Nature, Solitude & Thought

Solitude and intentional thinking with Abel James.

Nature bathing, forest bathing, time in nature, and living in blue or green zones has been shown to improve health. In today’s podcast, Abel James from Fat Man Burning shares his thoughts on the health benefits of time in nature, social media diets, and connecting with real people.

In This Episode

Episode Intro … 00:00:08
Who is Abel James? … 00:05:10
Doing the Right Things … 00:09:31
Labs Don’t Have All the Answers … 00:15:59
The Gift of Fresh Air … 00:17:20
Creating a Natural Environment … 00:28:37
Soft Gaze … 00:30:58
Internet Fast … 00:40:04
Better Sleep / Focused Time … 00:45:05
Episode Wrap-Up … 00:52:52

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Hi everyone. Today I spoke with Abel James. We had an interesting conversation and took a deep dive into the importance of time in nature as well as the importance of reducing your use of social media, cell phones, and distractions. We hit a few things, that if you can really wrap your head around these techniques, mainly regarding taking reflective time alone in nature, you can guide yourself to have a vastly more successful and enjoyable life. I also share some of the techniques that I’ve kind of stumbled into that have really helped sharpen my life, both my career path and my personal endeavors. These techniques have fundamentally changed me as a person in a good way. So I really do hope you will get this episode or listen. If you’re looking for a review of the evidence in a detailed kind of functional medicine narrative about a health care-related issue, this would not be the podcast for you.

However, if you’re trying to take a step back and assess your life, thinking about who you are, what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you can have more enjoyment, you’ll want to stay tuned in. Identifying what’s important, those things that sometimes get a bit convoluted by the day-to-day. There are some gems here that, again, I really feel can help people break out of being like everyone else, just doing a bunch of stuff. Instead, you should focus on making the most of what you do in a given day, allowing that to advance you toward a greater purpose, a fantastic vision that you have. Perhaps you haven’t even seen that vision and some of the exercises we go into will help you see that vision. I would argue that the opportunity to see the vision is what sets the stage for all that follows.

What I’m saying is that if you do not have a goal that you are working toward, then how would you ever put in place the plan to achieve that goal? So the vision of what you want to do, who you want to be, how you want to live, once you have the absolutely blessed opportunity to have that vision, that’s what gets everything else done. I guess you could say in a really successful organization, you need a leader to rally people around a vision to get something done, where a collective of people achieve more together than they could on their own. Same kind of thing. My apologies if I’m getting a little bit esoteric here, but there is an aspect to well being that I think is not discussed enough. What we discuss today are some of the techniques I’ve discovered that have really helped supercharge those aspects of my life.

I can tell you that getting a better grip on those has already made a demonstrable impact on my life and the impacts appear to be trending in an exponentially positive way. Wo if you’re kind of at a point where taking stock of your life, what you’re trying to do, what’s important and having as much happiness and positive impact as you can is important to you, then this is an episode I would check out. I hope I’m not creating shoes that are too large to fill with this expectation, but there it is. I hope you will check it out. If you’re enjoying the podcast, please leave us a review over at iTunes. Okay. Now we will go to the conversation with Abel James.

➕ Full Podcast Transcript

Intro:

Welcome to Dr. Ruscio Radio discussing the cutting edge in health, nutrition, and functional medicine. To make sure you’re up to date on this and other important topics, visit drruscio.com and sign up to receive weekly updates. That’s DrRuscio.com. The following discussion is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease. Please do not apply any of this information without first speaking with your doctor. Now let’s head to the show.

DrMichaelRuscio:

Hi everyone. Today I spoke with Abel James. We had an interesting conversation and took a deep dive into the importance of time in nature as well as the importance of reducing your use of social media, cell phones, and distractions. We hit a few things, that if you can really wrap your head around these techniques, mainly regarding taking reflective time alone in nature, you can guide yourself to have a vastly more successful and enjoyable life. I also share some of the techniques that I’ve kind of stumbled into that have really helped sharpen my life, both my career path and my personal endeavors. These techniques have fundamentally changed me as a person in a good way. So I really do hope you will get this episode or listen. If you’re looking for a review of the evidence in a detailed kind of functional medicine narrative about a health care-related issue, this would not be the podcast for you.

DrMR:

However, if you’re trying to take a step back and assess your life, thinking about who you are, what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you can have more enjoyment, you’ll want to stay tuned in. Identifying what’s important, those things that sometimes get a bit convoluted by the day-to-day. There are some gems here that, again, I really feel can help people break out of being like everyone else, just doing a bunch of stuff. Instead, you should focus on making the most of what you do in a given day, allowing that to advance you toward a greater purpose, a fantastic vision that you have. Perhaps you haven’t even seen that vision and some of the exercises we go into will help you see that vision. I would argue that the opportunity to see the vision is what sets the stage for all that follows.

DrMR:

What I’m saying is that if you do not have a goal that you are working toward, then how would you ever put in place the plan to achieve that goal? So the vision of what you want to do, who you want to be, how you want to live, once you have the absolutely blessed opportunity to have that vision, that’s what gets everything else done. I guess you could say in a really successful organization, you need a leader to rally people around a vision to get something done, where a collective of people achieve more together than they could on their own. Same kind of thing. My apologies if I’m getting a little bit esoteric here, but there is an aspect to well being that I think is not discussed enough. What we discuss today are some of the techniques I’ve discovered that have really helped supercharge those aspects of my life.

DrMR:

I can tell you that getting a better grip on those has already made a demonstrable impact on my life and the impacts appear to be trending in an exponentially positive way. Wo if you’re kind of at a point where taking stock of your life, what you’re trying to do, what’s important and having as much happiness and positive impact as you can is important to you, then this is an episode I would check out. I hope I’m not creating shoes that are too large to fill with this expectation, but there it is. I hope you will check it out. If you’re enjoying the podcast, please leave us a review over at iTunes. Okay. Now we will go to the conversation with Abel James.

DrMR:

Hi, everyone. Welcome back to Dr. Ruscio radio. I have again with us today, Abel James, and I’m looking forward to this conversation because we’re going to talk about the importance of forest bathing, time in nature, and also some of Abel’s forays into a year without internet. For some of us, we freak out when we don’t have internet on a flight for a couple of hours. I can only imagine being without it for a year, but I can also imagine that there are probably some really awesome silver linings to that experience.

DrMR:

So yeah, Abel, a fruitful tapestry of topics for us to dig into today. Happy to have you back.

Abel James:

Thanks for having me on again.

Who is Abel James?

DrMR:

It’s always a pleasure having you here because one of the things that I really like about you is that you are really grounded. There are some people in the health space, if I’m being perhaps a bit overly candid, who do a good job discussing health and going through research and uncovering important bits of information. However, when I kind of examine them, which I do for every person I interface with, trying to get a better read on who they are as a person and what they are all about, what are their likes and dislikes, I find that they often don’t seem like they are very healthy.

DrMR:

They have some impressive citations of journal articles or mechanisms or things that you can do to improve your health, but I don’t get the sense it’s translating into them actually embodying these concepts and being a healthy individual. You’re on the opposite end of that spectrum. In all of my interactions with you, it really seems that you’re grounded. You’re relaxed. You don’t seem like you’re frantic or kind of chasing the world. That’s one thing that the internet can do is kind of have you on that hamster wheel of stimulation. You’re a good example of that. So I guess I want to just give you some praise for that and let the audience know. I really feel like you’re someone who’s qualified to talk about this, maybe not because you’re at some major university publishing a paper on it, but you figured out how to make it work in your own life and you’re realizing some of the benefits personally.

AJ:

Yeah. It’s so interesting, because it’s not always something that people do on purpose, right? I’ve rubbed shoulders with a lot of people in health. One of the first things that really affected me was before I had a lot of things figured out, I was kind of looking up and trying to identify who has it all figured out? I met a few people in person and some of them didn’t match the picture on the back of their book. They were 30, 40 pounds overweight. Even more than that, when I ran into them and heard them speak, they were marketers. They weren’t healthy people. They identified as marketers. That was kind of how they got their kick out of everything. Health just happened to be the vertical that they were specialized.

AJ:

I was just like, man, that’s sneaky because it’s hard to tell at first, especially online, because it’s so easy to get momentum if you have the marketing chops and money behind it, to prop anyone up these days. You don’t necessarily know who they are. You as well though, likewise, you’re a great example to other people. When I met you the first time compared to later I could tell you were dialing it in more and more as time went on and that’s what you want to see.

DrMR:

Thank you. I appreciate that. I think that’s actually a really great statement because I have noticed that in other people as well. It’s funny to see people earlier in their careers that are kind of trying to figure it all out. But if health is really something central to your life, you’re going to figure out how to have that work/life balance. You are going to learn time management and prioritization of things that are important, like your energy, your mental clarity. These are incredibly important fundamentals. In my opinion, we should be taking stock daily and saying, am I as healthy and as happy as I could be? And if the answer is no, then why not? What can I do to get there? Because it’s not that people just are super healthy. It’s a constant iterative process of reflection and updating.

DrMR:

Sometimes you have to bring in consultants to help you. To your point, what you should see is if you looked at me five years ago compared to now, I come off healthier now than I did then. I can tell you that five years ago, there would be some podcasts that I would come into with my hair on fire, maybe a little bit of brain fog, because I was still struggling with some food reactive brain fog. Now those things are an absolute rarity, but that is because of the important principle of taking periodic stock of how you’re feeling. If the answer isn’t, I’m feeling great, then you need to figure out what you can do to feel great. It is that exercise of determining how you can make these things work in your life. That is the difference between those who succeed and those who may be portraying success as a marketer. There is a really big difference between those two.

Doing the Right Things

AJ:

There’s a difference. Another interesting piece of this is as time goes on, our resolution and interpretation of the media improves. So as we transition from this flash bang, get your attention, short choppy, really in your face aggressive stuff on our phones, basically just 2D media, to a more augmented and virtual reality, into live 3D experiences, you start to sense people’s actual vibe. You start to sense their presence in a different way. You start to recognize and sense that up in your face, overly market-y, fake presentation when before you couldn’t. In fact before you were rewarded for that engagement in the reality TV/tabloid/internet world that we all find ourselves in now.

DrMR:

I love these concepts for our audience because one of the things that I think patients struggle with is the frustration of not feeling well and so they look at this as “well, if we can run this one test, we can figure out this one thing and that’s going to make all the difference”. It is true that in some cases there is a pinpoint diagnosis that really moves the needle unquestionably. At best I would say that is in 30 to 50% of people. However, all the other stuff, the sleep, the enjoyment, the time in nature, the relaxation, the exercise, the food, those things, aren’t going to be fixed by diagnosing the hidden hypothyroidism or gut infection or what have you. Those are going to be a by product of what we’re kind of skirting around here, which is dedicating a part of your focus to being the healthiest person that you can be.

AJ:

Every day. That’s the hard part, right? Not just knowing that you should go for a walk, but doing it, not just knowing that you should drink water and eat veggies and be relatively balanced in your life and just have a couple of beers instead of eight. There’s a big difference between knowing that and doing it. Another interesting piece when you meet these health people in real life, is that you realize they are real people. I’ve met a few A and B list celebrities and they are all definitely real people. It can be unsettling or shocking when you see your favorite health influencer slamming back tequila shots or whatever. But everyone is quite real, for better or worse. It’s really easy, especially now, for a lot of people to get caught up in their own guru-dom. Where, if you’re the health guy in your circle or health girl in your circle of friends and family and influence, then all of a sudden you have to have everything figured out and you always have to be in excellent shape and things like that. It’s not healthy to be in the identity-based sphere of all of this. Where we actually want to be is, on a daily basis, what are the practices that you’re putting into action that eventually lead to big results for you? I heard you recently talked to one of your patients about his shoulder injury and you were talking about your parasite issue and how it didn’t resolve overnight because you found that magic bullet. It resolved by doing the right thing in small ways every day for a long time.

DrMR:

100%. Just an analogy to tie this together for people. Let’s say you were trying to be a professional soccer player. You wouldn’t expect to go from beginner to professional overnight. I mean, there would be constant practice and it wouldn’t, hopefully, be something that felt highly laborious, it would be something that you enjoy. Sure, there are going to be times when you’re pushing yourself with sprints and for fitness and for skill drills, and those might cause muscle building and be painful at times. But the general tone and tenor should be this constant enjoyable practice where you see progressive results over time, but you don’t go from beginner to Pele in a six month period.

AJ:

Yes. I think it’s really tempting to skip over that initial education piece. You know, the actual doing your homework piece of all this. People want to skip right to the results.You’re doing Keto or Atkins or whatever just by going to McDonald’s and getting two hamburgers without the bun. That type of deal. If you want to get real results over time, you’ve got to put in the work. Find the simple things, not the aggressively hardcore and complicated newfangled things. Focus on the old school pillars, and incorporate those practices in your own life. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. You just have to set these kinds of rules for yourself. For me, one of my rules for longevity is be able to sprint basically forever, hopefully. If you can maintain your ability to run away from a threat, then you’re probably going to be okay.

AJ:

If you can pull your own weight up doing one pull-up, if you can maintain your grip strength and open jars well into late life. If you can maintain your balance, then you’re to have a great quality of life for a long time. But if you don’t do those things every day and maintain those muscles and work even harder as you age to some degree, then the “use it or lose it” cliche definitely applies. It really kicks in hardcore for people who are sedentary today, who are also sedentary later.

DrMR:

I actually share that same goal with you of sprinting. It’s one thing that I’ve already decided that when I’m old and gray, well I have a little bit of gray already, so I should say when I’m mostly gray, I will still be sprinting. There’s really no reason not to. Last time I was home where I grew up in Massachusetts, I said to some friends, why don’t we get together like a two hand touch football game? A few of them said, I can’t sprint, I haven’t sprinted in seven years! And I was thinking, well, whose fault is that? But I do think it’s a really important metric. One other thing is I want to slip in here before we skip over to time and nature, because I really want to get some of your thoughts there.

Labs Don’t Have All the Answers

DrMR:

Just again, for the audience, trying to find as many little dustings of anecdotes that may help steer you toward the most beneficial health paradigm. So we often hear that labs and lab results are one of the things that move the needle. They are often portrayed as if you’re not feeling well, labs have all the answers. We will actually be releasing a video on this soon, so just a little foreshadowing here. One of the most popular microbiota stool tests they used in part dog poop to establish the normative ranges for human stool samples. This is the amount of monkey business that’s going on behind the scenes with labs. This is why I repeatedly advise people to not run to “lab-ville” thinking that you’re going to find your answers. There are more labs that are bunk than are actually helpful. If you then put those labs in the hands of a clinician who is just treating the labs and not the patient, how can you expect to see beneficial results from that? I mean, if you’re treating a normative range, that’s in part based upon canine feces, you’re already at a disadvantage.

AJ:

Yikes. I’ll wrap it up there because my dog is a lab. So we’re talking about lab labs.

The Gift of Fresh Air

DrMR:

Perfect. So let’s go over to forest bathing. This is something I know you have a lot of experience with. I’ll give you the floor a little bit here, but I’d love to get your thoughts on forest bathing and/or how that may tie in with lack of internet and whatever one you want to use first. I just want to take people on this hopefully motivational narrative which says – here’s all the great stuff that happens when you reduce internet use and/or spend time in nature. So whatever you want to share there, let’s let’s dig in.

AJ:

Well, imagine for a moment you are on a beach and you can feel the sand beneath your feet and you’re strolling with someone you love and you can feel the sunshine just hitting your skin and you start to appreciate, even just going there mentally, does something. When you take that deep breath. But when you’re in front of screens, when you’re staring into a lamp all day, when you’re under artificial light, just being blanketed by fluorescent and all this blue light that freaks us out without us even knowing it, this adds up over time. You can counteract it by basically adding in a little recess for yourself. For whatever reason we understand that kids, if they’re shackled to desks all day, they need to, for so many reasons, go outside and shake it all out and play games and laugh and cry and run around.

AJ:

Just get that physical state of movement where you cross that threshold, where your blood is pumping, you’re sweating and something’s happening physiologically. You get that release. As adults, we just stand there all day stoically, right? We just stand there or sit there all day. We don’t get any access to that sort of release that you get from being out in nature with that physical movement. But even more than that, it’s a holistic thing. We’re chopped off. We’re separated from and divorced from nature when we’re inside buildings and when we’re inside vehicles with the offgassing of all these different plastic, chemical carpets and these air systems that have mold growing in them throughout, especially in places like Austin and down South. It’s a sad state of affairs and the air quality inside is disastrous.

AJ:

We have a few devices we’ve taken to hotels and we’ve taken on the road to different Airbnbs and air quality inside almost anywhere you are, is disastrous. When you go outside for just a few minutes, you start walking around. In the same way that you get cues, physiologically, from pheromones, from other humans, you get similar effects from breathing in what the giant trees that are hundreds of years old that are around us right here are breathing in and out. The smells that we get this time of year in the fall, just for me, and we were talking about this before we started recording, they trigger memories. It’s powerful, like hearing one of your favorite songs from childhood. Some of these smells throughout the seasons trigger not just physiological effects, which help calm us down, help us breathe more deeply lower heart rates. But they can also can trigger these amazing kind of creative, psychological effects as well. It’s great point. And

DrMR:

It’s a great point. I have to share my experience with this. I recently kind of got a life punch in the stomach when I moved to Austin in August, coming from the Walnut Creek Mediterranean climate, where you can literally have all of your windows open pretty much year round. Maybe two to three days a year I would use my air conditioning and sometimes would use my heat, but it’s pretty much the perfect climate. To your point, I always had everything open with fresh air. I was spending a lot of time outside. Pretty much every call or meeting I would have I’d walk around this nature trail that went through a park, right by my residence. Then I moved to Austin in August. I didn’t realize that in Austin, in the summer, it is so hot that you pretty much can’t go outside.

DrMR:

It’s like being on Venus or something. It’s just unbelievable. You physically can go outside, but if I did the same walk around the block at one in the afternoon, I would come back covered in sweat as if I just ran a marathon. I mean it’s 106 degrees plus humidity, so it feels like it’s 111 degrees. So I was kind of sequestered inside all the time. At the same time, I had a remarkable drop-off in my health. So much so that I was kind of panicking. I was thinking, did something in me just break. Was I feeling in pristine health and then this is my fall? My mind starts going, Oh my God, is this going to be the rest of my life? What happened? It was honestly one of the most challenging periods I’ve had, other than probably when I had the intestinal parasite that I had in college.

DrMR:

There wasn’t mold in my residence. I went through a thorough assessment, because I thought it was mold. This is one of the reasons why we try to be so responsible with how we frame the the mold narrative, because immediately my mind was like, this is mold, Oh my gosh, is this going to be my story and my downfall? It’s scary, not feeling well. Which is why, again, I try to be so light handed with the prognoses that we give patients with these different scenarios, but it was just being shut inside all the time. I’m assuming it was lack of sunshine. It was lack of fresh air. My system doesn’t tend to do very well with AC, even though there wasn’t mold in this residence, but it was amazing how much my health dropped off. It was just because I had to leave some of those practices, time outside, time in the sun, fresh air, time in nature. So take it from me, my wellbeing vastly dropped off just by having a fairly marked change in environment.

AJ:

Yeah. Also, changing your behaviors can have an invisible effect that adds up. For me, in the past, this was a couple years ago, I wanted to see which of my workouts were really having the most effect. Was it the strength? Do I have to keep doing the Tabata burpees session type thing to maintain my body composition? So I took out the burpees, the burst training essentially. Because it was winter in Colorado and where we were living was totally iced up at 8,000 feet, running just was not in any way practical that time of year, outside anyway. So I’m thinking, it doesn’t seem like anything’s happened. Then, I don’t know, maybe four or five months later, I’m like, Oh, I gained 10 pounds. Interesting. Not much else really changed, but I gained 10 pounds. It wasn’t muscle, I don’t think. Or at least it wasn’t all muscle, but it definitely happened.That’s what often happens. Six months later, you don’t even remember making that decision. You’re not in the habit of doing that anymore. And you’re like, Oh, it probably didn’t have an effect anyway. Yes it did. In a lot of cases. Yes it did.

DrMR:

Hmm. That’s a great point.

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DrMR:

I hope people are taking away a few things here, which is if you’re not feeling well, of course, there can be these functional medicine type things that need to be investigated. But often, more than half of the needle movement is going to come from these sorts of things. Time in nature. That’s a big one. We’ve discussed on the podcast that living in a blue zone – ocean area or green zone – forest area correlates with a higher life expectancy and a reduced all cause mortality. Recently I said to myself, Hmm, maybe there’s an artifact in this observation, because that is observational data.

DrMR:

So it’s a victim to confounding. Perhaps that’s selecting for socioeconomic status. Perhaps those with more money are able to afford these houses, especially in the blue zones. If they’re near oceans and maybe that’s paralleling with greater access to healthcare, the ability to purchase more expensive food and more freedoms. So we actually went back and we double-checked it to make sure that that confounding variable was factored into these analyses. It has been. So this data is not confounded by socioeconomic status. So independent of the financial resources that you have, which can skew health outcomes, independent of that, there is still this relationship between longer life expectancy and lower all cause mortality, if you live near a blue zone or a green zone. So it would seem logical to infer that if you can get as much time in the blue zones or green zones, that you can, you should realize that same benefit.

AJ:

Or even simulate them to the degree that you can. It’s not practical for everyone to move out to 8,000 feet where we are, four hours from Denver airport. It’s not practical for everyone to even choose where you live. Although if you have that option, we were talking about this before recording, choose a place with a view, choose a place with nature right next to it, right up on nature, if you in any way possibly can. We can also simulate this in our own life. So a lot of the Mac computers, for example, they’ll come with the desktop and have kind of this nice nature-based background, right? A landscape or flowers or something like that. So on your devices, you can set up natural type scenes. You can set up natural type sounds as well.

Creating a Natural Environment

AJ:

This is something that we’ve done. When we lived in Austin, one particular place downtown, it was next to a train. Another one was next to a giant artery of traffic on Riverside Drive and it was loud. So we got all sorts of different natural sound speakers and devices and apps. We would run birdsong combined with what was it like a coy pond sound, water sloshing around and sometimes waves. This is in a place that’s totally landlocked in Austin, right? But you can set up a nice scene, a painting on the wall. A lot of them are quite inexpensive, even posters that give you that feeling of walking on a sandy beach at sunset. Even if you have to simulate it where you are, that can be really beneficial too.

DrMR:

It’s funny you say that because one of the things that I try to do with the art work that we have both in the clinic and in my personal residence is just have it be as centered around nature as possible. There are some studies, I’m fuzzy on a few of the details here because it has been a few years since I read these. But I believe the finding was positive in studies where they may have someone look at a nature landscape as compared to looking at an urban landscape and they monitored pulse rate or heart rate variability, some objective measure of stress or sympathetic versus parasympathetic activity, and that moved in a favorable direction when just looking at a nature landscape rather than actually being in it. So if you string together the auditory, as you alluded to and the visual. Maybe you can’t move to a forest per se. But like my example, I’m a short walk from a nature trail. Is that nature trail considered a forest? I don’t believe it is, but does it feel foresty? Yeah. So I’m assuming I’m getting that benefit from simple things like the smell of trees, the the visual disparities that you see in terms of not just being focused on something right in front of you like a screen. As I understand it, that is actually more sympathetic. You know, when you watch a lion about to pounce, they have that very locked-in focused vision. That’s kind of how we seem to be most of the day. There’s very little kind of gazing out into the horizon, which I believe is more parasympathetic. It could be wrong on that detail.

Soft Gaze

AJ:

Yeah. Soft gaze. It is talked about in spiritual traditions as well. That’s the state that you want to achieve, where you can start to see in the higher realms. Whether you believe that or not, it’s pretty cool. Give it a shot is what I say.

DrMR:

I know I’m so glad that you mentioned that Abel, because I had this observation last night and I was thinking about sharing it, but I wasn’t sure if it sounded too out there, but I’m going to share it anyway in light of what you just said. So I’ve been watching the sunset for the past three nights. There is this cool little perch in Walnut Creek. It’s not too far from me. It’s essentially a hilltop and you watch the sunset over the valley. Then what’s really cool is as the sun sets further and further, and it gets darker and darker, all the lights of the Valley kind of pop up. It looks like the hillside of Greece at night with all these kind of little houses looking like a little orange village with all the soft, yellow lighting. It’s just amazing. Is that what you call soft gazing? Was that the term that you used?

AJ:

Yeah, there are different terms, but that’s one that I like.

DrMR:

So I was doing quite a bit of soft gazing and what was interesting to me was, and this is one of the things that I’ve found incredibly helpful for figuring out who I am, what I’m trying to do, what’s important in my life and what needs to be currently remedied in my life. Being in a setting like that and just letting my mind just unload. I don’t listen to music. I’m not on my phone. I prefer to do it alone. I find that I see all the variables and equations in my life that I’m trying to solve. For example, functional medicine is a mess. I see that on the board, how do I solve that equation? I’m trying to live closer to my family, but there’s limitations in terms of, they’re not really in an area with high commerce, how do I solve that equation?

DrMR:

As I’m just looking out onto this sunset, I’m seeing all the problems in my mind and all the things I’m trying to do. It’s amazing how many of those things I’m actually solving while I’m doing this, but it’s also incredibly ethereal. If a mosquito lands on me and I have to swat it away, I lose. It’s almost like you’re trying to solve a certain equation and you’re mapping out, mapping out, mapping out. Then just a slightest distraction disconnects you from that solve. So if a mosquito periodically landing on you is enough to cause a rift, imagine what being on your cell phone or being up there with a bunch of buddies drinking or whatever, not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that. But for the purposes of this exercise, that is so immensely powerful in making sure that people continue to have the kind of life they want to have, you have to practice that soft gazing.

DrMR:

In my opinion, with no distractions. It is remarkable. It has literally changed my life, taking that time. I do think there is this other sense that we have, and we can’t hear it when we have all these other distractions going on. You could almost say that, if there was some beautiful music playing in the background, and then all of a sudden a jackhammer went on next door to you, you’d never be able to hear that beautiful music. I think there is this beautiful ability of our mind, our spirit, our soul, God, whatever you want to call it, to solve problems for us and guide us to where we need to go. But any little stimulus can overwhelm that impulse and lead one to miss it.

AJ:

Yes. And the more stimulation you have all around you, the less grateful many people are for every experience. One experience that I had. In college, I used to lead outdoor trips, camping trips for a little less than a week. A lot of people didn’t have a whole lot of outdoor exposure. So at the beginning they would be so up tight, so nervous, fear-based, afraid to poop in the woods. Freaking out about what everyone will think of them if they don’t have a mirror every day and can’t wash their face or whatever. By the end of those trips, though, they were like different people. They had this immense confidence, they didn’t care what they looked like in the mirror. They laughed it all off. The sense of comradery that people had, the sense of achievement after not taking a shower, but taking dips and going swimming in the streams and in some of the lakes up in the mountains of New Hampshire, they got to do that. They were different people on the other end. What I really took for granted back then coming from New Hampshire, which is very outdoorsy place, is that I thought everyone kind of did that. Knew that joy and knew that transformation effect. As I’ve gotten older and met a lot of people from other places, many people have never had that effect, from even a long hike up into a natural place. I think there’s a great effect that you get from going to a city park that’s the nature based. But when you really go deep into some of these national parks, state parks, or just natural areas, these old growth forests, there is something very magical about feeling connected to that place instead of connected to your phone.

DrMR:

Yeah. Just from my own personal observation, but then again, we just cited the data about blue zones and green zones. There is something there that’s important. I know if you’re a persnickety scientist, you may have a hard time wrapping your head around that. I would also argue that these may be things that are highly meaningful, that just haven’t been subjected to rigorous scientific study yet. Although I guess you could counter argue. Meditation, and again, time in nature has been documented to have substantial health benefits. Maybe the more esoteric argument I’m making about guiding your life in a more effective way, maybe that’s yet to be demonstrated, but it certainly seems that having some time alone in an area that’s devoid of distraction and kind of motivational from a nature scenery perspective could help you hone in on, I’m not happy with this, or why am I doing that?

DrMR:

What’s important to me? When we went into the coronavirus induced lockdowns, it was actually a supercharge for me because it gave me even more time alone and in nature. Now, one of the things that I have in my life as kind of a non-negotiable is I’m going to need that periodic time to revisit the well, because I feel like it’s liquid gold that I take out of that well. It’s not just “it was a nice sunset”. I don’t have my own family, but I mean with my parents and I’m assuming that this is going to be even more important when I do actually have a family.Thinking here’s a family problem that I didn’t even realize existed. All I was seeing was some arguing that was happening. The time up on the mountain top there helped me see that this arguing is a derivative of this variable. It has a simple solve. By addressing that we can have so much more joy every day. That literally feels to me like liquid gold and is why it’s something that I’m never not going to practice going forward, because it’s just so valuable.

AJ:

Yeah. The eagle eye view. One of the things that I love about running as a practice, I’ve been almost a lifelong runner. I’ve taken time off, but one of the things I love about it is that I go out into nature. I usually run at least four or five miles deep, sometimes deeper than that, just kind of into or toward whatever nature is around me. It’s a time alone where all you have, for me, is my running Jersey, a tissue in my pocket, a Manuka honey drop, maybe a $20 bill if I’m in someplace where that could help, but usually not. That’s about it. Maybe my iTunes. Sometimes I listen to music sometimes I don’t. Being out there, it’s easy to think about what’s important or ask, why am I here?

AJ:

But if you try to ask, why am I here? What’s important? In front of Facebook or in front of an Instagram feed or the latest news or distracting sounds or in an office building, it’s not going to work. It becomes almost self evident. It becomes almost obvious if you spend enough time out in nature. I would argue, yes, it is a health practice, but even more than that, it’s a survival skill. Especially out in California, in Texas, certainly with rattlesnakes and poison Ivy, there are real life situations that can happen out there. You realize that it’s on you. You don’t really have resources. You don’t have people around you. So it’s on you to have the strength, the fortitude, the endurance to get through whatever adventures you find yourself on. And I love going on those adventures.

Internet Fast

DrMR:

Yeah. Adventure seems to be another missing ingredient for many people’s lives, unfortunately. I think we’ve been providing an answer to the question of what are the benefits of avoiding internet. Is there, is there anything additional you want to drop into this conversation?

AJ:

I would say that, after taking a year off from the internet, twice now. Growing up without it. Taking that amount of time away from social media helped me to reframe what social media is and should be, which is just messaging with people who you care about. Seeing it that way, especially once I didn’t have it in my life and I didn’t have the feeds or whatever, I realized I don’t need the feeds for any of that. I don’t need social media platforms or Google, or even the internet for any of those things. What you need is to take a step back and be like, who are my important people in my life. So that could be your friends who you connect with one-on-one or with small groups, off social media. Social media, I think at this point, tends to damage relationships more than it helps them.

AJ:

So connecting with that circle of friends and taking it offline, or in-person, if you possibly can, is really important. Then I want to encourage people as well, to not follow social media accounts and not follow on platforms, but follow people. Go and find the people who you trust. Voices who you agree with, maybe disagree with. Go and listen to these people. As long as you have a high priority list of these different educators and people in your life, virtually who you can spend your time with, with your media diet with, that’s extremely important. Do not rely on the algorithms or the feeds to drive what content you consume and what education you get, because that’s a recipe for disaster. So I would say my overall advice would be, you don’t have to be completely off social media. I still have social media accounts, but use them in a very intentional way and try to use them in a human way where eventually you’re connecting with people at a one-to-one level or a higher level of conversation than you’ll find on social media.

DrMR:

Yeah, it’s a great point. I’ll draw a loose parallel, but one that just came to me while you were sharing that. So as I’ve been doing these sunsets, obviously I’m not on my phone the entire time. I’m taking, as an indirect by-product of that, less time on my phone, less time on social media. It really kind of ends my day in a very centered, simple, deep thinking sort of way. What I’m finding is that in the mornings there is a carry over. I’m focusing on what is the most important thing I’m doing right now and doing that thing. Not Oh, I got a text from this person or I’ve got a Facebook message from that person, look at Instagram about this. I would find that even though I try to combat it, there’s always this moment where it creeps in and there are all these little things you have to do.

DrMR:

I just haven’t been looking at my phone really until midday, because it’s just distracting me from the important, deep work that I have to do. For example, this video that I will soon be recording about all these shenanigans in functional medicine, that’s the deep work. The tens of thousands of people have been doing this stool test that is literally falsified based on partially dog poop samples. People need to know this, this is important, this is bigger than me. This is more important than the litany of social media notifications that I’ve gotten. So for whatever it’s worth for people, it seems to be a self perpetuating cycle in a good direction.

AJ:

Yeah. To your point, especially in the world of alternative health, it’s very easy to rag on traditional Western medicine. There are good reasons to do so, but at the same time, there are a lot of shenanigans in the alternative/natural health/holistic space. It’s really important that people realize that. Once again, you need to find people who you can trust practitioners in your own life, more than anyone else, you know, you need to trust them. Also trust that their recommendations and their treatments are coming from a place that is going to ultimately heal you, not squeeze more profits out of you for them. So this is definitely, I think, more than anything else, a time to take responsibility for your own education in the world of health and realize that you have to have your shields up no matter where you are, you have to make it your own priority to find whatever is going to heal you and help you achieve your goals, whether it’s for performance or just feeling better.

Better Sleep / Focused Time

AJ:

One other thing I’ll add to the sundown effect, that you’re experiencing. I bet you sleep a lot better. I bet that you wake up so you can be more clear in the morning, set your intentions and just knock off these giant, important goals that you’ve already prioritized. That’s the thing about these little practices in your life. Watching the sunset once probably won’t do anything, but if you watch it most nights for awhile, like we do as well. We love watching the stars start to pop out at night. Once you start doing these things over time, instead of being on social media, then you’re not waking up in the middle of the night with sweats, and all these fears of what happened over the overnight while you were sleeping with the news, with everything ending. You just sleep through the night and you wake up focused because you did allow yourself that time to kind of just get all the crazy out of your brain before you put your head on that pillow.

DrMR:

100%. Yeah. Also just not getting those pings of information that seed your mind before you go to bed. I’ve definitely noticed the more work I do right before bed, the poorer I sleep. There’s definitely a threshold there. Then in the morning, my strong suspicion is even seeing some of the notifications on your phone, at least on my phone, when a text comes in, I can kind of see a preview of it and then I’ll swipe it aside and I’ll clear it. Now I just clear my phone first thing when I get up, because now I’m trying to go into my morning block of deep thinking and deep work, but I have in the background those three notifications that I read quickly, and I feel like they just take up bandwidth in the back of your mind. So yeah, I guess the theme here is trying to think at the highest level that you can, minimizing distractions is just essential for that.

AJ:

Yeah. I think the best time, if you don’t have it in your own life. If you can’t find time for it or install time throughout the day, just do it right after you wake up or right before bed. Wake up 15 minutes early. For me, it’s free writing or it’s making lists. A lot of times I’ll just unload what ever is in my brain and start writing. I’ve written books because of that. I prioritize my day, I get really clear, but more than anything else, it shows you that you are practicing your will. You are practicing your intention at the beginning of the day, you are giving yourself your purpose and your reason to be here. You’re setting these goals for yourself instead of waking up in the sea of text messages and emails and social media messages that you have to just go from one to the other. We think we’re being effective when we do that, because we’re in a higher state of arousal because we’re more anxious, but we are not being more effective when we’re doing that reactive multitasking. So be very protective of that time that you have, especially at the beginning of the day before anyone else has popped your bubble.

DrMR:

Yep. I couldn’t agree more. An individual from my life always comes up as a good avatar representing this. He was a doctor I worked with early in my career and really nice guy, really fun, sociable guy just really, really enjoyed him as a person. Also a tremendously hard worker, but he was going so fast that, over the time that I knew him, I quickly was able to kind of analyze and conclude that he was going too fast to pay attention to the direction in which he was going. It was interesting to watch him because while he was doing fairly well, he hit a very low ceiling. I think it was because it was the mentality of constant work and he always just kind of had that super sense of urgency, kind of on fire, which is inspiring in one way.

DrMR:

But you have to, in my opinion, anyway, have a balance in periods where you’re not just working really hard. You’re also stepping back and saying, is all this work taking me in the direction that I want to go? Or am I just kind of hamster wheeling it? I think one of the ways to prevent that hamster wheeling is to kind of unplug. So, I’ll offer that avatar as kind of an example for the audiences. I mean, it applies to healthcare providers and non-healthcare providers. Hard work, in the absence of reflection and correction of direction, may lead you to kind of really burning yourself out and spinning your wheels.

AJ:

You know, in an odd way, hard work is lazy. That’s kinda how I see it. Once I started seeing it that way, II decided I don’t want to do that. It hurts us to think that way, but it’s easier just to wake up and do the same thing that you always do because that’s what is supposed to work or what worked before. I think we’re realizing with this COVID lockdown situation, that if you’re running a gym or even a health practice, or certainly if you’re a musician looking for gigs, what worked before is not going to work anymore. For our own business, it’s really difficult to let go of the things that should be working that used to work really well. You know, that you just do out of habit because you have the processes for them, whether it’s in your own life or your business. Sometimes letting go of those things is the most important thing that you could possibly do, even more so than doing something else, something new. That’s the other tendency is, instead of simplifying and letting go of the things that aren’t working and adapting, you try to slap another layer of complexity onto it and try another thing and try to make that work.

AJ:

So it’s very important that we understand that balance is active. It’s not static. Balance is a thing that you have to maintain by constantly trying new things and letting go of the things that, even if they should be working, they’re not anymore.

DrMR:

Yep. Well said.

RuscioResources:

Hi everyone. This is Dr. Ruscio. In case you need help, I wanted to quickly make you aware of what resources are available to you. If you go to drruscio.com/Resources, you will see a few links you can click through for more. Firstly, there is the clinic, which I’m immensely proud of. The fact that we deliver, cost-effective, simple, but highly efficacious, functional medicine. There’s also my book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You, which has been proven to allow those who’ve been unable to improve their health, even after seeing numerous doctors, be able to help them finally feel better. There’s also our store where there’s a number of products like our Elemental Heal line, our probiotic line, and other gut supportive and health supportive supplements. We now offer health coaching. So if you’ve read the book or listened to a podcast like this one, or are reading about a product and you need some help with how or when to use, or how to integrate with diet, we now offer health coaching to help you along your way. And then finally, if you are a clinician, there is our clinician’s newsletter, the Future of Functional Medicine Review. I’m very proud to say, we’ve now had doctors who’ve read that newsletter, find challenging cases in their practices, apply what we teach in the newsletter and be able to help these patients who were otherwise considered challenging cases. Everything for these resources can be accessed through drruscio.com/Resources. Alrighty, back to the show.

Episode Wrap-Up

DrMR:

Abel, this has been a great conversation as it usually is when we have a chance to connect.

AJ:

Yeah, I love talking with you.

DrMR:

Thank you. Is there anything you want to leave people with? I know you wrote a book some months ago, so anything that you want to point people to?

AJ:

Sure. The book is called Designer Babies Still Get Scabies. If you’re interested in Shel Silverstein type, off the wall, humor and satire, then you can check that out on Amazon. DesignerBabiesBook.com as well. Then my own podcast called Fat Burning Man. You’ve been a wonderful guest on there multiple times. I’m sure we’re going to continue that relationship. Because as I mentioned, you are a wonderful person to talk to so much knowledge. Let’s see what else. Wild Superfoods is the name of our supplement line. And we have delicious Collagen Cocoa, and we’re making a lot of recipes with our various products, future greens, vitamin D, vitamin C, some of the simple, no brainer ones that people know that they should be taking, but might not be right now. So that’s all at wildsuperfoods.com

DrMR:

Awesome. Well, a busy guy, but you’re holding it all together. So even more evidence that, hopefully at this paradigm of making enough room in your life to think can allow you to do a lot like you’re doing. You have a few books out there and a podcast and a website and supplements, but you’re not a guy who’s going with your hair on fire, which I think is great. As I think Mark Cuban said, it’s not the guy who’s the busiest who you should aim to be, it’s the guy who’s less busy. Usually that is a by-product of time, thought and attention to build your way to that place. Either you’re really good at hiding it, or you’re not overly busy and you’re relaxed.

AJ:

Yeah. I hope it’s the latter, some days are better than others. Remember, balance is active. I think doing all these different things can really help be a continuous education that’s multidisciplinary for everyone on out there. I think if you don’t dance or if you don’t play music or if you don’t just free-write sometimes then you’re missing out, try a little bit of all those and you’ll feel like a kid again in the best way possible.

DrMR:

Love it. Love it. Well Abel, thank you again for the chat my man. Always a pleasure and let’s do it again soon.

AJ:

I agree. Thanks so much for having me.

Outro:

Thanks for listening to Dr. Ruscio radio today. Check us out on iTunes and leave a review. Visit Dr. Ruscio.com to ask a question for an upcoming podcast, post comments for today’s show and sign up to receive weekly updates.

 


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Discussion

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