break.  If your training age is low, it is an indicator that you are not likely to be as “adapted” to the kinds of loads that barefoot training will put through your system as someone who has already been training for a while. Consistency with training is key to positive adaptation; but equally important is to build in times when training is at lower intensity, lower volume, or when you have total rest.  The body gets stronger when it rests, not when it’s training, so if you miss a training session, don’t see this as negative, but as an opportunity to be able to get stronger and to train harder next time.
8) Training History (years) If training history is low, this tends to indicate it may take a longer period to adapt, however, this is not always the case, as it also means that you have probably not picked up bad technique habits.  If you’re fortunate enough to have a low training age, consider getting a coach in your chosen sport to offer you advice at this early stage.  If you cannot access a coach, we strongly recommend Barefoot Audio to runners who are considering starting out in the barefoot / minimalist running style.  (See resources at end.)

If your lack of training history is due to a lack of desire to participate in sports, the necessity for a running coach is higher to ensure your body awareness of technique is optimized.

9) Barefoot / Minimalist History (years) The longer you’ve spent in minimalist shoes or barefoot living, the more adept you will have already become at optimising awareness, footfall, and the adaptation the connective tissues will have undergone.  If you score high here (little experience) have patience and pay attention; “listen” to each foot step as if it were a new language – asking a question of the ground, the ground responding, and you then selecting the correct response to what you perceive. For example, if the ground is telling you it is jagged, hard or pointed, you do not want to push down hard, but to switch your weight quickly to your other foot.  This is easier said than done when mid-stride and fatigued toward the end of a run.  If you can and are willing, going completely barefoot is a better learning experience than going minimally shod.  This is best done in the warmer months, starting on well lit, clear concrete surfaces and progressing to
10) Running technique Footstrike remains a controversial topic, but there is now plenty of evidence that a forefoot strike is more natural, often more efficient, and less likely to cause injury when running on firm to hard surfaces.  If you know you tend to heel-strike and/or to over-pronate, there will be a greater adaptive requirement on your body when switching to minimalist or barefoot running.  Bear in mind that you are most likely to feel this some time after you have run (usually between 24-48 hours after) and not during your run; therefore beware to take it easy in the first instance; do up to 10% of your normal distance, and see how your body reacts.  Cadence (your step rate per minute) and awareness are key consideration in optimizing foot strike.  Barefoot Audio, a free downloadable album (see resources) is a useful tool here.
11) Target use It is a very different answer to the question “how long will it take to transition” if you are planning to run a 5K versus planning to run an UltraMarathon.  If you are planning on running a longer distance (anything over 10K), it is advisable to allow a minimum of 6 months for adaptation of the connective tissues, as this is the shortest likely period within which they can adapt.  Good hydration, nutrition and sleep are all key for effective connective tissue adaptation; as well as for heavier volume training, so ensure you are drinking enough fluids, consuming enough salts (to hold fluid in the tissues) and minimizing diuretic consumption (medications / caffeinated drinks / alcohol) in your diet.  For optimal sleep, stimulants should not be consumed beyond midday, and you should aim to be in bed by around 10pm and up between 6-7am in the morning.  For more detail, see the Primal Lifestyle Barefoot Conditioning Booklet
12) Max distance to date in training A seasoned marathoner who wants to transition to minimalist or barefoot running is likely to be able to successfully transition for marathon distance quicker than someone who has only run 5K.  This is because the seasoned marathoner will have, over time, developed stronger connective tissues as a result of their superior training volumes.  The further you are from your goal, the greater patience you will need, but the rewards will be worth it!
13) Kinesthetic awareness

 

Kinesthetic awareness is your awareness or intelligence of your body.  Typically those who are aware of their body have very good movement skills, hand-eye-coordination and foot-eye-coordination; they are sporty types who are agile and dexterous.  In addition, these people tend to be very aware if something feels “tight” out of place or hypermobile in their body.  If this sounds like you, this background may help you to transition more effectively with lower risk of injury, but if it doesn’t sound like you at all, it is just a warning sign that a) it may take you a little longer to safely transition and b) you may need more tools to facilitate a smooth transition.  One of the key tools we recommend for those scoring high here is the Barefoot Audio (see resources section), which is great for anyone transitioning and helps to minimize technique faults, but the best option is to book in with a running coach.

  Resources

  • Barefoot Audio: click here to get listen to the first album Towards Vertical.
  • CHEK Practitioner: click here to find a practitioner near you.
  • HLC Coach: click here to find an HLC Coach near you.
  • Metabolic Typing (Nutritional) Advisor: click here to find a Metabolic Typing Advisor near you.

Manual Therapists

If you are searching for any of the following, they should each be registered to their Governing Bodies:

  • Osteopath – General Osteopathic Council
  • Chiropractor – General Chiropractic Council
  • Physiotherapist – Royal Charter of Physiotherapists

iWEbinar Series

For 2018, we wanted to come up with something new for Matt Wallden Webinars…

As awesome as the feedback has been from our 2016 and 2017 webinar series*, if there’s one thing I learned from my experience in distributing the Vibram Fivefingers footwear for 10 years, it was that you need to constantly develop, innovate and reinvent your product, or it starts to become dull!!

* We are still offering 3 conventional webinars this year, see here.

 What is an iWEbinar?

The iWEbinars are a fusion of podcast and webinar, providing the best of both worlds; the structure and visual engagement of a webinar, with the freedom of a discursive exploration of the subject matter between two experts in the field.

 

2018 iWEbinar Series from Matt Wallden on Vimeo.

In short an iWEbinar is an

  • interview-webinar, an
  • information-dense webinar, an
  • integrated-knowledge webinar, an
  • interactive webinar,
  • with two hosts – a WE,
  • in a webinar format…

this is an iWEbinar.

The first in our iWEbinar series is a discussion with my long-time friend and colleague, Jon Bowskill.  Jon has inhabited an elite medical space within the world of spinal rehabilitation for nearly 20 years.  After working alongside surgeons, radiologists, pain management specialists and manual therapists at the London Spine Clinic in Harley Street for several years, Jon moved around the corner and opened up his own multidisciplinary centre,  The Bowskill Clinic.

Jon and I will be discussing the various objective tools he and his colleagues utilise in top-flight practice to objectively understand what most of us can only assess subjectively; static & dynamic posture, movement skill and sagittal balance, among many other fascinating topics.

For more information or to join us on Thursday 8th of March, click here.

Other upcoming iWEbinars include a 4-part series with CHEK Faculty Member, Jator Pierre, and a 3-part iWEbinar series with Metabolic Typing founder, Bill Wolcott, plus iWEbinars with Paul Chek discussing an upcoming JBMT paper we have written called “The Ghost in the Machine – Is Musculoskeletal Medicine Lacking Soul?

How to Identify & Rehabilitate Hidden Spinal Injuries in your Clients

For most trainers working with new clients, their case history will encompass questions about a history of illness, operations and injuries… but did you know that nearly all of your clients – even those with no history of any pain or injury will have a compromise to their spinal structure that may be exacerbated by the wrong exercise selection?

Though this may seem a little scary, it is important to be aware of the reality that almost everyone you work with has these risk factors; whilst also appreciating that the human frame is very robust and has great capacity for compensation.

This being so, it is both useful to be able to identify where clients may be at risk, while also striving for more than simply “compensation”.

Matt’s perspective has always been that our role as trainers and coaches is to help our clients to realise their dreams, their goals and, in short, their fullest potential.

To be able to achieve this there are a number of simple tests and techniques that can be easily utilised to help you get the most out of your clients, and for them to get the most out of being your client!

Since the spine is the place from which movement emanates, it can be viewed as a “rate limiting factor” in human performance.  The healthier the spine, the more effective the movement patterns and force transmission it will allow.

To be able to achieve this there are a number of simple tests and techniques that can be easily utilised to help you get the most out of your clients, and for them to get the most out of being your client!

In the workshop Matt is presenting with PT toolbox on Sunday 28th January, Matt will dig in to some of the key markers you can identify in your clients to gauge their risk of spinal injury, how to prevent it, and how to rehabilitate clients not only beyond pain, but back to optimal function and performance.

For more information or to book your place, please click here.

Who is Matt Wallden?

Matt trained as an Osteopath & Naturopath in the 1990’s completing a BSc (Hons) and, later a Masters in Osteopathic Medicine, then going on to train in the CHEK System between 2001-2005.  His ambition was to work in professional sports; a goal he achieved by 2003.  Since then he has contributed several chapters to various medical texts and has been the Editor of the Rehabilitation Section  for Elsevier’s Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies since 2009.  In 2006, Matt bought an early version of the Vibram Fivefingers and was the person who explained to Vibram that their “sailing shoe” had applications in rehabilitation and conditioning.  Matt presents here and abroad to post-graduate, undergraduate and various medical groups and has been part of the CHEK Faculty since 2006.  Matt lives in Surrey with his wife and 2 children.

Conscious Nutrition

  • Challenges with stubborn weight?
  • Concerned about cholesterol?
  • Confused by which dietary advice to follow?
  • Struggling to shake off aches and pains?
  • Sick & tired of feeling sick & tired?
  • Allergies & hayfever?

Pop along to Greenwise next Thursday to get an understanding for:

– When and why alcohol can be good for you… and when to tame it

– Why a high cholesterol diet can be highly beneficial

– How full-fat options improve your health & reduce your risk of putting on weight

 

– When sugar is a help and when it’s a hindrance

– Whether organic is worth it, or GMO is better

– How a slice of toast could be your worst enemy

– How nutrition fits into a bigger picture of life

Matt Wallden, a leading holistic health practitioner* will draw on over 20 years of clinical experience to deliver an informative, insightful and free talk to answer all your nutritional questions on Thursday 6th July, for free at Fetcham’s Greenwise Wholefoods Shop & Cafe.

Join us for professional guidance and prosecco on Thursday!

Please feel free to post any questions you may have below, and Matt will do his best to answer them within the presentation or in the Q&A afterwards.

See you there!

 

Ergolution – evolutionary solutions to ergonomic challenges

For many years, ergonomics has been broadly considered an important investment for business owners, yet the bulk of research and advice in this field has focused on seating, work stations, angles and expensive mouse mats or key boards…  This is a huge mistake.

 

Ergolution provides a greater context – in fact, the biggest context – for why and how we “work”.  Back pain – the 3rd leading cause of time off work is not due to sitting with poor posture; it is far more complex than that.
The common cold – the 2nd leading cause of time off work is not due to a lack of Vitamin C supplementation; it is far more complex than that.

 

And stress – the leading cause of time off work is not due to a lack of yoga; it, too, is far more complex than that.

 

Yet, in spite of this complexity, there is a thread of simplicity that runs through the heart of work performance; and that is what we will be exploring in our webinar on Thursday.

Included within your £25 investment for the webinar are:

  • Access to the 100+page chapter Matt wrote on Rehabilitation & Movement Re-education which covers much of the biomechanical background to Ergolution
  • A free copy of the upcoming eBook of the same title “Ergolution”
  • Ongoing access to stream or download the webinar after the event

 

To secure your place, or to find out more click through here.

 

2017 Power Series Webinars

Power Series WebinarsAfter the great success of the 2016 monthly webinar series, we will continue to host webinars in 2017, though in our market survey we have had more requests for workshops and one-to-one mentoring.

As such, we are offering a Power Series of 4 webinars this year, one per quarter – running in March, June, September and December.

The first of these webinars, on Thursday March 23rd, will be covering the controversial topic of “The Core“.  Although you’d think that this topic has been “done to death” it turns out there there is still a huge amount of confusion – even in professional circles about the opinions of gurus that have perpetuated more than 2 decades after they were first debated.

The focus of the remaining 3 workshops are to be decided, but top requests so far include the following:

  • Working with identifying and correcting breathing pattern disorders
  • TMJ Dysfunction
  • Laterality Patterns and their role in injury
  • Ankle Sprain – mechanisms and rehabilitation
  • ACL Injury – how to treat and prevent
  • Primal Running – how evolution shaped us for optimal efficiency
  • Practical Applications of Shamanic and Subtle Energy Medicine

If you have any different requests, or like the sound of one or more of the topics above, please make a comment below and we will create the most sought-after webinars.

Thank you for your support and interest.

 

Reflections on George

george-michael-fastlove

It is not too often that a singer-songwriter-producer of the iconic status of George Michael comes around.  Like other greats, he was blessed with multiple talents and had the drive to deliver on them, sufficient to inspire multitudes.  He was a poet, a philosopher, and like many true artists had an uncanny knack to surf on the leading edge of the zeitgeist; watching it unfold in his wake as it became mainstream.  His political activism around Iraq was seen as misplaced at the time, but now anyone who knows how to operate Google can see his concerns around WMD’s were on the money.  Not least of his talents, was the voice of an angel… As Rob Lowe tweeted, now he can sing for them

Growing up in the 80’s, my experience of George Michael was that he was that good looking dude with a wicked voice and some catchy tunes; not anyone I was particularly focused on, just part of the mêlée that was the world of pop.

As I progressed into my teens and began to learn that, not only did George Michael have a great voice, but he wrote all his music – and arranged it – and produced it – and, as it turns out, played almost all the instruments, now I began to really respect the guy.

On top of that – and this is the key point – he was writing about things I could relate to in my own life – and sung them with a passion I felt deeply in my being.  An expression which left an impression.

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-15-18-41It turns out, it wasn’t just me who liked him… there were others too – roughly 100 million – who liked him enough to buy his records, and when I had the fortune to go to his Concert of Hope to raise money for the Terrence Higgins Trust, I saw that there were thousands of young men there with their girlfriends – many with his trademark designer stubble who, like me, were inspired by this icon – people who resonated with him, and wanted to be more like him.  With lyrics like this

If you are the desert, I’ll be the sea,

if you ever hunger, hunger for me,

whatever you ask for, that’s what I’ll be

 (From Father Figure, Faith Album, 1987)

… it’s not surprising that a generation of young men sung his lyrics to their girlfriends, or picturing a girl in mind who they could fall in love with… I recall sending these lyrics to my first true love who I took to the Concert of Hope.

Around the time of this song, George Michael was in the upper echelons of international stardom with multiple awards, critical acclaim and a Grammie to his name – and out-selling both Madonna and Michael Jackson…

In 1992, his status as one of the world’s best live singers was confirmed when his performance eclipsed in quality a line-up of the world’s greatest living pop stars at the gm-fm-tributeFreddie Mercury Tribute Concert; a performance that resulted in headlines suggesting that he may team up with Queen to become their new front man; something that never transpired.

His lesser known (and deliberately hidden) persona as a philanthropist was perhaps given away in his lyrics, such as those from “One More Try – “I’ve had enough of danger, and people on the streets, I’m looking out for angels, just trying to find some peace”… or his lead track from Listen Without Prejudice, Praying For Time, “This is the year of the hungry man, whose place is in the past – hand in hand, with ignorance and legitimate excuses.”

220px-george_michael_-_outsideThen, finally, it happened.  In 1997, George was outed.  Was this a shock?  Yes and no – there had been rumours for some time. People within the industry had called for George Michael to out himself – the openly gay Boy George being one of his better known critics on this front.  The way this happened was characteristically transmuted from humiliation into a humorous number 1 hit song.

Across his entire career though, what struck me the most, was that this man, a man who I had idolised to some degree, whose voice I loved, whose music and other talents had inspired me so deeply, was a gay man…  And, I recognised that we shared entirely common ground.  He was someone who experienced exactly the same feelings as me about those he loved; whose feelings I sung as my own – even sent romantically as a token of my love.  And what’s more (once again) it wasn’t just me who resonated in this way, it was millions of young heterosexual men around the planet.

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-17-59-23If Ken Wilber is correct, the consciousness of people on the planet is in a steady historical
growth, moving from more traditional, mythical ethnocentric views (the realm of religion), where homosexuality is often denounced, toward more rational globalcentric views (the realm of science) that will continue to progress into holistic and integral views of our place in the Kosmos.  This view is ultimately inclusive and transcendent.

It may well be that George Michael’s greatest accomplishment, the most profound legacy he’s left us with, was to create a seismic shift in awareness of heterosexual men, that their homosexual counterparts aren’t so different, so alien, so “queer” – after all…

(And for those who barf at this notion, for those who do strongly hold to more ethnocentric, dogmatic “us and them” views, this may prove an interesting read…)

After all, if our ground of experience is our emotions, and George’s homosexual emotions are a perfect match for my heterosexual emotions, maybe there isn’t an “us and them”… maybe there is only a we.

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-17-26-17

I often tell my patients, we’re all here to inspire before we expire; and George Michael is someone who passes that credential with flying colours.

I, for one, will be forever grateful for his influence in my life and the joy, wisdom and insight he offered me – partly as a role model, partly as an inspiration, and partly as a father figure…

A tribute to George Michael, who died yesterday, but will live on in more ways than most, after what turned out to be his very own Last Christmas…

george-michael-fastlife

Hypocrisy in Healthcare

Of course, it’s all blown-over now, but just a couple of weeks ago, the internet was alight with a video that had gone viral showing an Australian chiropractor manipulating the thoracic spine (mid-back) of a little baby who had been brought to him because she was suffering with colic.

Image of the Autonomic Nervous System, borrowed from http://galbraithchiropractic.com/
Image of the Autonomic Nervous System, borrowed from http://galbraithchiropractic.com/

Using applied anatomy – something we will return to briefly later – the chiropractor used his highly honed palpation skills and identified tension and restriction at the level of the spine where the nerves exit to feed the digestive tract.  As is often the case in alternative or complementary medicines, the evidence base for whether or not colic can be effectively treated using manual therapies is relatively weak, but this published study does report subjective improvements.  However, it should be noted that conventional medicine evidence base is not too hot either – one report in the Journal of the American Medical Association claiming that 80% of allopathic medical approaches are not evidence based.

The understandable outcome of the video (which has now been taken down, but can still be viewed here) was that many people were shocked at the apparent “violence” of the treatment on such a helpless and vulnerable newborn.

Blog posts and official comments from governing bodies started appearing all over the internet some supporting and others condemning this highly trained, rational and well-intended medical professional.  From healthcare professionals to international news groups, the story appeared to have been blown up out of all proportion – perhaps there wasn’t too much else going on that week…  Or, perhaps there was (read on).

In my training as an osteopath it was a standard assignment to research and write a paper on the risks and benefits of high-velocity low-amplitude thrusts – also known more colloquially as clicking, cracking or manipulation techniques – the same techniques used by this chiropractor.  The reality, it turns out, is that the risk of spinal manipulation as a cause of serious injury or death is far less than driving a car, walking down the road or even having sex.  And just about the only danger Cervical Manipulation Several Hundred Times Safer Than Aspirinworthy of mention (with the exception of obvious risks, such as manipulating those with pre-existing bony pathologies, like osteoporosis) is manipulation of the upper cervical spine… but just how dangerous is that?  Well, it turns out that manipulation of the upper neck is several hundred times safer than taking an aspirin.

Of course, the baby featured in this most recent scandal didn’t have their cervical spine manipulated as when one >>applies knowledge of the anatomy<< the nerves that feed the digestive system exit the spine from the mid-back.  So the risks to the baby were even lower than “several hundred times safer” than aspirin.  And isn’t it slightly concerning that medical students barely learn anatomy anymore; so little surprise there were up in arms about this barbaric looking approach, as they probably didn’t really understand what the chiropractor was even attempting to do.  Even as far back as 2001 I was talking with a 5th year medical student from a renowned London-based Medical School, and he explained that he had done less than 24 hours total on anatomy; had experienced one 2-hour guest lecture on nutrition and that everything was about the pharmaceuticals – pharmacology, paediatric pharmacology, geriatric pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, pharmacogenetics… Who could it be that is running this show?!!  I wonder what the average medical advice would have been to the parents of the child with colic?

I did consider putting up a video of a crying baby and recommending to the parents that they should give it Calprofen (a kind of “baby aspirin”) to see just how many YouTube hits that would achieve – as this would put the child at several thousand times more risk than a thoracic spine manipulation, but …

BMJ Report: Conservative Figures estimate medicine to be 3rd leading cause of death
BMJ Report: Conservative Figures estimate medicine to be 3rd leading cause of death

So why the furore?  Well, it turns out that this very same week none other than the British Medical Journal published a report highlighting that medical error is – conservatively speaking – the 3rd leading cause of death in the US.  An audio interview of one of the authors of the paper is available here where he explains why he would consider this “conservative”.

However, this information is not new.  This article, from the year 2000, reported very similar figures, while a subsequent follow-up with the Doctor Starfield, author of the article and Professor of Public Health at John Hopkins Hospital, suggested that when consideration is made of the lack of health education provided by medical doctors, they could reasonably seen as the leading cause of death in the US.  Now what was that medical student saying about learning about the body and about nutrition…?  This notion is discussed further here and here.

In other news, there have been (and are ongoing) young doctors strikes here in the UK and of course there is great concern about the adverse effects of this… but there may not be as much to worry about as people may at first think.  A report from the British Medical Journal, also in the year 2000, on similar incidents in the past have shown that when there was a Doctor’s strike in Israel the death rates actually fell…  In fact, it became such a strong trend (inasmuch as people weren’t dying) that the Undertakers were starting to go out of business.  It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. But it’s not just the BMJ, a review of the effects of 5 different doctors strikes was published in 2008 and can be viewed here.

So, when there is furore and excitement over what actually was a very safe, if slightly uncomfortable to watch, treatment approach, it may be worth stepping back and waiting to see what else is going on in the news to get a feel for the bigger picture…

We wish you Shamanic Christmas & a Pagan New Year

It’s commonly said that the true meaning of Christmas is all too easily forgotten in this consumer age… And this is true of course.  However, was it ever really truly understood? Perhaps it was – a long time ago.

One clue is in the name – but perhaps not for the reasons you think it is.  Christ, of course, refers to the figureJesus Christ; whether he be historical or mythical.  But far from it being his surname, Jesus is only known as Christ because he christed himself; gave himself over to spirit, not for a political gain, but because of a higher knowledge or “gnosis”.

Whether you prefer to view it as a mythical or historical event, the symbolism remains the same.   The word Christ, has variously been defined as  meaning “the anointed”, ‘the messiah” or “the word” or “voice”.

The wisdom attributed to Jesus is also profound, and the various definitions of Christ highlight the notion of him being a “saviour” with a special message to offer.  This message was perhaps most clearly expressed in the following phrase:

Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.

Gospel of Thomas

The message to be conveyed was not that Jesus, as an individual entity, is in everything, but that spirit, life-force is in everything – even in a piece of wood or under a stone.  The traditional sense of spirit is akin to the contemporary view of The Force in George Lucas’ StarWars; it surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the galaxy together. Hence, it would make no sense that worship should be onto a single mysterious external authority figure, but should be on the life experience itself, to worship this all-pervading spirit in everything and everyone…

This leads on nicely to illustrate the profundity of “Christ-mass”.  It is when we all come together, or amass, with those we love – to be in high spirits, to worship each other, and give thanks for everything we share in our lives…

A Pagan View

Of course, the Pagan view on all this does not refer to a historical or mythical figure called Jesus who is the son of God, but the sun – the solar deity – that is the spark of life, or  what could be termed the Sun of God.

As described in ZeitgeistMovie, from the perspective of the northern hemisphere, the sun appears to move south and get smaller in the sky and is seen more infrequently from the summer solstice onwards.  The shortening of the days and the passing of the harvest when approaching the heart of winter symbolized the death process to our ancestors.  It was the death of the Sun.

By December 22nd, the winter solstice (today!) the Sun’s demise was complete; the Sun, finally reaching it’s lowest point in the sky after 6 months of gradual descent.

Yet, on the 22nd of December a curious scenario unfolds: the Sun appears to stop moving south for 3 clear days.  During this 3 day pause the Sun resides in the vicinity of the star formation known as the Southern Cross, or Crux, constellation.  Following this  spell, where the sun is still – or “dead” – on the cross, the Sun moves 1 degree north, on the December 25th.

This is a time for celebration as the Sun of God is reborn, the longer days, warmth, and harvests of the incoming year are once again in view .  And thus it was said: the Sun died on the cross, was dead for 3 days, only to be resurrected or born again.

This is why Jesus and numerous other “Sun Gods” share the crucifixion, 3-day death, and resurrection concept within their stories.  It is the Sun’s transition period before it shifts its direction back into the Northern Hemisphere, bringing Spring, and thus salvation.

Other aspects of the Jesus as Sun God concept which highlight the Pagan insights into the symbolism behind the Christian story are described in ZeitgeistMovie or on this site.

Fathering the Mass of Christ

In modern society – and since hunter-gatherer times – the notion that the father goes out to hunt, to work and to bring back the “trophy” to the family or tribe is a predominant theme. This theme is reflected in the choice of character for the contemporary Christmas story – not just the gender, but also the trophies he returns adorned with in the very midst of winter.  So, we’ve discussed the Son of God, but how about the Father of Christmas?  How did this other great icon of Christmas time come about and enter the public psyche?

In indigenous cultures, the wise person or parent of the tribe would have been the shaman – the person who people turned to at times of crisis.  The word “shaman” actually has its roots in the Tungus word saman which means “one who knows or knows the spirits.” Fittingly, the spirit of Christmas may originate from one who knows the spirits.  The story of Santa and his flying reindeer may be traceable to what might be considered a taboo source; hallucinogenic or “magic” mushrooms according to livescience.com.

“Santa is a modern counterpart of a shaman, who consumed mind-altering plants and fungi to commune with the spirit world,” according to anthropologist John Rush. Many of the characteristics we associate with Santa are strikingly reminiscent of Siberian shamanic practices.  Following are 8 ways that the connection with Siberian shaman helps to explain the story of Santa and his reindeer.

1. Arctic shamans delivered mushrooms on the winter solstice.

Shamans in the Siberian and Arctic regions traditionally call into community teepeelike homes with a bag full of hallucinogenic mushrooms as presents in late December.

Santa's boots coming down the chimney
Santa’s boots coming down the chimney

Historically, these practicing shamans would collect Amanita muscaria (the Holy Mushroom), dry them and then give them as gifts on the winter solstice. Because the snow was so deep, the doors were inaccessible so the only way they could enter the homes was to drop down through the chimneys.

That’s just one of the symbolic connections between the Amanita muscaria mushroom and the iconography of Christmas, according to several historians and ethnomycologists, or people who study fungi’s influence on human societies.

2. Mushrooms, like gifts, are found beneath pine trees.

Bauble or mushroom?
Bauble or mushroom? Mushrooms were traditionally hung on tree branches to dry them – up out of the snow on the ground.

In his book “Mushrooms and Mankind” (The Book Tree, 2003) the late author James Arthur points out that Amanita muscaria, also known as fly agaric, lives throughout the Northern Hemisphere under conifers and birch trees, with which the fungi — which are deep red with white flecks — have a symbiotic relationship. This partially explains the practice of the Christmas tree, and the placement of bright red-and-white presents underneath it, which look like Amanita mushrooms, he wrote.

“Why do people bring pine trees into their houses at the winter solstice, placing brightly coloured (red-and-white) packages under their boughs, as gifts to show their love for each other …?” he wrote.

Mushroom gifts under the tree
Mushroom found naturally under fir trees may represent the brightly coloured gifts under the tree.

“It is because, underneath the pine bough is the exact location where one would find this ‘Most Sacred’ gift, the Amanita muscaria, in the wild.”

Since the mushrooms needed drying, they were often hung along the branches of the trees or strung up in socks by the fire.

(Note:  these mushrooms should NOT be eaten, as they can be poisonous.)

 

3. Reindeer were shaman “spirit animals.”

Reindeer are also native to Siberia and northern Europe, and seek out these hallucinogenic fungi, as do the shaman.  It is certainly feasible that Siberian people who ingested fly agaric may have hallucinated that the grazing reindeer were flying.

“At first glance, one thinks it’s ridiculous, but it’s not,” said Carl Ruck, a professor of classics at Boston University. “Whoever heard of reindeer flying? I think it’s becoming general knowledge that Santa is taking a ‘trip’ with his reindeer.”

“Amongst the Siberian shamans, you have an animal spirit you can journey with in your vision quest,” Ruck continued. “And reindeer are common and familiar to people in eastern Siberia.”

4. Shamans dressed like … Santa Claus.

Traditional Siberian shamans out of reverence to the  mushroom which provides deep spiritual insight dress up to look like the mushroom in red suits with white spots, as illustrated here.

 

5. Christmas Trees & Stars

As well as the notion that the mushrooms tend to collect around the base of fur trees, a further Siberian tradition was to place a pine tree in their homes for ceremonial purposes. The upward pointing furs would provide symbolic power to propel their spirit up and out of the home via the hole in the roof.  Once the journey was complete, they would return through the smoke-hole/chimney with the gifts from the spirit world.

They also believed that the North Star was the very top of the Upper (Spirit) World, and because the World Tree was an axis that connected the entire cosmology, the North Star sat upon the very top of the World Tree – which is where the tradition of placing a star at the top of the tree comes from.

 

6. Rudolph’s nose resembles a bright-red mushroom.

rudolf the red nosed reigndeer
Reigndeer eating the mushrooms would, from certain angles, have looked like they had a “red nose”

Ruck points to Rudolph as another example of the mushroom imagery resurfacing: His nose looks exactly like a red mushroom. “It’s amazing that a reindeer with a red-mushroom nose is at the head, leading the others,” he said.

 

 

 

7. “A Visit from St. Nicholas” may have borrowed from shaman rituals.

Many of the modern details of contemporary Santa Claus come from the 1823 poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. The poem is credited to Clement Clarke Moore, an aristocratic academic who lived in New York City.

The origins of Moore’s vision are unclear, although Arthur, Rush and Ruck all think the poet probably drew from northern European motifs that derive from Siberian or Arctic shamanic traditions.

8. Santa is from the Arctic.

There is contention as to whether or not Shamans use sleighs for travel, however, the point isn’t the exact mode of travel, but that the “trip” involves transportation to a different, magical, celestial realm. Sometimes people would also drink the urine of the shaman or the reindeer, as the hallucinogenic compounds are excreted this way, without some of the harmful chemicals present in the fungi (which are broken down by the shaman or the reindeer), Rush said.

“People who know about shamanism accept this story,” Ruck said. “Is there any other reason that Santa lives in the North Pole? It is a tradition that can be traced back to Siberia.”

In closing

So, now you know a bit more about the magic of Christmas, the knowers of spirits, the deeper symbolism of all we do at this time, the celebration of new life and its cycles; and celebration of the ever-present spirit  in everything.

All that remains is for me to wish you Shamanic Christmas and a Pagan New Year!  Let’s celebrate life and the renewal of the life-cycle!!


 

I’d like to thank  ZeitgeistMovie.com and Xristiann blogsite for insights into the Zodiac connection with the story of Jesus, and Amaali Shaw who first made me aware of the shamanic connection with Santa for the first time last year, and the livescience.com and realitysandwich.com sites for providing most of the information for this part of the post.