How Do We Take Care of Ourselves and Our Bodies?

by ziggy on February 1, 2013 -- 11 comments -- Follow

Physical Work

Don’t overdo it now…

A few weeks ago, I visited with Christina Ott of Barefoot Builder in Woodbury, TN. It was a lot of fun, and it’s always really rewarding to have good, meaningful exchange with folks who are on the same trajectory as your own. Anyway, a topic came up which I have since been thinking about a bit, and I have a question I would love to pose to everyone out there who does very physical work as a part of their livelihoods.

How do we take care of ourselves and our bodies?

Natural building can be extremely physically intense. Much of the work is not for the faint of heart, especially if you choose to do it without the aid of machinery. Making cob, hauling buckets of heavy and wet materials, moving stone for foundation work, digging, hefting timbers and working wood, peeling bark, stacking straw bales, plastering… whether it be cob construction, straw bale, earth bag, timber framing, cordwood, whatever, you are bound to discover the limits of your body by doing natural building. This type of physically intense work is not limited to natural building, of course, but since this is my frame of reference, that’s how I will explore it.

Is it possible to live a physically exerting lifestyle without damaging your body, or wearing yourself too thin, too quickly? I’m 28, fairly fit, and don’t have too much that worries me — yet. But I imagine that after 10, 15, 20, or more years of a physically intense lifestyle, potential problems are more likely to crop up.

(Is also brings to mind — do industrialized people actually push their bodies harder than more traditional societies? That’s a tangent that I don’t think I want to get into here, but I love thinking about it.)

Anyway, I think there is something to say for balance, of course, but it’s easy to lose focus on balance when you have pressing deadlines, when winter is coming, when a client is demanding something by a very specific time… so what do you do?

And how long can you keep up a physically intense lifestyle?

Another (unfortunate) question is: and what do you do if you happen to get injured, and don’t have health insurance? Man, oh man, I hate thinking about that possibility. But it’s there.

I would love it if people could speak to these issues. Let’s hear it!

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  • I really can’t wait till the day we meet Ziggy, we are already best friends…

    I not only “think about this,” I’ve gotten old enough that “I preach about this”…

    I have had an exhaustive life of out door hard living…

    I have practice:

    the old ways of my people…

    Korean Mountain Taoism…

    since I was a child.

    I have taken the Creators gift of placing my souls in this body, and lived that life to the fullest I could…

    I have been clinically dead 3 times…

    I have drowned three time…

    I have been struck by lightning 6 times…(1 direct-the rest splashed)

    I have been snake bit hundreds of times. (5 wet bites)

    Broken both my neck and back twice, plus countless bones…

    Have permanent lime disease, carry salmonella at times, and have the immune system of a Hyena, (according to my doctor.)

    I can still get up and swim or run bare foot longer than most…

    Stand flat footed and place one foot heel on most door jambs…

    Bend over and touch my palms behind my feet…

    Slept out doors, no mater the weather, 360 days a year for the majority of my life.

    And according to others, look 15 years younger than my 52 years in this body…

    This is not bragging…this is normal for many indigenous people of the world…

    It is our lives…

    We don’t exercise, we live…

    When I do anything, it is done to it’s fullest measure I can, at that time…

    Most first world people have no idea what living really is…

  • mark e

    What you wrote here seems like an interesting counterpoint to what seems to be written in the natural building books. They all seem to make a point of saying how user-friendly natural building is; how even little children and old ladies can participate. But it sounds like your experience has been different?

  • Kathleen

    This is a huge concern for me. Hell, I almost put an eye out today putting in fencing. I’m 53 & quit my full-time job as a nurse to start a small farm in TN. The job was stressing me to the point of illness but now I have no health insurance and can’t afford to buy it. I still work a week a month as a nurse but that is just paying the bills. The other 3 weeks we work so hard every muscle aches, we get cut & bruised, winter sick like everyone else does. I pray & send thanks to the Power everyday nothing really bad happens. It’s just me & my husband who’s almost 60. Our insurance-led health care system is broken. If we had no property to lose, if we owned nothing at all we could have all our needs cared for. But what we’ve saved & worked for to build this farm could be gone in a week of inpatient stay. We’re both strong & fit but I sure wish I was part of a community of people like yours who helped each other. Blessings on you all!

  • Jay: I’m…. not sure what to say, but for some reason, I am not surprised to hear it from you.

    Marke: User-friendly, sure. Anyone can learn the basics of cob or straw bale very easily. It’s not technical, and people can generally jump in without prior experience. But… can people of any age or ability stomp cob or fill earth bags for 8 hours a day? Hrmm… well, that really, really depends. You better be in decent shape, at the very least.

    Kahtleen: Thanks for sharing your perspective. My blessings to you, too, and keep positive.

  • Tracy

    Hey Ziggy, Glad you got a chance to meet Christina – I think she and I might have talked about this once…. Anyway, my experience with this is that when I was employed as a builder, I found that my body was under constant stress, and I lived with serious pain and deep fatigue just about every day. I couldn’t function without large doses of ibuprofen, and my back is probably permanently weakened/vulnerable as a result of living this way – for less than 10 years.
    I think the damage comes from not pacing ourselves and listening to our bodies and taking frequent breaks. In a less driven culture (and when one is not an employee that has to perform to a certain level to stay employed) I think this would mean a lot more breaks and a lot less intense and sustained effort than we are used to as ‘industrialized’ workers.

  • Ziggy, this is a great post thread…

    Kathleen, I feel for you sister, the older one gets, the more aware one become of this corporeal form we rattle around in. The balance of things can be a challenge to maintain, especially if not born to the life, many are choosing to switch to.

    Ziggy, if I may, I would make some additional comments on this matter. Most things in life are only as simple or complex as we make them. 95% of the burdens physical, psychological, and fiscal, are my own creation, knowledge of this fact allows me to transcend much of the stress and pain related to it.

    If folks just change certain habits they may very well achieve more balance.


    Do you breath into your chest or your stomach, through your nose or your mouth…do you every really think about it? It is your life, the Buddha’s tummy is big because he is a “gut breather.” 🙂 This little thing of breathing can completely change your life. If you had been raised to “breath correctly,” you would almost be something different than you are…you can start at any time.

    Eat to live:

    Not always what…but how much. I can’t fathom how much I see most people consume!!! There “engine,” is decidedly out of balance.

    What did you eat in the last 48 hours?

    I have worked hard every day milling and timber framing, I slept out side, day time high is about 15 degrees F. and the nights are 10 or more degrees below that.

    I have eaten:

    two pieces of hole grain toast w/butter, drank two pots of lemon tea (about a 4 liters,) 3 small piece of chocolate, an apple, a banana, a bowl of rice (small,) 3 raw small organic peppers, 1 stick of home made venison jerky, bowl of cereal with a few grams of dried blueberries…

    That is two days worth of food, and I ate too much, I wont eat anything till noon tomorrow, other than a slice of grain bread and tea.


    do not…LIVE. Climb a big tree to the top and prune it. Walk to your friends house, don’t drive. When you move, move with purpose and awareness. (even if you are a klutz like me.) Flexibility comes from doing flexible things.

    Simple test…take a time in your day and just squat down like you were going to “relieve yourself.” (which is the way you should, sitting is very bad!) If your butt can touch your heals and you can stay that way for an hour or so, with a little adjusting, maybe read a few chapters in a book, or email a friend, you are probably breathing, eating, sleeping, going to the bath room, and getting enough exercise. If you could not stay there for very long, you have things to work on.

    That is not an all inclusive test, but it gets me to a point of knowledge when I am working with someone that wants to change how they are, to something they could be.

    Ziggy, keep on the path, you are doing great things.


  • tomcat

    this relates more to your tangent that you don’t want to go down, but there’s an anecdote in the book The Continuum Concept (i think) about a group of people carrying a heavy canoe, some native people and some american, and the americans were really struggling and having an awful time, and the natives, while exerting themselves just as much, were laughing and smiling the whole time.

  • Joe

    Kind of don’t understand some of the comments- I think a good balance in all we do is good- I have not had to do continuous hard physical labor so having no experience with that cannot say what is best and not best- but it seems to me that the person who said they have to take pain killers for back probably overdid it and esp. did not ergonomically work to lessen the stress on back over the years. My grandfather was a woodsman- funny an government old form on-line I found about him had that listed as his occupation- I know he was a lumberjack and then when the depression hit he managed to get a job in a tanning factory working 6 days a week 12 hours a day like all the other men in the tanning factory- my mother said he would come home smelling of chemicals used in tanning and would eat his supper and go to bed for the 7 years he worked there but was happy to have work to support the family- after depression ended he went back to the woods and actually did physical labor into his 80s- the only time he had physical problems he cut himself with an ax- poured turpintine into the wound- drove to hospital and had it sewed up and went back to the woods according to my mom. He was a person that only had a 3rd grade education but could speak numerous languages he picked up in the lumber camps- Russian, German, French, Polish and never owned a TV- he chewed tobacco- smoked a pipe, grew a garden that took up a whole back yard- ate salt pork every morning and other fatty foods but never had any medical problems his entire life despite a life of hard work and only went into the hospital at 96 the week he died. The one thing I remember as a little boy when we visited was he had cooked a porcupine and was eating it in the kitchen– Bottom line not sure that every person who works hard physical work will have health issues.

  • Scott

    I’m 50 and most of my jobs have been physical, though not necessarily intense. Climbing, lots of moving things, taking things apart, crawling in small spaces behind,under, or inside machines and walls, under houses, atop towers and smokestacks( cool views from a 110 foot tall smokestack!), moving boxes,carts, and so on. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re not. I try to eat a wide variety of things-prevents boredom-we’re omnivores!. Don’t smoke or use any perception-altering chemicals-legal or otherwise.Find an activity you enjoy, and one that you can incorporate into your life easily-for me, it’s riding a bike. It’s both practical and enjoyable. I think physically active people are better off than those who pilot a desk. My guess is relatively steady activity over a period of time is better than intense bursts. Much in the same way a gasoline engine operates most efficiently at moderate RPMs on long trips-and lasts longer than it would with short, intense bursts, the same probably holds true for your body. Daily activity beats a once a week intense workout at the gym…that’s my guess, anyway.

  • Mike

    Great post Ziggy on an important topic. About 7 years ago my wife and I bought raw land with absolutely no infrastructure on it. No power, no water, no buildings. We’ve worked incredibly hard to get ourselves set up, but despite what we’ve achieved, I do wonder about the wear and tear on our bodies, and the insane hours we work. Last year my wife started really getting worn out carrying water jugs, and I’m relieved that this year we’ll finally have indoor plumbing. I’d like to say that we’ll breathe more, take more breaks, and slow down, but so far I’ve found that to be easier said than done. I know Eliott Coleman stresses the importance of taking at least one day off a week, but this never happens. Last year our intern would scold us for not taking more time off, but I just felt it was not an option with the long list of jobs that needed to get done. That said, I don’t want to be crippled up when I’m 60 from working too hard or too much. My wife calls me the human draft horse and I can’t say I’m proud of that title.

    For us, three good solid meals a day are very important to maintaining our health and energy. We also live in Canada where there is still a relatively good health care system, but I’m not sure how long that will last if our current government has its way.

    Natural building is indeed user friendly, but a cob house (for example) is a lot of work. That’s why when you see a picture of a beautiful house under construction, say in West Africa, there are usually scores of people contributing to the project. Unfortunately, we’ve found natural building to be a lot of work, but also totally addictive and inspiring.

    A last point I’d like to throw out there is that sometimes we need to revisit our needs and wants. I know that when our place is finally finished I’ll immediately want to start building another one. If we can manage our 1.5 acre market garden, then next year I’ll want to expand it to 2 acres. This is a sickness. Sometimes less is more. It reminds me of the late great Masanobu Fukuoka who felt that people should not focus on what they need to do, but instead on what they don’t need to do.

  • Mike: I absolutely sympathize with you. I am often accused of being a workaholic, and putting too much time towards trying to “accomplish something” and not taking time to relax. I’m really trying to learn, though, but it sure ain’t easy… especially when it feels like you absolutely need to get the things done on your to-do list! I’m guessing it will be a life lesson, this time management stuff.

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