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Indigenous Nutrition

“Eating is a sacrament.  The grace we say clears our hearts and guides the children and welcomes the guest, all at the same time . . .  To acknowledge that each of us at the table will eventually be part of the meal is not just being “realistic.”  It is allowing the sacred to enter and accepting the sacramental aspect of our shaky temporary personal being . . .  And if we do eat meat it is the life,  the bounce, the swish, of a great alert being with keen ears and lovely eyes, with foursquare feet and a huge beating heart that we eat, let us not deceive ourselves.” [Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild, 184, 19, 184.]

One of the major problems facing an Animist is eating and wearing the physical remains of those who have been killed.

One role of shamans is the persuading of animals to allow themselves to be found by hunters and to give up their lives for the good of humans. Shamans persuade animals and humans that hunting and being hunted is sacrificial. In places where shamans are not involved with hunting, other humans(e.g hunters or elders) are required to offer the necessary respect to animals who might still be considered to have sacrificed themselves (Humphry, Caroline, with Urgunge Onon, Shamans and Elders, 1996 Oxford University Press pp. 35-36)

Slain animals must be propitiated… “because they personally and their kin as a community have been insulted and assaulted… At the very least this requires decent, respectful treatment as the animals body is prepared for consumption as food, clothing, tool or weapons. The animal might expect parts of its body to be returned to the sea or land, or otherwise removed from human consumption. That which continues to exist beyond human utility not only reminds humans that they do not and cannot take and possess everything, but also that they are dependent.” (Harvey, Graham Animism Hurst & Company, London p.148)

In some places the shamans job is to converse with beings who care for animals, a “lord” or “mistress” of the animals. It is for these persons to decide whether or not hunters will meet and receive animals that they can kill.

There are shamans in pastoral societies as well as urban and they too may engage with animal persons or their owners. In some cases they may have to provide some sort of compensation. (Kendall, Laurel Shamans, Housewives and other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press 1985). For example, in order to maintain human mastery over the animals given into their protective care, and given up for their use, the Exirit-Bulagat of southern Siberia offer animal sacrifices to the more powerful protector of both humans and herd animals, the Lord-Bull. (Hamayon, Roberte N. La chasse a l’ame: Esquisse d’une theorie du champanisme siberien, Nanterre; Societe d’ethnologie. 1990 pp. 605-704)

The Achuar people live on the border between Ecuador and Peru:

The only way for a hunter to be successful is to live in harmony with the game he hunts and with its guardian spirits, known as kuntiniu nukuri (literally: “game mothers”). The hunter’s relationship with the both the prey and their “game mothers” is personal and cultivated over a lifetime, and these relationships are characterized principally as affinal. He must follow these two rules: taking these animals with moderation and showing respect to the animals he kills. Both of these rules of hunting are codified in cautionary myths.

Achuar blow-dart hunter

The hunted (parrots, toucans, monkeys, and peccaries) are like brothers-in-law who have to be seduced with the anent (magical song) and attracted through magic spells. The hunt also requires the consent of the “mothers of the animals,” fearsome spirits who watch over the prey as a shepherdess over her flock, and accept the kill of those under their protection only if certain rules are respected, such as that only what is absolutely necessary for the family is hunted, and that the animals hunted are not teased, and that those orphaned are taken to the house and treated with affection. This “ecological” attitude prevents the indiscriminate destruction of the fauna just as the planting of small plots serves to preserve the rain forest which quickly recovers when a garden is abandoned. (Descola, Phillipe ” The Achuar: The People of the Aguaje Palm”

Whereas Achuar male hunters socially relate to game animals as affines, Achuar women sustain consanguineal relationships with the plants they cultivate… Nunkui, the equivalent of the Makushi Cassava Mother, is, like her, the mistress spirit of cultivated plants… By this it is meant that she is their creator, their mother, as well as a fertility amplifying agent (Descola 1986:239,245). Nunkui’s motherly authority, however, seems to derive more from the fact that she is an adoptive mother, than from the fact that she is their progenitor (Descola 1986: 249), and it is this particular mother-child relation that is transferred magically through chants from Nunkui to female horticultors. Achuar cultivators see themselves as sharing with Nunkui, who is both a powerful friend and a close ally, as well as a kind of sister, the co-guardianship of plant children. (Rival Laura M. And Neal L. Whitehead (eds), Beyond the Visible and the Material Oxford University Press 2001p. 58-59)

Gardens are watched over by the spirit of gardens, Nunkui. Women sing anents, magical songs, as a medium to communicate with their plants, Nunkui, and other particular objects. The songs are extremely personal so they are either sung in the head or on an instrument, but always in secret. Each anent has basically the same melodic structure but different lyrics.


That the hunter-gatherer was healthy there is no doubt. Weston Price DDS noted an almost complete absence of tooth decay and dental deformities among native Americans who lived as their ancestors did. (Weston A. Price, DDS, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, (619) 574-7763, pages 73-102 )

President of the Weston A. Price Foundation Sally Fallon Morrell and Mary Enig, PhD discuss the work of Weston Price in their article “Guts and Grease: The Diet of Native Americans”. Native Americans “had broad faces, straight teeth and fine physiques. This was true of the nomadic tribes living in the far northern territories of British Columbia and the Yukon, as well as the wary inhabitants of the Florida Everglades, who were finally coaxed into allowing him to take photographs. Skeletal remains of the Indians of Vancouver that Price studied were similar, showing a virtual absence of tooth decay, arthritis and any other kind of bone deformity. TB was nonexistent among Indians who ate as their ancestors had done, and the women gave birth with ease.” (Morrell, Sally Fallon & Enig, Mary “Guts and Grease: The Diet of Native Americans” December 31 1999 Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts 2001)

Price interviewed the beloved Dr. Romig in Alaska who stated “that in his thirty-six years of contact with these people he had never seen a case of malignant disease among the truly primitive Eskimos and Indians, although it frequently occurs when they become modernized. (Morrell & Enig: 2001)

The early explorers consistently described the native Americans as tall and well formed. Of the Indians of Texas, the explorer Cabeza de Vaca wrote, “The men could run after a deer for an entire day without resting and without apparent fatigue. . . one man near seven feet in stature. . . runs down a buffalo on foot and slays it with his knife or lance, as he runs by its side.” (The explorer Cabeza de Vaca is quoted in WW Newcomb, The Indians of Texas, 1961, University of Texas.)

De Vaca reports on an Indian “traversed by an arrow. . . he does not die but recovers from his wound.” The Karankawas, a tribe that lived near the Gulf Coast, were tall, well-built and muscular. “The men went stark naked, the lower lip and nipple pierced, covered in alligator grease [to ward off mosquitoes], happy and generous, with amazing physical prowess. . . they go naked in the most burning sun, in winter they go out in early dawn to take a bath, breaking the ice with their body.” (Morrell & Enig: 2001)

Many plains Indian cultures at the turn of the century into the 1900’s were still very close to their hunter-gatherer food system (Paleolithic), which would have been a very basic food pyramid consisting of meats, eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, excluding grains, milk, and refined sugars. The Paleolithic hunter-gatherer diet consists basically of proteins, carbohydrates and fats food groups. Michael Eades (1996) describes the health of the hunter-gather people exceeded that of the agriculturally developed communities. In part, Eades attributes the health disparity due to the fats and proteins that the hunter-gatherer relied upon as their mainstay foods in comparison to the cultivated grains as a protein source. David Helwig Paleolithic Diet (2001), states that among aboriginal hunter-gatherer societies that survived into the twentieth century the rates of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, and other conditions were remarkable low until they switched to modern diets. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” Native Nutrition and Food Initiative Research, The University of Arizona Tucson, Arizona & Blackfeet Community College Blackfeet Nation Browning, Montana p.26)

According to S. Boyd Eaton, “we are the heirs of inherited characteristics accrued over millions of years; the vast majority of our biochemistry and physiology are tuned to life conditions that existed before the advent of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. Genetically our bodies are virtually the same as they were at the end of the Paleolithic era some 20,000 years ago.” (Eaton SB, Eaton SB 3rd, Konner MJ (1997)“Paleolithic nutrition revisited: a twelve-year retrospective on its nature and implications” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 51 (4): 207-16)


The diets of the American Indians varied with the locality and climate but all were based on animal foods of every type and description, not only large game like deer, buffalo, wild sheep and goat, antelope, moose, elk, caribou, bear and peccary, but also small animals such as beaver, rabbit, squirrel, skunk, muskrat and raccoon; reptiles including snakes, lizards, turtles, and alligators; fish and shellfish; wild birds including ducks and geese; sea mammals (for Indians living in coastal areas); insects including locust, spiders and lice; and dogs. (Wolves and coyotes were avoided because of religious taboos) (WW Newcomb, The Indians of Texas, 1961, University of Texas)

Ruminant animals, such as moose, elk, caribou, deer, antelope and, of course, buffalo were the mainstay of the Amerindian diet, just as beef is the mainstay of the modern American diet. The difference is that the whole animal was eaten, not just the muscle meats. (Morrell & Enig: 2001)

Samuel Hearne, an explorer writing in 1768, describes the preparation of caribou: “Of all the dishes cooked by the Indians, a beeatee, as it is called in their language, is certainly the most delicious that can be prepared from caribou only, without any other ingredient. It is a kind of haggis, made with the blood, a good quantity of fat shred small, some of the tenderest of the flesh, together with the heart and lungs cut, or more commonly torn into small shivers; all of which is put into the stomach and toasted by being suspended before the fire on a string. . . . it is certainly a most delicious morsel, even without pepper, salt or any other seasoning.” (The Journals of Samuel Hearne, 1768)

Beverly Hungry Wolf describes the preparation and consumption of a cow in The Ways of My Grandmother, noting that her grandmother prepared the cow “as she had learned to prepare buffalo when she was young.” The large pieces of fat from the back and cavity were removed and rendered. The lean meat was cut into strips and dried or roasted, pounded up with berries and mixed with fat to make pemmican. Most of the ribs were smoked and stored for later use. (Beverly Hungry Wolf, The Ways of My Grandmother, pages 183-189)

All the excess fat inside the body was hung up so the moisture would dry out of it, recalls Beverly Hungry Wolf. It was later served with dried meat. Some fats in the animal were rendered into “lard” instead of dried. All the insides, such as heart, kidneys and liver, were prepared and eaten, roasted or baked or laid out in the sun to dry. The lungs were not cooked, just sliced and hung up to dry. Intestines were also dried. Sapotsis or Crow gut is a Blackfoot delicacy made from the main intestine which is stuffed with meat and roasted over coals. Tripe was prepared and eaten raw or boiled or roasted. The brains were eaten raw. If the animal was a female, they would prepare the teats or udders by boiling or barbecuing-these were never eaten raw. If the animal carried an unborn young, this was fed to the older people because it was so tender. The guts of the unborn would be taken out and braided, then boiled too. The tongue was always boiled if it wasn’t dried. “Even old animals have tender tongues,” she recalls. (Morrell & Enig: 2001)

The marrow was full of fat and was usually eaten raw. The Indians knew how to strike the femur bone so that it would split open and reveal the delicate interior flesh. Eaton and others report that the marrow is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids but Stefansson describes two types of marrow, one type from the lower leg which is soft “more like a particularly delicious cream in flavor” and another from the humerus and femur that is “hard and tallowy at room temperatures.”16 According to Beverly Hungry Wolf, the grease inside the bones “was scooped out and saved or the bones boiled and the fat skimmed off and saved. It turned into something like hard lard.” More saturated fat the professors have overlooked! (Morrell & Enig: 2001)

The animal figures painted on the outside of a Blackfeet lodges have “arrows that enter into the mouth and extend to the intestines and organs. This line draws attention to the importance of the spiritual life force held within the intestines and internal organs. Also, this belief is further reinforced by the Blackfeet game hunter. When a buffalo is taken the hunter will eat the liver immediately upon the kill while still fresh and warm. The taking and eating of the liver signifies the spiritual life force and is considered very healthy.”(“Native Plants and Nutrition” Native Nutrition and Food Initiative Research, The University of Arizona Tucson, Arizona & Blackfeet Community College Blackfeet Nation Browning, Montana p.16)

Animal fats, organ meats and fatty fish all supply fat-soluble vitamins A and D, which Weston Price recognized as the basis of healthy primitive diets. These nutrients are catalysts to the assimilation of protein and minerals. Without them minerals go to waste and the body cannot be built tall and strong. (Morrell & Enig: 2001)


Native Americans and other hunter-gatherer tribes around the world foraged and ate from natures provisions. The vegetation diet consisted of a variety of plants, trees, bushes, berries, roots, grasses, wild fruits, nuts, seeds, fungi and lichens. This included anything edible that grew above the ground as well as below, and other vegetation that grew in water (algae). One of the ways Natives knew what vegetation was edible and which was not was through their keen observation of animal nature. For example, the site of a wolf digging up the roots of a certain willow along the banks of a river, a bear in spring time eating fresh roots and flowers, a squirrel gathering seeds and nuts, the bison foraging on prairie brush and grasses, moose having a feast on water algae and grasses, deer munching on flowers, tree bark and berries, are all indicators that what an animal will eat, most likely it is safe for a person to ingest. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” Native Nutrition and Food Initiative Research, The University of Arizona Tucson, Arizona & Blackfeet Community College Blackfeet Nation Browning, Montana p.19)

Root vegetable is a generic term that includes both true roots such as tuberous roots and taproots, as well as non-roots such as tubers, rhizomes, corms, and bulbs. Root vegetables are generally storage organs and contain energy carbohydrates and water. Roots differ in concentration and balance between sugars, starches and other types of carbohydrate such as grains and lentils. Plant roots are generally high in dietary fiber, calcium, potassium, folate, vitamins, minerals and live enzymes. The plant leaves, stems, and flowers contain much of the same as the roots but may contain other natural nutrients such as natural organic salts (sodium) and fewer carbohydrates. Most plant roots, stems and leafy greens, with an exception of a few, are considered alkaline in nature in comparison to meats which are acidic. All herbs are also considered alkaline. A balance of alkaline and acidic foods is important for the diet. It is stated that when a person is out of balance, either too much or too little of either acidic or alkaline rich foods, that individual’s chances of becoming ill, or limited physical functioning is increased. Further, foods that contain organic natural salts, such as leafy greens from plants, and the flesh of fruits and berries, are necessary for optimum health. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” p.24)

The fruits and berries group is defined as the succulent plant part; a fleshy or pulpy fruit, usually edible and of small size irrespective of its structure (Merriam Webster‘s Collegiate Dictionary, 1996). On average, most fruits and berries contain iron, potassium, minerals, vitamins A, B6, and C. The seeds of a plant contain fiber for proper elimination, sodium, and are also considered anti-carcinogenic and anti-oxidant. Most domesticated fruits are alkaline, few are acidic, and therefore, we can infer that fruits in the wild are similar in acids and alkaline content. For example, wild strawberries are considered a very good mineral source of calcium, iron, phosphorus, sodium, vitamins A, B, C, and an anti-oxidant. Because strawberries contain Phenylethylamine (PEA), it is considered an anti-depressant and mood lifting. It is acidic in nature, and the seeds make for great fiber in the intestines and bowels. Wild Huckleberries which are alkaline are high in potassium, iron, and vitamins B and C, thus making it an excellent choice for building healthy blood. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” pp.24-25)

During earlier times plant food preparation (if not eaten raw or dried for later use) by most tribes was done by boiling in water or roasting in an earth bed of rocks, wood and leaves or other plants. Food bulbs or roots were placed in the pit on top of leaves and protected with another layer of leaves on top; light soil was then placed covering the pit and a fire was then built. At other times a fire of wood was first made in the pit heating the rocks, and then allowed to burn the wood to charcoal before the addition of the protected food source. Some tribes in the Great Plains culture still practice these methods of cooking today. In addition, with the new convenience of cement, a pit is lined with it and can be used over and over, thus, making the roasting method easier. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” p.19)

The Blackfeet practiced a system of burning or setting on fire areas of land. By doing so, it would insure a healthy crop of both wild and cultivated bushes, plants, and grasses for human and animal consumption. For instance, the Blackfeet knew that where the healthy bushes and grassy plains were, so too were the bison. The process of burning away promoted the new brush and healthy grass that the bison preferred. This process would also greatly enhance edible roots such as the prairie potato, turnip, camas and Indian breadroot. As a result, roots, plants and wild game for consumption would be highly nutritious and ensure a higher quality of physical health. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” p.13)


The line between an agricultural and hunter-gatherer tribal society is not clear cut. Many Native American tribes that are considered agriculturalist continue to hunt and gather year around, especially during the winter months. Conversely, many hunter-gather tribes would manipulate the landscape through cutting or burning un-useful plants while also encouraging those they could consume. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” p.4)

Archeological evidence supports that at approximately 11,000 years ago, in Europe and Asia there was a movement towards the deliberate cultivation of wild grains for gluten. Cultivation of gluten enhanced the rising (fluffy) quality, smoother texture and taste of bread products. There after began the first domestication and processing of wild grain plants, notably wheat, millet, and barley. On the American continent, Native American agriculturalist and hunter-gatherer tribes did not cultivate wild or domesticate grain plants specifically for gluten. There was no un-natural processing or manipulation, genetic or otherwise. Research supports that the Euro and Asian cultures that modified grains, especially for gluten purposes, developed diabetes and its associative diseases. (Eades, M.D., Michael R., and Eades, M.D., Mary Dan Protein Power: The High-Protein/Low-Carbohydrate Diet. New York, NY: Batam Books. 1996)

Native American agriculture was most advanced in what is now the southern United States, Mexico, and the Andean region of South America. Native Americans from those areas used special farming techniques like irrigation, terracing, crop rotation, and planting windbreaks to improve their farms, and they usually harvested enough crops to dry and store for the winter. Some examples of southern Native American tribes who were expert farmers included the Hopi, Navajo and Cherokee tribes. Other tribes further to the north planted crops in garden plots in their villages but did not harvest enough to last the winter, so they would split up into hunting camps during that time instead. Examples of northern tribes who farmed this way included the Lenape and Iroquois tribes Besides food crops, Native American farmers often grew cotton, hemp, tobacco, and medicinal plants. (

It can be safely said that because Native Americans did not manipulate grains for gluten properties, there are no reported incidences of diabetes and associative diseases prior to the introduction of processed foods that contain gluten.

Wild Rice Harvesting

A variety of plant foods were used throughout the North American continents, notably corn (in the temperate regions) and wild rice (in the Great Lakes region). Dry corn was first soaked in lime water (water in which calcium carbonate or calcium oxide is dissolved), a process called nixtamalizacion that softens the corn for use and releases vitamin B3, which otherwise remains bound in the grain. The resulting dough, called nixtamal or masa, can be prepared in a variety of ways to make porridges and breads. Often these preparations were then fried in bear grease or other fat. Many groups grew beans and enjoyed them as “succotash,” a dish comprised of beans, corn, dog meat and bear fat. As an adjunct to the diet, corn provided variety and important calories. But when the proportion of corn in the diet became too high, as happened in the American Southwest, the health of the people suffered. Skeletal remains of groups subsisting largely on corn reveal widespread tooth decay and bone problems. (William Campbell Douglass, MD, The Milk Book, Second Opinion Publishing 1994, page 215)

‘If agriculture provides neither better diet, nor greater dietary reliability, nor greater ease, but conversely appears to provide a poorer diet, less reliably, with greater labor costs, why does anyone become a farmer? (Cohen, M. N. “Population pressure and the origins of agriculture: an archaeological example from the coast of Peru”, in Reed, C.A., ed., The Origins of Agriculture, Mouton, The Hague. 1977)

“The adoption of cereal agriculture and the subsequent rise of civilisation have not been satisfactorily explained, because the behavioural changes underlying them have no obvious adaptive basis… The answer, we suggest, is this: cereals and dairy foods are not natural human foods, but rather are preferred because they contain exorphins. This chemical reward was the incentive for the adoption of cereal agriculture in the Neolithic. Regular self-administration of these substances facilitated the behavioural changes that led to the subsequent appearance of civilisation… Though it was, we suggest, the presence of exorphins that caused cereals (and not an alternative already prevalent in the diet) to be the major early cultigens, this does not mean that cereals are ‘just drugs’. They have been staples for thousands of years, and clearly have nutritional value. However, treating cereals as ‘just food’ leads to difficulties in explaining why anyone bothered to cultivate them… The fact that overall health declined when they were incorporated into the diet suggests that their rapid, almost total replacement of other foods was due more to chemical reward than to nutritional reasons… Thus major civilisations have in common that their populations were frequent ingesters of exorphins. We propose that large, hierarchical states were a natural consequence among such populations. Civilisation arose because reliable, on-demand availability of dietary opioids to individuals changed their behaviour, reducing aggression, and allowed them to become tolerant of sedentary life in crowded groups, to perform regular work, and to be more easily subjugated by rulers. Two socioeconomic classes emerged where before there had been only one (Johnson & Earle 1987:270), thus establishing a pattern which has been prevalent since that time… Opium poppies, too, were an early cultigen (Zohari 1986). Exorphin, alcohol, and opium are primarily rewarding (as opposed to the typically hallucinogenic drugs used by some hunter-gatherers) and it is the artificial reward which is necessary, we claim, for civilisation… Cereals have important qualities that differentiate them from most other drugs. They are a food source as well as a drug, and can be stored and transported easily. They are ingested in frequent small doses (not occasional large ones), and do not impede work performance in most people. A desire for the drug, even cravings or withdrawal, can be confused with hunger. These features make cereals the ideal facilitator of civilisation (and may also have contributed to the long delay in recognising their pharmacological properties)… Our hypothesis is not a refutation of existing accounts of the origins of agriculture, but rather fits alongside them, explaining why cereal agriculture was adopted despite its apparent disadvantages and how it led to civilisation… Gaps in our knowledge of exorphins limit the generality and strength of our claims. We do not know whether rice, millet and sorghum, nor grass species which were harvested by African and Australian hunter-gatherers, contain exorphins. We need to be sure that preagricultural staples do not contain exorphins in amounts similar to those in cereals. We do not know whether domestication has affected exorphin content or-potency. A test of our hypothesis by correlation of diet and degree of civilisation in different populations will require quantitative knowledge of the behavioural effects of all these foods.” (Wadley, Greg; Martin, Angus “The Origins of Agriculture: A Biological Perspective and a New Hypothesis” Australian Biologist 6: June 1993 pp. 96-105)(Itallics added)

Groups led by Zioudrou (1979) and Brantl (1979) found opioid activity in wheat, maize and barley (exorphins), and bovine and human milk (casomorphin), as well as stimulatory activity in these proteins, and in oats, rye and soy. Cereal exorphin is much stronger than bovine casomorphin, which in turn is stronger than human casomorphin. Mycroft et al. (1982, 1987) found an analogue of MIF-1, a naturally occurring dopaminergic peptide, in wheat and milk. It occurs in no other exogenous protein… Since then, researchers have measured the potency of exorphins, showing them to be comparable to morphine and enkephalin (Heubner et al. 1984), determined their amino acid sequences (Fukudome &Yoshikawa 1992), and shown that they are absorbed from the intestine (Svedburg et al.1985) and can produce effects such as analgesia and reduction of anxiety which are usually associated with poppy-derived opioids.(Greksch et al.1981, Panksepp et al.1984). (Wadley, Greg; Martin, Angus “The Origins of Agriculture: A Biological Perspective and a new Hypothesis” Australian Biologist 6: June 1993 pp. 96-105)

One of the most striking phenomena in these studies is that patients often exhibit cravings, addiction and withdrawal symptoms with regard to these foods (Egger 1988:170, citing Randolph 1978; see also Radcliffe 1987:808-10, 814, Kroker 1987:856, 864, Sprague & Milam 1987:949, 953, Wraith 1987:489, 491). Brostoff and Gamlin (1989:103) estimated that 50 per cent of intolerance patients crave the foods that cause them problems, and experience withdrawal symptoms when excluding those foods from their diet. Withdrawal symptoms are similar to those associated with drug addictions (Radcliffe 1987:808). (Wadley, Greg; Martin, Angus “The Origins of Agriculture: A Biological Perspective and a new Hypothesis” Australian Biologist 6: June 1993 pp. 96-105)

Concerning milk, Native American hunter-gatherer tribes did not domesticate animals for milk purposes. Further research supports that 80% of the global population is allergic to milk after a young age due to the lack of specific enzymes to break down the milk lactose (sugar). An individual’s enzymes naturally decrease with age. Therefore, milk is best suited for babies and youth, preferably mother’s breast milk (Eades:1996). Native Americans consumed calcium nutrition found in berries, leafy plants, stems, and roots.

The study on Blackfeet foods and history is exemplary of the forced cultural impact and life-style changes upon Native tribes across North America. The Blackfeet history begins in 1730, approximately the time when guns, horses and small pox first appeared, thus, altering the life of the Blackfeet forever. The 1730 period is followed by the 1855 Lame Bull treaty that brought a greater abundance of United States government “rations” (flour, sugar, coffee, lard and etc.). This same period includes the beginning of missionary school system as a means of education and assimilation of the dominant culture’s food/life ways, philosophy, and religion, therefore, effectively altering the health of Blackfeet. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” p.5)

Lame Bull Treaty was signed by leaders of the Blackfeet tribe gathered at the mouth of the Marias and Judith Rivers on October 17, 1855. This treaty defined tribal territories and proclaimed peace between the tribes and the U.S. Government. In exchange the attending tribal participants were given sacks of processed white flour, sugar, tea and etc. These staples became their introduction to foods that have eventually contributed to the present health conditions of the Blackfeet today. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” pp.10-11)

Blackfeet author, Marietta King, describes the “Food Pyramid Lodge” from her book Native American: Food is Medicine (2002). The Food Pyramid Lodge is based upon her research on the hunter-gather diet and the USDA Food Guide Pyramid and then modified to meet today’s dietary changes amongst Native peoples. Her Food Pyramid includes 7 food groups; meats (protein; fish, poultry and eggs), vegetables, berries (carbohydrates), unsaturated fats (fats), herbs, milk and grains/sweets. According to Ms. King, Native people are lacking proper physiological nutrition and suffering from food related illnesses due to the changes in diet from tribal hunter-gather to processed American foods. “Native people every where are suffering from food related diseases because their bodies are designed to receive culturally and environmentally appropriate foods. These foods include the plants and roots found in their tribal homelands. Since not all Natives still gather foods and plants from the wild or have gardens, we now hunt and gather from the store. Native people must educate themselves on the food available to them and what is appropriate for their tribal diet. The processed grains, sugar, canned vegetables, processed cheese and milk are literally making the Native American person ill. Rather, we should be choosing from the market fresh vegetables, fruits, meats and healthy oils such as pure virgin olive oil. The good fats from the oil help to replace the healthy fats that Blackfeet in the past use to consume from buffalo tallow. Then we need to learn ‘how to eat’ the foods in order to avoid high cholesterol. This is more like food combining. Our ancestors did not have the food choices that we have now and their lives were physically more rigorous and foods organically clean, therefore, they did not have to deal with the illnesses brought on by foods like today.” (“Native Plants and Nutrition” pp.26-27)

The history of the Blackfeet, one of several Native American tribes of the Great Plains culture area, demonstrates the course of changes from a hunter-gatherer diet towards the assimilation of modern foods. At this time, one-hundred and fifty-one (151) years after the Lame Bull Treaty, and territorial boundaries established, the Blackfeet are still knowledgeable on tribal foods and plants. Although access to tribal foods is limited, efforts towards resurrecting traditional wild plant crafting, and further plant food identification is in process. This is evidenced mainly by the few education systems that instruct on wild plant foods identification, health benefits, nutrition, and use in plant medicines, that serve the Blackfeet population. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” pp.28)

Preservation of this knowledge is important in that it further perpetuates cultural lifestyle, perceptions, and make possible a return to increased health… It is suggested that a more intense study on the native wild plant foods be further researched with Native American name associations, and nutritional value identified. A field study with Natives knowledgeable on their tribal plants is also suggested. (“Native Plants and Nutrition” pp.28)

“Be skeptical of government guidelines. The Indians learned not to trust our government and neither should you.” (Morrell, Sally Fallon & Enig, Mary “Guts and Grease: The Diet of Native Americans” December 31 1999 Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation 2001)

The Alexander Technique 2: Posture Release Imagery

John Appleton’s Posture Release Imagery was invented “to help us out of the all-too-common world of unnecessary discomfort, pain, fatigue, and other posture-related body dissatisfaction.”

Appleton’s bio describes the beginnings of this Posture Release Imagery:

“I was giving a lesson in the Alexander Technique to a young theatre student. I was working with him seated in a chair and having difficulty getting him to “lighten up.” When my verbal suggestions and light (but still novice) hands-on cues failed to produce change, I happened to suggest that he imagine that he is a cheetah looking over a savannah for prey. Being a suggestions (an image) I had heard from a teacher before, this image obviously worked for him in a way that my earlier approaches had not. He “shot up” in stature (without leaving the chair). This event of providing a student with “colorful” direction marked the beginning of years of experimentation with imagery… and numerous new levels of excitement and understanding in my work as well as pain relief and freedom within myself.”


Posture Release Imagery is a mental form of posture exercise, but it becomes quite physical in effect. It promotes more naturally graceful movement. It was inspired by the principles of the Alexander Technique, evolutionary theory, and a theory of personality types.

This unique form of imagery is a new way of exploring the healthy use of our bodies and, with time, it can be utilized during virtually any activity. As you develop the ability to do the mental exercises well, you will unleash hidden lightness, stability, and gracefulness within yourself.

These images, correctly imagined, call upon the sensory wisdom of our “right brains,” that part of our thinking that is visual and holistic as opposed to verbal and linear. The exercises are largely based on illustrations of a the simplest version of a four-legged creature, what I call an “archetypal tetrapod.”

This creature represents a “map” of our own body surfaces—and our evolutionary history—simplified. The exercises provide a challenging but ultimately rewarding way to experience the body. If practiced with diligence, the use of Posture Release Imagery can result in a much improved posture and a more graceful yet sturdy sense of ourselves.

PRI is both therapeutic and educational. I consider it a valuable tool for overcoming posture and habit generated pain but also for increasing understanding and empathy for others with postures and habits quite different from your own. The imagery alters habitual response. Some of the imagery is visual in nature, some of it is related to the senses of the surface of our body (tactile/kinesthetic or somatosenses), and some is a combination of both.

The development of the imagery initially began as a result of my effort to describe the Alexander Technique through illustration to people unfamiliar with it. Musing on my own drawings of simplified evolution brought about my first new principle, which relates to the appropriate relationship between the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the body). This principle partly sprang from contemplating a portion of a principle of the Alexander Technique, which was “… back to lengthen and widen.” From there grew an awareness that imagery could provide new knowledge and additional principles of healthy posture and body use. The usefulness of specific imagery for students and myself later became apparent while teaching lessons in the Alexander Technique, and, as a result, the imagery evolved considerably beyond the generally accepted scope of the Alexander Technique. People without lessons in the Alexander Technique can benefit from these ideas and exercises.

The type of imagery proposed here is “whole-body.” It entails imagining visual and sensational changes to the entire body surface.

How Imagery Works:

Our “self-image,” for instance, may be quite unavailable to our consciousness and yet it can be shown to be of major importance to our well-being. Posture Release Imagery demonstrates this assertion. It does so by temporarily changing the body and its posture and tonus pattern from what had been the “self-image.”

Imagery has been written about, experimented with, and classified. But, from my perspective and for the purposes of this book, it is simply “colorful thought.” To direct movement in a healthy graceful manner, linear thoughts (as in, “do this and then do this…”) alone are insufficient. Appropriate kinesthetic sensations are necessary… and they can come from the more complete and immediate assistance of non-linear, holistic images that provide us the full direction required in activity… if we want to break our constrictive habits.

We normally think of sensations as the result of the body’s and the environment’s influences. That may be frequently true, but it will be shown through your experimentation here that sensations, though they are the results of events, actually cause our bodies to react as they do and that promoting proper sensations can eliminate the pains and dysfunctions we habitually experience.

Images are part of our every movement though, of course, we are most often unaware of their presence. It is when we suffer pain and unsatisfying posture and movement qualities that a solution is called for. The imagery here… replaces the dysfunctional images you are unaware of with specific archetypal ones.

There is a degree of imagery in all disciplines for promoting greater health, of one sort or another, within us. Examples are in tai chi, yoga, zen, all of the religions, sports and exercise regimens, the Alexander Technique, other mind/body and psychology disciplines and therapies. I consider the specific imagery introduced here as an approach that more directly and simply alters sensation, then posture, and then potentially onward to attitude and outlook. I am not suggesting that it replaces all of the disciplines I have mentioned… but it can enhance/support them.

The illustrations on this page indicate the locations of the dorsal (white) and ventral (dark gray) surfaces on us all. They are invisible on us and their more precise locations have not been previously indicated anywhere that I am aware of… on body maps or illustrations. Perhaps earlier there was insufficient value in more precisely identifying their locations, but there certainly is now! I have discovered that it is beneficial to be familiar with where each surface is, sometimes rather precisely, and to understand how they can be opposingly sensed to produce a healthy, light, sturdy, and pain-free body. Much of the experimenting with Posture Release Imagery that follows depends on this familiarity.

We have all seen the highly simplistic fish-to-human illustrations of evolution. The first illustration above is something similar, and also very simplified, but has the specific purpose of suggesting how the dorsal and ventral surfaces have evolved and come to be located on humans. The positions of the dorsal and ventral surfaces have gone through some big changes through evolution and that should be noted. The dorsal surface of early organisms faced upward and the ventral surface was on the underside. As evolution has progressed, that has changed… though not entirely.

The simpler caricatures of evolutionarily earlier creatures, acting as map surfaces for displaying body tonus and other qualities, are useful for describing many of the new and refreshing kinesthetic experiences to come.

This small illustration here represents a simple or “archetypal” form of a tetrapod with an upper dorsal surface and lower ventral surface. It is as basic as it can be and still indicate the major attributes of a four-legged, or orignally four-legged, vertebrate animals. This and other caricatures of various simplified creatures are used throughout this book to indicate how you might imagine yourself to be, though your own body is considerably more complex in appearance

Dorsal-Ventral Relationship – in relation to gravity:

Healthy and efficient support of our structure (and that of probably all land-bound tetrapods) comes from the appropriate relationship of the dorsal and ventral surfaces. In relation to gravity, the entire dorsal surface gently expands upward and outward and the entire ventral surface gently contracts downward and inward. This response is the general neurological model for the proper positioning of the skeletal system with the least effort by means of the muscular system.

In addition, the healthy ventral relationship to the earth is enhanced by sensing its total contact with the earth… if necessary, by imaging it so.

The images rest on the notion that something significant, though not necessarily conscious, comes to us from our distant past. Can it be that we maintain our continuity and control our support against the force of gravity in the same way as do all land-bound creatures (terrestrial tetrapods)? Could the relationship of the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the body be key to appropriate support or posture of all these creatures? Are there common principles in movement control and movement execution that all creatures have… and we frequently manage to ignore? With PRI experience, the answer to these questions and others seems to be yes.

Dorsal-ventral relationship- in relation to the self and other, independent of gravity:

The dorsal surface should generally be felt as expanding in relation to a ventral surface that is sensed as contracting… even without respect to gravity

The functional segments– the director, motor, and rudder:

The body consists of functional (though invisible) segments that can be viewed (through imagery) as somewhat independent from each other… in order to promote optimal postural health. The locations where the segments are separated can be usefully thought of as balance “pivot points” and “borders” between functions.

There are three basic functional parts of the body that most determine posture and movement. I have simply named them the “director,” “motor,” and “rudder” segments. These segments have distinct functions in support and movement. All three segments in the horizontal creature are obviously horizontal, but only the middle “motor” segment is vertical or “upright” in the third and fourth upright examples. Imagining sharp distinctions between the segments and their orientation is another tool for attaining healthy structure. Experiences of more graceful posture and movement, as well, are attained when these segments are felt and imagined to be substantially free of each other in order to carry out their separate functions.

The functional segments – the additional segments:

It is important for the left and the right sides of the body to be free of cross-body tensions in order to do many things well. More graceful movement is attained when these segments are felt or imagined to be substantially free and independent of each other. One side can be felt to influence the other, but not to control it.

The dorsal “roof” or “cover” and the ventral “floor” have separate functions suggested by the names I have given them here. They also make up the most basic of body segmentation and can be usefully imagined as separated. These special segments are described more fully in the dorsal-ventral relationship above and their point of separation, what I call the “dorsal-ventral seam” is discussed separately below.

The body is made up of additional functional segments and locations for sensing greater freedom which improve structural sturdiness and strength as well as graceful movement (shown on the right as “YES”).

All of the sensed locations of splits or extra freedom are healthy… in contrast to the linguistic and subconscious way that we tend to mentally divide the body into the body parts – arms, legs, head, neck, eyes, ears, nose (nostrils), “body,” and “tail” section (shown on the left as “NO”). Healthy support and movement comes from a whole body flow of neurological impulses originating from organisms older than the body parts we tend to be fixated on.

The functional segments– where freedom and strength are the same:

The locations where the body can be usefully thought of as segmented are the same locations where we can carrying loads with the least strain. Merely imagining carrying large weights at these locations is, in addition, an actual strengthening (of structure) activity.

The dorsal-ventral seam:

The border area between the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the body is of prime importance in both perception and locomotion. (This borderline is shown here in red on simple archetypal four-legged creatures but is illustrated on human-like figures elsewhere.) Most perception and movement originates along this border or “seam.” Subtle and graceful expression and movement responses begin here. When some tension or increased tone is necessary in the body, as when doing work, it is healthiest when the tension is felt to be closer to these border areas (as well as to the ventral surface) than when in the core of the body. Imagery of changes along this zone is very useful to attaining greater grace in movement and expression, as well as to improving perception of the world outside.

Posture, locomotion, and emotion:


There is a meaningful and historical connection between posture, elemental locomotion, and elemental emotion. (This assertion is made by others as well. However, included in this book are some illustrations that begin to suggest how more precisely it is true.)

The evolutionary waves in graceful movement:

Early organisms’ methods of locomotion (whole-body peristalsis, lateral undulation, and dorsal-ventral undulation) became the model for neurologically directing graceful and efficient movement of appendages (limbs or wings, for example) in higher life forms. (This idea is not new, perhaps, but its implications can be more valuable to our health and use than is generally understood.) It is more valuable to think of easy or graceful movement as being the consequence of body surface flow rather than just the sense of muscle contraction and release.

The double or repeating waves:

Muscle tonus patterns in the head, neck, and front portion of the shoulder and arms are, in undisturbed function, repeated in the rest of the body. This assertion is made toward the bottom of my list but may be the most important. It suggests that the tonal patterns of the face, head, neck, and the front portion of the shoulder and arms (light gray area on the archetypal creatures illustrated here) repeat themselves below, in all the wave forms, through the remainder of the body (dark gray area).

“Neck free, head forward and up…”

“Neck free, head forward and up…” is imaginarily illustrated in the upper drawing. But the same general instructions are shown in this other illustration as well. The differences show in the tilt of the “freed” portions can be significant in the results of the basic image. This difference can be experiencially valuable. If you tried the universal image version of this exercise and “experienced” the basic image that has no tilting body segments, then next try, with some diligence to experience the four versions illustrated below… the four types. If you have not worked with the universal image version of this exercise, it may be best for you go to the universal imagery page, read the short description and instructions, and do that one first.

The effect upon you of these various forms may well be different than the illustrations imply. That could be good. It means that you have imagined, and not actively imitated the variations and allowed its effect to travel all through your body. The effects of this exercise on the lower portions of the body are not illustrated here and can be quite significant.

The Alexander Technique: Notes on Body Awareness in Action

These are my notes from Frank Pierce Jones’ book Body Awareness in Action: A Study of the Alexander Technique (Schocken 1979):

F.M. Alexander

F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) discovered a method (a “means whereby”) for expanding consciousness to take in inhibition as well as excitation (“not-doing” as well as “doin”) and thus obtain a better integration of the reflex and voluntary elements in a  response pattern. The procedure makes any movement or activity smoother and easier, and is strongly reinforcing. Alexander and his brother, A. R. Alexander (1874-1947), developed a way of using their hands to convey information directly through the kinesthetic sense. They gave their pupils an immediate “aha” experience of performing a habitual act -walking, talking, breathing, handling objects, and the like – an a nonhabitual way. The technique changed the underlying feeling tone of a movement, producing a kinesthetic effect of lightness that was pleasurable and rewarding and served as the distinguishing hallmark of nonhabitual responses. (p.2)

F.M. Alexander published four books between 1910 and 1941. In them he presented a unified view of the organism, strongly opposed to any form of mind-body dualism. He maintained that under the influence of civilization, man as a whole – as a human being – had degenerated that he had reached a stage where his instincts were no longer reliable, and that if he was going to survive, his behavior had to be reintegrated on a conscious level. (p.2)

Applying a light pressure with his hands, the demonstrator changes the balance (or poise) of the subject’s head in such a way that the muscles in the nape of the neck lengthen, allowing the head to rotate slightly forward as it moves up from the shoulders. Care must be taken not to set up stretch reflexes in the muscles by using too much pressure or applying pressure too rapidly. Properly carried out, the procedure will establish a new dynamic balance between the weight of the head and the tonus of the muscles so that within a limited range (greater in some than in others) the head behaves like an inertial system which can move or be moved freely in any direction without a feeling of weight. The demonstrator then helps the subject to continue the changed relation between the head and trunk during a few everyday movements like walking, sitting down and standing up, or raising his arms. In the process the subject’s body can be felt by the demonstrator to lengthen and become lighter. Subjects regularly report that the movements are easier and smoother and that they feel lighter and taller while they are doing them. “More ease and lightness,” “a feeling of ease, of competence – very different from ‘relaxation’,” “a greater degree of ease and consequent pleasure,” are expressions that subjects have used to describe the experience. (p.5-6)

The feeling of pleasure in an everyday movement takes the subjects by surprise, and their faces break spontaneously into a smile as they notice it. “It’s a funny thing,” one of them said. “It’s as if my arms liked moving this way and wanted to do it again.” To some subjects the idea of moving against gravity (as in getting up from a chair) without effort is difficult to grasp – “a source of wonderment.” In describing the experience, one said: “First I was sitting down, and then I was standing up. I don’t know how I got there.” (p.6)

Francis Bacon said that in a scientific investigation “it would be an unsound fancy and self contradictory to think that things which have never yet been done can be done except by means which have never yet been tried”… It was only after I realized attention can be expanded as well as narrowed that I began to note progress. I order to move on conscious level in which I could be aware of both doing and not-doing (of the inhibitory as well as the excitatory part of the movement), I had to expand my attention so that it took in something of myself and something of the environment as well. It was just as easy, I found, instead of setting up two fields- one for the self (introsepection) and another for the environment (extraspection)to establish a single integrated field in which both the environment and the self could be viewed simultaneously. (p.9)

I had been aware of neckmuscle tension before but had not been aware that the tension increased in response to stimuli. Now the response pattern- began to stand out against the newly induced background of postural tone so that there was a clear-cut figure-ground relation between them. (p.10)

What the procedures I learned from A.R. had done was to remove a great deal of the “noise” from the tonic “ground” so that the tensional “figure” was easier to perceive. Once the figure was perceived for what it was- an increment of tension in response to a particular stimulus- it could be controlled; “inhibited” was the word A.R. used. (p.10)

After I had clearly perceived the pattern of neck-muscle tension and understood the part it played in one everyday movement, I began to notice it in other movements. It appeared when I started to sit down as well as when I started to stand up. I noticed it sharply in climbing stairs, in picking up a suitcase, in taking a deep breath, in writing a letter. Less sharply but unmistakably, the pattern appeared in everything I did. When it was inhibited, the same effect followed as in the first movement that had been demonstrated on me.The pattern was not confined to the neck. The neck was merely the distribution point at which the increase in tension began and from which it spread like a net to other parts of the body. I noticed it particularly in my arms and shoulders, the small of my back, and the adductor muscles in my legs. The significance of the neck was that the pattern began there, in time as well as space, and if it did not begin there, it could not be propagated to the rest of the body. (p.10-11)

Inhibition is a negative term, but it describes a positive process. By refusing to respond to a stimulus in a habitual way you release a set of reflexes that lengthen the body and facilitate movement. The immediate result of Alexandrian inhibition is a sense of freedom, as if a heavy garment that had been hampering all of your movements has been removed. (p.11)

By expanding the field of consciousness it is possible to enjoy an experience at both a sensory and an intellectual level. By ‘overviewing’ it you can detect and inhibit trains of thought or patterns of tension that otherwise would get in the way of your enjoyment. (p.11)

Having injured my back in an auto accident, I had never been able to sit at a desk for any length of time without discomfort. Now I began to notice that whenever I leaned forward to read or write I displaced my head downward and allowed my chest to collapse so that my torso was a dead weigh on my lower back. Since I had always done this, I assumed that there was no alternative except to make an effort to sit up straight. After experimenting with the technique I discovered that if I inhibited the preliminary displacement of my head I could move forward without becoming heavy and could work at my desk without discomfort.(p.11-12)

The field of attention has a set of kinesthetic coordinates which supply a framework for thinking. If my thoughts were pulled off the track (as they so frequently were) into irrelevancy, the change in direction of thinking registered kinesthetically as a disturbance in the level of tonus and my thought could be brought back before it had progressed very far along its stream of associations. (p.13)

Because the field of attention is not simply a theoretical construct but a kinesthetically perceptible state of tonus, any emotional disturbance affects it immediately and can often be perceived as a change in the level of muscle tone before a reaction in the autonomic system has begun. Anger for, for example, has a characteristic pattern that is easy recognizable. In one lesson I was suddenly aware that I was twitching with anger at something A.R. was saying (he was trying, no doubt, to provoke a reaction) and that the muscles in my neck and shoulders were being strongly activated. It was the same pattern that I had noticed before when A.R. was trying to get me to stand up in a coordinated way. This time instead of trying to control my anger (which I thought was well justified) I turned my attention to my neck and shoulders. I found that I could inhibit a further increase of tension and allow the muscles to lengthen; and that as long as I did this I could carry on a rational conversation in spite of my inward agitation. It was an altogether different process from suppressing anger, which used to tie me into a knot. The emotion (or the automatic manifestation of it), instead of building up to an explosive force, remained a potential for action but did not interfere with rational decision. The same procedure could be used to take the panic out of fear. Redirecting or containing an emotion in this way is not the same thing as relaxing or ignoring the stimulus, both of which would reduce the capacity for action if action should be needed. (p. 13-14)

F.M. Alexander called this process ‘keeping in touch with your reason.’ A great deal of ingenuity has gone into developing biofeedback devices for controlling various parts of the autonomic system directly. Alexandrian inhibition works indirectly. Skeletal muscles (neck muscles in particular) serve as both monitor and effector, leaving the behavior of the autonomic system to the ‘wisdom of the body.’ (p.14)

The changes that I observed in myself were often unexpected, but they were never accompanied by any sudden or violent release of emotion and never left me feeling defenseless. The Alexander Technique provides the knowledge and freedom to change, but it is change within a developmental model. There is no ‘must.’ Changes take place when you are ready for them and can permit them to happen. Habitual tensions that have grown up over a long period of time limit development and prevent the free expression of personality. They serve as a protection, however, in situations where, rightly or wrongly, a person feels vulnerable or incompetent. The Alexander Technique does not deprive one of this ‘character armoring’ as long as it is needed. Lessons in the technique release an organic process of change that gradually replaces old rigid habits with new habits which are flexible and can themselves be changed. The process of change is not mindless. It can be directed by intelligence into paths that lead to the best development of the individual’s own personality. (p.14)

 … relaxing muscles in his neck instead of tensing them, allowing his head to go ‘forward and up’ instead of pulling it backward and down, lengthening his spine instead of arching it, and widening his back instead of narrowing it… His final step was to bring the whole process of inhibiting and directing onto the conscious level and keep it there… These procedures, he said, would result in a different activity from the old, habitual activity “in that the old activity could not be controlled outside the gaining of a given end, whereas the new activity could be controlled for the gaining of any end that was consciously desired.” This is a compressed account of how F.M. Alexander discovered his technique of conscious control. The account is a paradigm for bringing the pattern of a learned response (any learned response) onto the conscious level where it can be controlled in such a way that when the associated stimulus is presented, three choices are available: to make the response as it was originally learned; to make a different and more appropriate response; not to respond at all. The procedure, Alexander said, is contrary to all learning procedures that have been followed in the past.(p. 17)

In 1906 and 1907 he published two pamphlets on “respiratory reeducation” and another in 1908, “reeducation of the Kinaesthetic Systems”… The problem he took up first was how to restore normal respiration, but realizing that “nature does not work in parts but treats everything as whole,” he decided that it was necessary to reeducate the whole person in order to accomplish a fundamental change… His thesis was that every normal child possessed at birth the conditions necessary for healthy development… If, however, the child’s natural activity was not encouraged and intelligently directed, his kinesthesis would soon become “demoralized” by the bad habits of the school room and the “crouching positions necessitated by useless and irrational desk work.” The result of the demoralizing conditions of schools and offices and of modern civilized life in general has been a faulty pattern of breathing associated with postural imbalance – “undue rigidity” in certain muscle groups and “undue flaccidity” in others. (p. 19-20)

Besides bad respiratory conditions like emphysema, faulty breathing habits, Alexander said, have produced a variety of postural deformities (“pot-belly attitudes,” Bernard Shaw called them) and a general deterioration of the muscular and nervous systems because imperfect oxygenation of the blood. (p.20)

Unlike other methods of re-education, his was designed to correct both mental attitude and the physical condition at the same time by combining “directive orders” on the part of the pupil (to change the mental attitude) with skillful manipulation on the part of the teacher (to change the physical condition). The directive orders activated the ideomotor centers in the brain without initiating movement… The pupil was instructed to give his attention exclusively to the orders (the means-whereby) and not to concentrate on the end or goal to be reached. The teacher would then bring the pupil into a “position of mechanical advantage” in which the back was widened and the spine more extended. In such a position breathing would be facilitated and stiffening of the neck and arms and other postural faults would be reduced. (p.21)

Alexander’s readings in anthropology and evolutionary thought combined with his observations of contemporary man brought him to the thesis that he advanced in Man’s Supreme Inheritance. Simply stated, the thesis is that “the great phase in man’s advancement is that in which he passes from subconscious to conscious control of his own mind and body.” Animals evolved through mechanisms of subconscious control in accordance with the laws of selective evolution… Man had reached a stage where in evolution he was no longer dependent upon the guidance of instinct and automatic learned responses… It was only by accepting this “inheritance” of conscious control and applying it to the body as well as the mind (to the whole psychophysical self) that man could cope with the stresses of modern life and adapt himself to the changes that civilization imposed. (p.24)

 “Inhibition” is a key concept in Alexander’s thought… the term later had a negative connotation stamped on it by the Freudian school; but Alexander used it throughout his career because it said what he wanted to say more exactly than any other term. To Alexander, inhibition had a definite, operational meaning. It means delaying the instantaneous response (learned or instinctive) to a stimulus until the response could be carried out in the way that was best suited to the well-being of the organism as a whole. (p.25)

To Alexander inhibition was not coequal with excitation: it came first. It is the fundamental process, conscious or unconscious, by which the integrity of the organism is maintained while a particular response is being carried out, or not carried out, as the case may be.(p.25)

Though Alexander sometimes used inhibition as if it were a synonym of reason and intelligence, he did not consider it an exclusively human attribute. Animals, he said, showed it in the natural state. A wild cat stalking its prey, for example, “inhibits the desire to spring prematurely and controls to a deliberate end its eagerness for the instant gratification of a natural appetite.”

In primitive man the power of inhibition increased side by side with the growth of intelligence.(p.26)

Believing that the fundamental problem of education – failure to move ahead onto a fully conscious plane – had to be solved first, Alexander had no use for partial solutions. In particular he deplored methods of education and therapy that aimed at controlling and using, for whatever purpose, the “subconscious self,” as if it were some kind of hidden entity subject to the force of suggestion or autosuggestion… In Man’s Supreme Inheritance Alexander does not give an exact definition of “subconscious self,” but he clearly means by it not a hidden entity (which would destroy the unity of the organism)), but a complex set of habits that operate automatically below conscious level and that are the result of either instinct or prior learning. (p.26)

Of the three factors that determine behavior – heredity, imitation, and learning (training) – Alexander considered only the last two to be significant. He dismissed heredity as negligible. “In the vast majority of cases,” he said, “it can be practically eradicated.” (p.26)

A conscious habit works automatically just as an unconscious habit does, but it is plastic and subject to change and hence is the servant rather than the master of man.

A habit need never be fixed. “It is merely a series of orders which will be carried out until countermanded.” (p.28)

Alexander’s aim in writing his books was “to alert the world to the degenerative effect that civilization was making on the human organism and to outline the steps that must e taken to reverse the process.” (p.39)

One of the examples he chose to show the degeneration of modern man was ‘mind wandering’. In the savage state, mind wandering would be fatal and the individual without the ability to respond appropriately to a novel situation could not survive at all. The answer, Alexander repeats, is not concentration, but a general alertness.(In conversation he illustrated the point by another example from his Australian experience: an amateur who went hunting in the bush looked for game by concentrating his attention first on one spot and then on another. But while he was concentrating, the bird would rise somewhere else and he would miss it. The true hunter, on the other hand, took in the whole landscape with his gaze and was prepared for whatever happened wherever it happened.) Closely connected with mind wandering is the increasing loss of memory evidenced by the prevalence of ‘memory systems’ and courses of ‘mental training.’ All of these systems and courses, Alexander said, were based on an end-gaining principle and were bound to fail. They start out by dividing the organism into mind and body, then proceed to treat what they call the mind separately, ignoring th psychophysical functioning that is present when the memory trace id formed. Everything that is remembered, Alexander pointed out, has come to us through one or the other of the senses… The decay of memory, then, is directly related to the lowering standard of sensory appreciation. (pp.39-40)

Alexanders final conclusion, that the way the organism is used determines the way it functions – “use determines functioning”… The Use of the Self shows an advance in Alexander’s thinking about the technique in two key concepts, “use,” which is brought into the title of the book, and “primary control.” (p.46)

Behavioral scientists usually feel that when they have accounted for genetic factors and environmental influences (including learning) they have said all there is to be said about the individual and that if all genetic and environmental factors were known it would be possible to predict behavior. There is a third factor however: the characteristic way the person uses himself in everything he does. Until this factor is known, no prediction can be made… Unlike heredity and previous experience, use can be brought under conscious control and redirected to enlarge the individual’s potential for creative development. (p.46)

In The Use of the Self, the term “position of mechanical advantage” is replaced by “primary control,” a different concept altogether. Alexander defines it as a control that “depends upon a certain use of the head and neck in relation to the body.” The primary control “governs the working of all the mechanisms and so renders the control of the complex human organism comparatively simple” (pp.59-60). Alexander apparently had the idea of a primary control in the relation of the head to the neck at least as early as 1912. In Conscious Control… he gives as the first in the series of directive orders: “neck to relax, head forward and up.” The idea does not seem to have crystallized, however, until after some of his medical friends had called his attention to the work of Rudolph Magnus… Magnus was struck by the central role played by the reflexes governing the position of the animal’s head in relation to space and in relation to the rest of the body. He and his colleagues published over three hundred scientific papers on the postural reflexes, culminating in the Korperstellung, a 715-page treatise on animal posture published in 1924. His work demonstrated that the head-neck reflexes, were the central mechanism in orienting the animal to his environment (“bringing space into the right position”) both in maintaining a posture assumed for a particular purpose and in restoring the animal to the normal resting posture after the purpose had ben fulfilled. (p.47)

It is through the meditation of head-neck reflexes that a “moving mouse impresses on [a] cat… an attitude, by which the cat is focused toward the mouse and made ready for movement. The only thing the cat has to do is decide: to jump or not to jump.

All other things have been prepared beforehand reflexly under the influence of the mouse…” (Animal Posture, p. 345). If then the mouse retreats, the stimulus to the attitudinal reflex is removed and the other set of reflexes, the righting reflexes in which head-neck reflexes again play the dominant role, take over and the cat is restored to the normal position. “In this way,” Magnus says, “all the senses of the body regain their precise relation to the outer world” (1930, p. 103)… In an important paper published in the British Medical Journal(December 25, 1926), Dr. Peter MacDonald (president of the Yorkshire Branch of the BMA) called attention to Magnus’s precept that “the whole mechanism of the body acts in such a way that the head leads and the body follows,” and pointed out that Alexander in his teaching had anticipated some of the results that Magnus and his colleagues had arrived at through laboratory experiments. (p.47-48)

Having described how he arrived at his principle of conscious control, Alexander goes on to apply it to two concrete cases: a stutterer and a golfer who cannot keep his eye on the ball… Both the golfer and the stutterer had tried many methods of cure but they were not able to overcome their reliance on feeling and their addiction to “end-gaining.” They knew what to do (or not do), but when the stimulus was received neither of them knew how to inhibit his old tendency to make a vast increase of unnecessary tension in preparing for the response. The solution for both of them, as it had been for Alexander himself, was to establish a control in which inhibition of the old response maintained the organism in balance until the new response was established. (p.48-49)

… Alexander argues for the introduction of the technique into the medical curriculum. If a young doctor understood the principle of the primary control, he said, he would posses an invaluable diagnosis tool, since he would be able to estimate how much a patient’s faulty “use” of himself contributed to his disability, and could add to the effectiveness of his treatment for mental as well as physical conditions… Alexander wrote, “that the end for which they are working is of minor importance as compared with the way they direct the use of themselves for the gaining of that end.” (p.49)

When the pupil perceives directly through the kinesthetic sense and can compare a habitual with a nonhabitual way of doing something, he doesn’t need words in order to grasp the significance of the experience… “If we become sensorily aware of doing a harmful thing to ourselves, we can cease doing it.” The key word here is “sensorily.” (p.51)

 For one who is familiar with the technique.. The Universal Constant contains much that is of interest. It starts out with an arresting sentence: “Few of us hitherto have given consideration to the question of the extent to which we are individually responsible for the ills that our flesh is heir to.” It is not so much what we have done in the past or what has been done to us that causes our troubles but what we are doing to ourselves through “the faulty and often harmful manner in which we ourselves in our daily activities and even during sleep”… “an improving manner of use” will exert a constant influence for good “in the restoration and maintenance of psychophysical efficiency”… When you understand the concept of “use”, you will stop saying you have a “bad back” or a “tennis elbow” or an “Oedipus complex” or a “phobia for cats” and find out what you are doing that keeps you from getting over it. (p.57-58)

The most important document incorporated into The Universal Constant is Coghill’s “Appreciation”… In a series of detailed and painstaking observations made over a period of more than thirty years he followed the development of motility and structural change from the earliest manifestations in the embryo… Movement, Coghill said, was integrated from the start, with the “total pattern” of the head and trunk dominating the “partial patterns” of the limbs. The primary function of the nervous system, he said, was to maintain the integrity of the individual “while the behavior pattern expands” (Herrick, p.122). In the total pattern of behavior there were two parts, “one overt or excitatory and the other covert or inhibitory.” the inhibitory factor was essential for the successful execution of specific reflexes… Though spontaneity gradually decreases with the establishment of conditioned reflexes (which like unconditioned reflexes “emerge on the motor side from a field of general activity”), the capacity for spontaneous and creative action is never lost. “Man,” Coghill said, “is a mechanism which, within his limitations of life, sensitivity and growth, is creating and operating himself.”


“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”

– John Burroughs

The main premise of ecopsychology is that while today the human mind is shaped by the modern social world, it is adapted to the natural environment in which it evolved. (Roszack, Theodore (1993). “A new therapy [Letter to the editor]”. BioScience 34 (2): 3.)

According to the “biophilia hypothesis” of biologist E.O. Wilson, human beings have an innate instinct to connect emotionally with nature (Wilson, E. O., (1995). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Island Press. ), particularly the aspects of nature that recall what evolutionary psychologists have termed the environment of evolutionary adaptiveness, the natural conditions that the human species evolved to inhabit.

Certain researchers propose that an individual’s connection to nature can improve their interpersonal relationships and emotional wellbeing.( An integral part of this practice is to remove psychotherapy, and the individual, from the interior of office buildings and homes and place them outdoors (Roszack, Theodore. “The nature of sanity”. Psychology Today. Retrieved March 8, 2012.).

According to the precepts of ecopsychology, a walk in the woods or a city park is refreshing because it is what humans evolved to do. Psychologists such as Roger Ulrich, Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, Frances Kuo and others have studied the beneficial effects of inhabiting natural settings and of looking at pictures of landscapes on the human psyche. Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder discusses in detail how the exposure of children to nature can assist in treating mental disorders, including attention deficit disorder (Review of book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Reed Business Information. Retrieved March 8, 2012).

Yours truly with R.L. Stevenson Elementary students in Muir Woods National Monument

Certain indigenous cultures have developed methods of psychotherapy involving the presence of trees, rivers, and astronomical bodies. (Roszack, Theodore. “The nature of sanity”. Psychology Today. Retrieved March 8, 2012.)

Ecopsychology also proposes that without the influence of nature, humans are prone to a variety of delusions, and that to some degree life in the wild forms the basis for human sanity and optimal psychological development. The topic is explored in detail Paul Shepard’s book Nature and Madness. It is also proposed that separation from outdoor contact causes a loss of sensory and information-processing ability that was developed over the course of human evolution, which was spent in direct reciprocity with the environment. (Roszack, Theodore. “The nature of sanity”. Psychology Today. Retrieved March 8, 2012.)

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

– John Muir

Body, Mind and Healing After Jung

“… culturally the body is divorced from our spiritual salvation, divorced from our psychological and interpersonal development. The body is a cultural toy, a lure to entice a mate, an object to possess.” (Conger, John ; Conger John P. The Body in Recovery: Somatic Psychotherapy and the Self Routledge 2011 p.211)

“You see, inasmuch as the living body contains the secret of life, it is an intelligence. It is also a plurality which is gathered up in one mind, for the body is extended in space…, What you think with your head doesn’t necessarily coincide with what you feel in your heart, and what your belly thinks is not what your mind thinks. The extension in space, therefore, creates a pluralistic quality in the mind. That is probably the reason why consciousness is possible.” – Jung, Carl Nietzche’s Zarathustra: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1934-1939)

Embodiment represents our capacity to bring diverse internal and external elements into an organization called the self.” (Conger, John ; Conger John P. The Body in Recovery: Somatic Psychotherapy and the Self Routledge 2011 p.)

This post is about Embodiment, it presents my notes from the book Body, Mind and Healing After Jung: A Space of Questions

“The body is, of course, also a concentration, or a function, of that unknown thing which produces the psyche as well as the body; the difference we make between the psyche as well as the body is artificial. It is done for the sake of a better understanding. In reality, there is nothing but a living body. That is the fact; and psyche is as much a living body as body is living psyche.” (Jung Carl Gustav Zarathustra Seminar, vol. 1, 1935 p. 396)

For Nietzsche the body is multidimensional: it is, in effect, the great underworld of the unconscious. His emphasis on our embodiment thus brings out his constant theme that our consciousness (or ego) is only a thin, falsely simple aspect of our existence, while the body is made up of plurality and complexity. The body is not only Nietzsche’s favourite metaphor; it is itself ‘an intermediary space between the absolute plural of the world’s chaos and the absolute simplification of the intellect (Blondel and Hand 1991:207) For Nietzsche, the body is fundamentally metaphorical: it carries meaning across from one realm to another. Body is metaphor in the sense that it ‘enacts immanent transcendence… Figuring and transforming self and world [it] points beyond this particular configuration of things and ideasbody is a metaphor that gathers and focuses the chaotic becoming of the world’ (Roberts 1998:161). In Jungian parlance, body is a living symbol of our psychological being in the world, but more than that it functions as a kind of hyper-symbol which holds in chiasm psyches and world, inner and outer, self and other, conscious and unconscious. (Jones, Raya A. Body, Mind and Healing After Jung: A Space of Questions Routledge 2011 p.102)

Friedrich Nietzsche

What would bring person and world together would be the experience of the lived body, which exists simultaneously in both realms, at once subject and object, inner and outer (see Romanyshyn 2000). By dismissing the body as a ‘biological function’, Jung objectifies it in the manner of Decartes. Had Jung been able to remain open to Nietzsche’s work on the body this radical split between psyche-world and object-world might not have occurred and he might have achieved an understanding in which the ‘subjective’ realm of psyche and the ‘objective’ realm of the body would be regarded not as discrete worlds but as ‘heterogeneous, overlapping fields of the self, which energise and shape one another’. (Roberts 1998:90). In fact, as we have seen, the spirit of Jung’s work is often suggestive of just such an understanding. Although Jung begins Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961) by emphasizing the priority of ‘inner’ experiences over ‘outer’ experiences, one of the key episodes recounted in that book crucially transcends such a dichotomy. (Jones 2011:103-4)

The sights, sounds and, we may imagine, the smells and textures of the experience are essential to it. As Brooke (1991:59) says, it tells us that ‘the world as a temple is the primordial reality, and without it there would be no reflective consciousness… The structural unity between the world and human consciousness is given as metaphorical reality.’ But:metaphors are not abstractions from reality, in which two distinct entities, world and temple, are cognitively linked together. Rather metaphors are the primordial means within which our shy and ambiguous world comes into being in the imaginative light of human consciousness.’(Brook 1991:59) This metaphorical reality is an embodied reality, as Nietzsche has suggested. Such an idea is paralleled by recent work in cognitive linguistics by George Lakoff among others. His thesis, that all metaphorical thought and language arises from, and is grounded in, embodiment, makes the body central to the development of even the most abstract thought. (Lakoff and Johnson 1980). (Jones, Raya A. Body, Mind and Healing After Jung: A Space of Questions Routledge 2011:104)

Carl Jung

In light of these developments, it is perhaps possible to imagine a Jungain psychology freed of the fetters of dualism, and the destructive overestimation of ‘inner’ over ‘outer,’ a psychology in which ‘the unconscious’ might be revisioned as profoundly embodied. It might, as David Levin says, be ‘articulated very well in terms of the body’s primordial and archaic attunement; its automatic, and always already functioning intentionalities; its generous endowment of inherent dispositions and propensities; its latent, and sometimes involuntary perceptivities; its implicit structures of pre-understanding’ (Kleinberg-Levin 1985:171). Similarly, the primordial archetypes, in the words of John Welwood (1977:14), ‘instead of being seen as inborn psychic structures or contents of the collective unconscious, may be understood as universal patterns of body-in-the-world.’ (Lakoff and Johnson 1980). (Jones, Raya A. Body, Mind and Healing After Jung: A Space of Questions Routledge 2011 p.107)

As we have seen, the metaphysical outlook, whether Platonic, Christian, Cartesian or modernist, not only excludes and depreciates any vision of self which is not unitary, but also tends to undervalue human embodiment. (Jones, Raya A. Body, Mind and Healing After Jung: A Space of Questions Routledge 2011 p.115)

Human Domestication

Philosophers have long been plagued with the question of man’s place in nature.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1755), for instance, had argued that “civilised” living conditions would have negative consequences, labeled under the term “degeneration” (Rousseau JJ: Discours sur l’origine et les fondemons de l’egalité parmis les hommes. Amsterdam: Marc Michele Rey; 1755.)


In the 1940s, the German philosopher Arnold Gehlen proposed a self-domestication theory of homo sapiens, according to which domestication would, on one hand, induce biological maladaptedness through abandoning natural selection, but, on the other hand, open new prospects for cultural development.(Gehlen A: Der Mensch. Seine Natur und seine Stellung in der Welt. 3rd edition. Berlin: Junker und Dünnhaupt; 1944.)

In regards to the discussion of human biological changes resulting from domestication, psychiatrist Martin Brune reminds and warns us,

Albeit modern human biology may be largely free of moral allegations, there seems to be a need for discussing the possible impact of biological findings and hypotheses on contemporary conceptualisations of mental health and treatment options of psychiatric disorders. This premise is based on the fact that biological ideas have always been at risk of socio-political misuse, and on the concern that the advent of new genetic techniques may be tempting to “improve” human genetic material and eliminate unwanted traits, part of which could erroneously be attributed to human self-domestication.  (Brune, Martin: On human self-domestication, psychiatry, and eugenics, in Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 2007, 2:21 doi:10.1186/1747-5341-2-21)

Brune is obviously referring to eugenics, theories of ‘master races’, etc. That is not what this paper will focus on. The purpose of this paper is to make the argument that ‘civilized’ humans are domesticated animals, regardless of genetic background. Furthermore, I propose that domestication is physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually detrimental to any human being.


Charles Darwin emphasized (1) that the domestication of animals is more than taming, (2) that it represents a goal-oriented process for human purposes, (3) that the variability of physical and ‘mental’ characteristics is greater in domesticated species than in their wild ancestors, including the occurrence of dwarfism and gigantism, (4) that the behavioral plasticity and educability of domesticated species is greater, and (5) that the brain size of domesticated animals is smaller than that of their wild ancestors’.  (Darwin C: Variation of animals and plants under domestication. Volume 2. London: Murray; 1868.)

Darwin points out that, “man differs widely from any strictly domesticated animal; for his breeding has never long been controlled, either by methodical or unconscious selection.”(Darwin 1868: 29) However, I wish to point out that domestic humans are condemned to reproduce only with other domesticated humans, this, enhanced by socio-economic class systems, is a form of selective breeding. The overwhelming majority of civilized humans do not interbreed with the remaining hunter-gatherers of the world.

With respect to brain size, Darwin argued that in contrast to domesticated animals the human brain and skull has increased over time. This is simply incorrect.

University of Wisconsin Anthropologist John Hawks is quoted in a Discover Magazine article titled “If Modern Humans Are So Smart, Why Are Our Brains Shrinking?” :

“Over the past 20,000 years, the average volume of the human male brain has decreased from 1,500 cubic centimeters to 1,350 cc, losing a chunk the size of a tennis ball. The female brain has shrunk by about the same proportion. “I’d call that major downsizing in an evolutionary eyeblink,” he says. “This happened in China, Europe, Africa—everywhere we look.” If our brain keeps dwindling at that rate over the next 20,000 years, it will start to approach the size of that found in Homo erectus, a relative that lived half a million years ago and had a brain volume of only 1,100 cc.”  (McAuliffe, Kathleen “If Modern Humans Are So Smart, Why Are Our Brains Shrinking?” Discover Magazine Jan. 20, 2011)

So why is this happening? The article continues:

“Which brings us to an unpleasant possibility. ‘You may not want to hear this,’ says cognitive scientist David Geary of the University of Missouri, ‘but I think the best explanation for the decline in our brain size is the idiocracy theory.’ Geary is referring to the eponymous 2006 film by Mike Judge about an ordinary guy who becomes involved in a hibernation experiment at the dawn of the 21st century. When he wakes up 500 years later, he is easily the smartest person on the dumbed-down planet. ‘I think something a little bit like that happened to us,’ Geary says. In other words, idiocracy is where we are now… A recent study he conducted with a colleague, Drew Bailey led Geary to this epiphany. The aim of their investigation was to explore how cranial size changed as our species adapted to an increasingly complex social environment between 1.9 million and 10,00 years ago. Bailey and Geary found population density did indeed track closely with brain size, but in a surprising way. When population numbers were low, as was the case for most of our evolution, the cranium kept getting bigger. But as population went from sparse to dense in a given area, cranial size declined, highlighted by a sudden 3 to 4 percent drop in EQ starting around 15,000 to 10,000 years ago. ‘We saw that trend in Europe, China, Africa, Malaysia—everywhere we looked,’ Geary says. The observation led the researchers to a radical conclusion: As complex societies emerged, the brain became smaller because people did not have to be as smart to stay alive. As Geary explains, individuals who would not have been able to survive by their wits alone could scrape by with the help of others—supported, as it were, by the first social safety nets.”

Geary is saying that civilization(dense, settled populations) makes us idiots!

From a biological perspective the greatest dispute with regard to physical changes in anatomically modern humans akin to domestication pertains to the decline of brain volume from around 1,500 cm3 to roughly 1,350 cm3, which could be interpreted in further support of the human self-domestication hypothesis. However, an argument has been made that the decline in stature was accompanied by a reduction in body size such that the allometric brain-body relation remains unchanged.(Ruff CB, Trinkaus E, Holliday TW: Body mass and encephalization in Pleistocene Homo. Nature 1997, 387:173-176)

But the more current research of John Hawks points out that, in civilized peoples, brain size has decreased more than the body:

“Hawks spent last summer measuring skulls of Europeans dating from the Bronze Age, 4,000 years ago, to medieval times. Over that period the land became even more densely packed with people and, just as the Missouri team’s model predicts, the brain shrank more quickly than did overall body size, causing EQ values to fall. In short, Hawks documented the same trend as Geary and Bailey did in their older sample of fossils; in fact, the pattern he detected is even more pronounced. Since the Bronze Age, the brain shrank a lot more than you would expect based on the decrease in body size,” Hawks reports. “For a brain as small as that found in the average European male today, the body would have to shrink to the size of a pygmy” to maintain proportional scaling.” (McAuliffe, Kathleen: If Modern Humans Are So Smart, Why Are Our Brains Shrinking? Discover Magazine Jan. 20, 2011)

So as we see, since the beginning of the Neolithic Revolution; not only has the human brain shrunk relative to the whole body, it’s size reduction is even more prominent for those humans living in civilization (post Bronze Age populations of high density).

Volume 5 of Grzimek’s Encyclopedia of Mammals shows a decrease in brain size for domestic animals species:

There is a close correlation between brain changes and behavioral changes in domestic animals. It has been primarily gregarious wild species that have been domesticated. In captivity, social behavior patterns changed. Many social structures that have the effect of preserving the species in the wild lose their purpose in captivity. Indeed, in view of high-density living conditions, social structures are disadvantageous for contact of domestic animals among themselves and with humans. (Grizimek’s Encyclopedia of Mammals)


In the 1940s Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz speculated on the relation of human psychological capacities to the process of domestication. In his article Durch Domestikation verursachte Störungen arteigenen Verhaltens (“Domestication-induced disorders of species-typical behaviour”, published in 1940) Lorenz reiterated parallels between the living conditions of civilized inhabitants of metropolitan areas with domesticated animals, which he thought indicated signs of degeneration. (Lorenz, K: Durch Domestikation verursachte Störungen arteigenen Verhaltens Z Angw Psychol Charakterk 1940, 59:2-81.)

In the biological literature following Darwin, the term “domestication” became increasingly poorly defined. The criterion of intentional and goal-directed selection, which according to Darwin’s definition was critical for domestication, was largely replaced, at least with respect to humans, by the equation of culture and civilization with domestication.

To more fully understand human domestication, we must delve into the theory of psychological neoteny.

Psychological neoteny is a theory proposed by psychiatrist Bruce Charlton, in which ever-more people retain for ever-longer the characteristic behaviors and attitudes of earlier developmental stages. He used the term neoteny in reference to biological neoteny. To understand psychological neoteny, lets first discuss biological neoteny.

In developmental biology, neoteny is one of the two ways by which paedomorphism can arise. Paedomorphism is the retention by adults of traits previously seen only in juveniles.

Physical, behavioral and neurological features “prolong” over generations, manifesting later and later in ontogeny until specific characteristics of embryos, babies and toddlers emerge as full-blown adult characteristics.


Domestication has involved selection for behavioral characteristics that characterize young animals so, since “behavior is rooted in biology”, domestication has resulted in an array of similar neotenous physical traits having arisen in various domesticated animals.(Trut, L. N. (1999). Early Canid Domestication: The Farm-Fox Experiment American Scientist. 87(2), 160-169.)

Comparative studies on dog and wolf behavior and anatomy have shown that dog physiology and most dog behaviors are comparable to those of young wolves, an example of neoteny and pedomorphism.

Neotenous Wolf

Psychological neoteny is a theory proposed by psychiatrist Bruce Charlton, in which ever-more people retain for ever-longer the characteristic behaviors and attitudes of earlier developmental stages.

Bruce Charlton is a doctor and psychology professor at Newcastle University in Britain. His paper The rise of the boy-genius: psychological neoteny, science and modern life introduced the theory of “psychological neoteny”. The following is the abstract from his paper:

“The mid-twentieth century saw the rise of the boy-genius, probably because a personality type characterized by prolonged youthfulness is advantageous both in science and modern life generally. This is the evolution of ‘psychological-neoteny’, in which ever-more people retain for ever-longer the characteristic behaviours and attitudes of earlier developmental stages. Whereas traditional societies are characterized by initiation ceremonies marking the advent of adulthood, these have now dwindled and disappeared. In a psychological sense, some contemporary individuals never actually become adults. A child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviours and knowledge is probably adaptive in modern society because people need repeatedly to change jobs, learn new skills, move to new places and make new friends. It seems that this adaptation is achieved by the expedient of postponing cognitive maturation – a process that could be termed psychological neoteny. (‘Neoteny’ refers to the biological phenomenon whereby development is delayed such that juvenile characteristics are retained into maturity.) Psychological neoteny is probably caused by the prolonged average duration of formal education, since students’ minds are in a significant sense ‘unfinished’. Since modern cultures favour cognitive flexibility, ‘immature’ people tend to thrive and succeed, and have set the tone of contemporary life: the greatest praise of an elderly person is to state that they retain the characteristics of youth. But the faults of youth are retained with well as its virtues: short attention span, sensation- and novelty-seeking, short cycles of arbitrary fashion and a sense of cultural shallowness. Nonetheless, as health gets better and cosmetic technologies improve, future humans may become somewhat like an axolotl – the cave-dwelling salamander which retains its larval form until death.”  (Charlton BG. The rise of the boy-genius: psychological neoteny, science and modern life. Medical Hypotheses. 2006; 67: 679-81)

Traditional tribal and agricultural societies are characterized by ‘initiation ceremonies’ marking very clear-cut transitions between the stages of life: especially the advent of formal adulthood.(Campbell Joseph, The masks of god: primitive mythology, Penguin: New York, USA, 1991.)

Xhosa male initiation

Initiation ceremonies have been completely wiped away by modern industrial society:

“Indeed, some traditional societies are ‘gerontocracies’ in which age accumulates prestige. But over recent decades in liberal democracies, these transitional ceremonies have dwindled in importance, and often disappeared altogether. The ‘coming of age’ now serves only as an excuse for a party. The reason is that, in an important psychological sense, some modern people never actually become adults – or, if they do, the process is delayed into late middle age when loss of youthful appearance and vitality becomes impossible to deny. The timing of significant marker points of maturity – such as graduation from college, marriage, first child – which used-to occur at almost fixed ages, are in modern cultures stretched across a much larger time span than in the past, mainly by increasing delays in some individuals… With such a chronological spread of events, each individual’s experience is now probably unique in its specific combination and timing of such significant events – which further erodes the predictable progress through formal stages of maturity characteristic of traditional societies. The gradual diminution of initiation ceremonies and indefinite postponement of adopting a stable, integrated adult personality is no accident: these facts recognize that modern societies are characterized by a continual requirement, throughout life, for a child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviours and knowledge [2, 4]. People need repeatedly to change jobs, to learn new skills and information, to move to new places and cultures, to make new friends – all of these are a cultural novelty for human animals evolved to cope with small hunter gatherer societies of just a few hundred people[1, 4]. Since mature adults have not evolved to manage these challenges, it seems that people have adapted by postponing their psychological maturation – a process that could be termed psychological neoteny.”  (Charlton, B.G. 2006)

But of course there is a downside to psychological neoteny, in that the faults of youth are retained as well as its virtues. Modern society is characterized by a short attention span, frenetic sensation- and novelty-seeking, ever-shorter cycles of arbitrary fashion, and (so cultural intellectuals would argue) a pervasive emotional and spiritual shallowness. There are a lot of divorces and broken families. Modern people – it seems fair to say – also lack a profundity of character which seemed commoner in the past.(Charlton B.G. 2006)

The gist of Charlton’s hypothesis is that ‘psychological neoteny’ is an adaptation to domestication, that results in emotional and spiritual shallownesss. What I am contending is that the traits of psychological neoteny are not necessarily beneficial, as proponents of modern society and it’s “boy geniuses” would claim. Psychological neoteny is only necessary for survival in an industrialist culture.

In science, medicine, and most of modern life there has been a powerful and progressive trend toward specialization with less competency in general survival abilities.(Charlton B, Andras P. The modernization imperative. Imprint Academic: Exeter, UK, 2003.)

Psychological neoteny is the response of the human psyche to the trauma of domestication. Consequently, this adaptation to modern society is not necessarily healthy for a human being.


HUMAN = related to Latin homo (gen. hominis) “man,” and to humus “earth,” (cf. Heb. adam “man,” lit. “(the one formed from the) ground” from adamah “ground”).

SPIRIT = mid-13c., “animating or vital principle in man and animals,” from O.Fr. espirit, from L. spiritus “soul, breath,” related to spirare “to breathe,” from PIE *(s)peis- “to blow”

Human means “earth” and Spirit means “wind, breath”

ANIMAL = “having spirit/breath/soul” L. animus “rational soul, mind, life, mental powers; courage, desire,” related to anima “living being, soul, mind, disposition, passion, courage, anger, spirit, feeling,” from PIE root *ane- “to blow, to breathe” (cf. Gk. anemos “wind,” Skt. aniti “breathes,” O.Ir. anal, Welsh anadl “breath,” O.Ir. animm “soul,” Goth. uzanan “to exhale,” O.N. anda “to breathe,” O.E. eðian “to breathe,” O.C.S. vonja “smell, breath,” Arm. anjn “soul”).

When people speak of the “animal nature” of humans, they are actually referring to the “spiritual nature” of humans.

PERCEIVE = c.1300, via Anglo-Fr. parceif, O.N.Fr. *perceivre, O.Fr. perçoivre, from L. percipere “obtain, gather,” also, metaphorically, “to grasp with the mind,” lit. “to take entirely,” from per “thoroughly” (see per) + capere “to grasp, take”

SENSE = c.1400, “faculty of perception,” also “meaning or interpretation” (especially of Holy Scripture), from O.Fr. sens, from L. sensus “perception, feeling, undertaking, meaning,” from sentire “perceive, feel, know,” probably a figurative use of a lit. meaning “to find one’s way,” from PIE root *sent- “to go”. Cognate with Lithuanian sinteti(“to think”), Old High German sinnan (“to go; desire”), Old Irish set(“path, way”).

SENSUALITY = mid-14c., “the part of man that is concerned with the senses,” from O.Fr. sensualité, from L.L. sensualitatem (nom. sensualitas) “capacity for sensation,” from L. sensualis “endowed with feeling, sensitive,” from sensus “feeling” (see sense). Chiefly “animal instincts and appetites,” hence “the lower nature regarded as a source of evil, lusts of the flesh” (1620s).

This last sentence is contradictory, since by definition, animals are spiritual beings.

Human comes from L. humus “earth, soil,” probably from humi “on the ground,” from PIE *dhghem- (cf. L. humilis “low;”

HUMBLE = from O.Fr. humble, earlier humele, from L. humilis “lowly, humble,” lit. “on the ground,” from humus “earth”

*Etymology from