Wednesday, March 1, 2017

An interview with free skier, trail runner and airline pilot Darryl Ball

After earning a university degree in Aerospace Engineering, Darryl Ball chose to pursue his dreams and travel the world as a competitive free skier and coach, spending most of his time in Whistler, Canada and Wanaka, New Zealand. Today, he lives near Stockholm, Sweden and works full-time as a commercial airline pilot for Norwegian Airlines but still manages to shred the slopes during the winter and run trails year-round. He has appeared in numerous ski magazines, including the Telegraph Ski and Snowboard Magazine, and is sponsored by Vivobarefoot and Line Skis UK.

Greg: You grew up skiing and more recently transitioned into running. Have you participated in any other sports?

Darryl: I have always been interested in a variety of sports. At school, I played rugby and squash. I also like kitesurfing, wakeboarding, snowboarding and longboarding. This year I hope to give Obstacle Course Racing and SwimRun a try!

Greg: What attracted you to running in the first place? Was there an adjustment period in moving from skiing to running? Have you noticed any similar movement patterns between the two sports?

Darryl: I used to run a bit for basic fitness maintenance even when I was skiing, especially between winter seasons, so it was a natural progression to start running regularly when I stopped doing ski seasons and began flight training. I needed to do something active every day, especially when I had been sitting in a classroom, and running suited me perfectly, both physically and psychologically. I started running more and more, until eventually running became my main activity.

I find that trail running has many similarities with skiing. Form is very important, that the centre of mass is always well balanced over the base of support. This is especially relevant when skiing or running steep slopes. Also the need to look ahead and resist the temptation that many people have to look at the ground directly ahead of them. This allows you to move with much better flow through the terrain, improving speed and effectiveness. It stimulates the body to feel the ground and use all of your senses. By using minimalist shoes from Vivobarefoot I can feel everything and my feet can function to their full ability.

I also like ski touring which, like trail running, requires endurance and strength. The sensation of escaping into nature and leaving the developed world behind is unbeatable!

Darryl Ball skiing Ekerö powder, Sweden

Greg: You mentioned how running suited you "physically and psychologically." How does running fit your psychology?

Darryl: Running provides a sensation of freedom through natural movement. I always feel refreshed and calm from spending time outdoors, whatever the conditions. Not only do I get stimulated by sunlight, but I also appreciate breaking away from the comfort of daily life when it's dark, cold, rainy and/or windy, and a personal favorite is running in the snow. It's through these extremes that I can expand my mind to try and optimize my own capabilities. When it's time to knuckle down and get on with work it's much easier to focus!

Greg: Did you start running in the minimalist shoes you use now or thick-soled/big-heeled shoes?

Darryl: I started off running with modern conventional shoes that squash the foot and provide too much cushioning, making it almost impossible to feel the ground and run efficiently. Combined with all those years in ski boots, I damaged and deformed my feet significantly! It was only when I started learning about natural running and using minimalist shoes that I realized that there is a better way to run efficiently and avoid injury. I went to barefoot clinics, walked barefoot as much as possible and made sure that my work shoes, casual shoes and training shoes are all minimalistic from Vivobarefoot. I have also been using toe spreaders to accelerate the process and I'm happy to say that my feet are returning to their natural form and are far more functional! I wouldn't say that the transition was difficult as my feet were strong, despite being deformed, but it definitely takes a lot of time and patience! Now when I run it's almost like I'm hovering over the ground, gliding with almost no impact. My legs work faster and I can feel the surface below my feet, which is much more efficient, allows me to run faster and makes running even more enjoyable!

Darryl Ball running in a Vivobarefoot promotional video

Greg: You earned a degree in Aerospace Engineering and work full-time as an airline pilot but you've also skied and coached professionally. Is there any overlap in your approach to these seemingly different career paths?

Darryl: I don't have time to coach much these days, as my priorities have shifted more towards my family, but I am still getting lots of time on snow each year and I am on the Line Skis UK team. I wouldn't say that my degree has any significance to my sporting interests, other than that (just like with all things in life) it takes a good attitude and dedication to be successful at something. Focus is very important. I would also say that skiing taught me to deal with stressful situations, manage risks and multitask effectively. All of these are important skills as a pilot! My coaching experience has also helped me work as a simulator instructor, developing newly employed cadets at Norwegian Airlines.

The pilot lifestyle allows me to work hard and play hard, and I make sure that I exploit every opportunity that I get to run and ski.

For more skiing and running photos, videos and training advice, follow Darryl on Instagram, Twitter and Vimeo, and check out his website

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Finding Feyisa Lilesa - Part I

Six months ago, Feyisa Lilesa won Olympic glory. His next challenge: keep himself and his family alive and safe in the face of Ethiopian ethnic purges.

On the final day of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Feyisa Lilesa crossed the marathon finish line in second place. As he did so, he raised his arms above his head, wrists crossed in an X. Most viewers around the world probably assumed this gesture was some personal expression of triumph in celebration of his Olympic silver medal.
Instead, articles published shortly after the race informed the world that Lilesa's gesture was a symbolic protest of the Ethiopian government's persecution and killing of members of the Oromo ethnic group to which Lilesa belongs. More than 400 Oromo people were killed between November 2015 and the August 2016 Olympics. Many others have been, or are currently, imprisoned. In Ethiopia, the state television network did not air a replay of the Olympic marathon finish.

"The Ethiopian government is killing my people, so I stand with all protests anywhere, as Oromo is my tribe," Lilesa said after the race. "My relatives are in prison, and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed."

He also knew his freedom would be in jeopardy should he return home after his symbolic gesture. "If I go back to Ethiopia, maybe they will kill me. If not kill me, they will put me in prison. I have not decided yet, but maybe I will move to another country," he said.

Part I: The Oromo

In 1991, the year after Lilesa's birth, the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) took control of the nation's government, a position it has held ever since. From that time forward, the EPRDF has worked to create animosity between the country's two largest ethnic groups: the Oromos and Amharas. The EPRDF has routinely blamed the Oromos (who made up 35% of Ethiopia's population in 2012) as secessionists and terrorists in order to further divide the different ethnic groups and justify the continued monitoring, control and policing of Oromo activists.

Feyisa Lelisa grew up hiding from the government security forces arresting Oromos throughout Ethiopia. Then came the 2005 elections, which the government promoted as openly democratic. Yet when early returns showed a large lead from groups opposed to the EPRDF, the government delayed final vote counts, killed almost 200 protesters and arrested 20,000 more. Mass arrests were common in Lilesa's hometown in the Jeldu district, and the purges were so aggressive that fifteen-year-old Lilesa and his friends and family would conceal themselves in fields of unharvested crops to avoid nighttime raids.

Unrest and persecution have continued into the current decade. According to Amnesty International, at least 5,000 Oromos were arrested in Ethiopia between 2011 and 2014. These arrests included thousands of peaceful protestors and hundreds of members of political movements opposed to the ruling EPRDF, as well as hundreds of other individuals arrested based on the mere expression of dissenting opinions or their suspected opposition to the government.

In April 2014, the Ethiopian government announced its "Integrated Master Plan," which called for expanding the capital city of Addis Ababa into neighboring Oromo villages and towns. The Oromo people responded with renewed protests against what they saw as a move to evict Oromo farmers from their ancestral lands. Federal police and military special forces shot at and beat hundreds of protesters and bystanders. Thousands more were arrested.
"The Ethiopian government is killing my people, so I stand with all protests anywhere."
Further government crackdowns followed additional protests in November 2015, but the government did drop its "Master Plan" in early 2016. Lilesa's brother-in-law was arrested around the same time. When he was selected for the Ethiopian Olympic team in May, Lilesa decided on his protest, later recalling his thoughts at the time, "If I get good result, the media would be watching and the world would finally see and hear the cry of my people.” He left his wife, five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter in Ethiopia on August 17, knowing he might never see them again.

His symbolic "X" gesture as he crossed the finish line at the Olympic marathon four days later signified his solidarity with the Oromo people still suffering in Ethiopia. After the race, he reiterated his message in a brief press conference before returning to the Olympic village where he collected his belongings and snuck off to a Rio hotel, distrusting the Ethiopian Olympic officials who had accompanied him to the Games.

He stayed in his hotel for three weeks while Oromo sympathizers in Rio assisted him with a visa application to the United States. He arrived in America in early September 2016, with no intention of returning home until the political situation improves. His family remains in Ethiopia, and Lilesa plans to continue running to raise awareness for their plight and the struggles of all Oromo people.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

RumbleRoller Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I have long been fascinated by the overlap of physical fitness and philosophy. My final paper in my very first college philosophy course was an overview of depictions of physical virtue across several works of philosophy. But the most direct influence behind the creation of KineSophy comes from Kelly Starrett, founder of Mobility WOD:
"All human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves."
Since ethics is the study of how humans should act, Starrett's use of "should" in his motto signifies that he is making an ethical claim. His statement falls in the same category as prescriptions like "all humans should be capable of performing basic mental arithmetic" or "all humans should be capable of judging right from wrong." If you are a healthy adult human being, you should be able to move well and take care of your body when it requires basic maintenance.

Furthermore, self-care demands that you have a certain attitude about yourself and your value. You have to believe that you are worth a little bit of extra effort. You have to believe that your health and your comfort matter. 

I know that sounds pretty simple, and you may find it easy to tell yourself "of course I matter." But even if you want to believe your health and well-being are important, think about how often you also tell yourself "I don't have time for that" when confronted with basic self-care prescriptions.

When you care for your body, when you believe that you should not be in unnecessary pain and you act to make yourself feel better, you are affirming your worth as a human being. That sense of self-worth is the basis for believing that other humans have worth. When you value yourself, you recognize that other humans value themselves and that you all deserve to be treated with respect.

There are a lot of tools available for physical self-care. My wife and I personally own four different varieties of rollers (foam and otherwise), lacrosse balls (separate and taped together in a peanut-shape) and a pair of squishy, grippy Yoga Tune Up balls (see my KineSophy interview with Yoga Tune Up founder Jill Miller).

A compact RumbleRoller just like the one pictured above is my go-to tool for breaking up knots and sore spots in large swaths of tissue like my thighs, calves and upper back. It's firm enough to withstand years of use and it has little bumps that act like a masseuse's fingers and dig into tender spots. 

That's why I'm so thrilled that RumbleRoller offered to give one of these rollers to a lucky KineSophy reader. When you enter this giveaway, you're not just trying to win a very useful prize, you're telling yourself that you, your body and your health are worth this prize. You're affirming that you matter. And that basic affirmation is at the heart of what KineSophy is all about.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

An interview with nutritionist, writer and organic farmer Diana Rodgers

In my recent Complete Guide to Sustainable Protein, I created a list of the most protein-dense and sustainable protein sources for any diet. Last month, I was fortunate enough to interview Diana Rodgers, RD, LDN, NTP, in order to shed some more light on the sustainability and nutrition of animal- and plant-based protein sources. Diana is a “real food” nutritionist and writer living on a working organic farm in Carlisle, Massachusetts. She runs a clinical nutrition practice, hosts the Sustainable Dish Podcast, and speaks internationally about human nutrition, sustainability, animal welfare and social justice. Her work has been featured in The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Outside Magazine, Edible Boston and Mother Earth News. She can be found online at

Greg: Can you say a little more about how you came to be where you are today: a nutritionist living on an organic farm? Did you move down the farming path first or the nutritionist path?

Diana: I have been interested in food and farming ever since I was a kid. I was always sick as a kid and wasn’t diagnosed with celiac disease until my mid-twenties. I was always very hungry—if you put a full Thanksgiving plate in front of me at any time during my childhood, I would have easily devoured the whole thing! I used to love to go clamming and fishing with my dad, growing up near the ocean. When I was a teenager, I worked on an organic vegetable farm during the summer and continued through college.

When my boyfriend Andrew (now my husband) and I had our first apartment at age twenty, we had a big vegetable garden, worm farm and compost patch. After college, we moved to Portland, Oregon to get “real jobs,” and Andrew hated working for corporate America. We would take off and visit farms on the weekend, and that’s when he learned about CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] farms. He was always an environmentalist and after reading The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry, he decided at age twenty-six to become a farmer. We moved back to Massachusetts, and he enrolled in a master’s degree program in soil science and worked on a farm to get the hands-on experience. He was quickly hired to manage a 250-acre farm north of Boston, where we lived for ten years.

I had been working in marketing for food companies, NPR and then Whole Foods before quitting my corporate job and joining Andrew on the farm. I ran the CSA, farmstand, kitchen and events. I kept getting questions about some of the products we stocked in the store and wasn’t really sure why coconut oil was so good for you, why butter was okay to eat or why grass-fed meat was more nutritious. I decided to learn more, for my own health reasons and to better answer everyone’s questions. I attended a Weston A. Price conference and then enrolled in Nutritional Therapy Association’s course.

After finishing with my NTP [Nutritional Therapy Practitioner] certificate, I wanted to pursue my RD [Registered Dietitian] so that I could practice medical nutrition therapy, dive deeper into the science of nutrition, and to gain more credibility from the medical community. I now have a busy clinical practice plus I write and speak about sustainability and nutrition issues in the food system. I help people learn how to balance their blood sugar, lose weight and fix their guts using real food.
"Modern food production uses tremendous fossil fuels and destroys ecosystems."
Greg: It's a popular belief that cattle are one of the biggest agricultural culprits when it comes to consuming water, energy and land and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. But in your article Meat is Magnificent, you make a distinction between grass-fed beef and modern, heavily-processed beef and show how properly managed grazing cattle can improve soil quality and reduce environmental damage. In contrast, what are some of the ecological problems with processed foods, both meat- and plant-based?

Diana: Modern food production uses tremendous fossil fuels and destroys ecosystems. When large fields are converted to cropland, habitats are destroyed and the biodiversity of life both above and below ground diminish. This means less birds, frogs, insects AND beneficial bacteria and fungus that nourish the plants and sequester carbon. One of the best ways to actually build soil and sequester carbon is to use ruminants (cows, sheep, and other animals that graze). When they chew the grass, it stimulates growth both above ground and at the roots. Their hoof action creates little pockets to collect rainwater, and their manure inoculates the soil with healthy bacteria.

This entire system does not happen in a large field of mono-crop wheat, corn or soy. Plus, when those grains are harvested, they are heavily processed in order to convert them to the convenient, nutrient-poor junk food that Americans live on. Animals (primarily chickens and pigs) raised in CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation] are raised indoors eating only grain, which is why grass-fed beef and lamb are a much better choice for sustainability reasons than animals raised on grains. Also, pasture land is largely uncroppable, so [pasture-raised animals don't] compete with humans for food. Most cattle are raised in areas far too dry or hilly to crop.

Greg: You mentioned how modern food production destroys ecosystems and animal life, a topic you also discuss in your article More Protein, Better Protein. Can you go into more detail about how even a plant-based diet can result in animal death? Is there a way vegans and vegetarians can avoid or reduce these costs?

Diana: Eating a vegan diet does not mean blood is not shed to bring food to the table. As I mentioned in the previous answer, when you eat food that was grown in a mono-crop method (basically, any grain, but even many vegetables) biodiversity is lost to make room for these large and very unnatural fields. They are heavily sprayed, which kills insects, birds, frogs, the soil, and runs into rivers killing fish. Even if they’re organically produced, there’s still blood. When tractors go through and harvest, they are squashing and chopping up bunnies, field mice, etc. Compare this to a cow eating grass. One cow can feed a family for a very long time, compared to the thousands of lives lost in a conventional or even organic mono-crop system.

Vegans and vegetarians can reduce their grain consumption and focus more on legumes, which can benefit the soil because they fix nitrogen. They can also buy their vegetables from small-scale, organic farms in their communities, reducing food miles and supporting better biodiversity. But there’s something important to note: life cannot happen without death. In order to have healthy soil, you need manure, bones and blood. Animals are part of the cycle of any healthy system, including our food system. Acknowledging this is important.

I often then get the question, “well can’t we just have animals to build soil but then not eat them, and just let them live out their lives and die naturally?” This is not necessarily the most humane way to end a life. Animals (just like humans) don’t always just die peacefully in their sleep. Dying at the jaws of a coyote or hyena is not pleasant. Humans have the ability to be “humane” in the way we end an animal’s life. We can make it fast and low stress, much lower stress than most “natural” deaths. Also, animals provide important nutrients that humans need to thrive. In many parts of the world, animals are the ONLY thing that grows well. Think of Africa, it’s a hot dry place. Growing tons of grain or water sucking vegetables is not realistic there, but cattle and goats do very well in those environments.
"Animals are part of the cycle of any healthy system, including our food system."
Greg: You seem to be arguing that if the goal is being humane and sustainable, the best way to produce those outcomes is not to go vegan but to eat local, organic produce and grass-fed, pasture-raised meat and animal products. Is that correct? Would the more environmentally sustainable methods you advocate be capable of satisfying the food requirements of a rising global population?

Diana: Yes, this is correct. The current way we’re cropping is ruining the soil and turning it to dust and is completely unsustainable. It’s not possible to continue this way. Our views on how to create food for the masses are completely myopic. We need to consider what will happen in 100, 300 and 500 years from now. Small-scale, integrated farming with both animals and plants mimics natural ecosystems and is the only way to produce food in a healthy way that will be regenerative to the soil. When you produce cheap, nutrient-poor food on a massive scale without considering what will happen to human health or the soil health 100 years from now, you end up with obesity, diabetes, nutrient deficiencies and soil that has been raped of its nutrition.

The same thing happened in the Roman empire—they farmed their way to death. Sure, we can have a population explosion on cheap processed food, but is this a good thing? Do we want billions of sick people walking the planet, polluting it and exploiting the resources? Thinking that we can remove animals from the process of food production is a very naive and reductionist view. Only natural ecosystems can heal themselves, and this means animals AND plants in the mix.

Greg: You talked earlier about the problems with CAFO chicken or pork and you've also argued in favor of eating feed-lot beef over CAFO chicken or pork when organic/grass-fed/pasture-raised options are not available. Assuming I have access to sustainably and humanely raised meat, is there a balance I should seek between animal protein sources?

Diana: Because I live on an organic vegetable farm that also raises meat and eggs, nearly all of my protein comes from the farm. I also love to eat fish, and I do eat out, so sometimes I don’t know the source of the meat. I think it’s optimal to do what you can to get the best meat, poultry, eggs and seafood you can afford, as they are the best sources of protein. Legumes like lentils are one of the best plant-based protein sources, for both nutrition and the environment, so I eat them occasionally too.

For more nutrition advice, recipes, healthy lifestyle tips and information on sustainable food, follow Diana Rodgers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, and check out her website

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Secrets of Superagers

Earlier this month, I argued that life and longevity are not, in and of themselves, virtues. There is nothing about life itself that is good; a good life is one that is lived productively and enjoyably. And to the extent that we live well, living well longer allows us to accumulate more of the benefits of a good life.

Yet many people struggle to continue to enjoy the years at the end of their lives. As human life
expectancy increases, so do Alzheimer's disease, dementia and other forms of age-related cognitive decline. But the steady diminution of mental powers is not the case for a class of older adults termed "superagers," whose memory and attention well exceed the average for their age group and are even comparable to the mental capabilities of healthy, active young adults.

A recent study found that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of superagers' brains showed thicker cortical masses in regions like the midcingulate cortex and anterior insula. In an article in The New York Times, Lisa Feldman Barrett, one of the authors of the original study, points out that these brain regions are typically associated with emotion rather than cognition. Previous studies show these same regions see increased activity when people perform difficult tasks, whether those tasks are physical or mental. In other words, superagers appear to regularly engage in activities that may cause fatigue or frustration, but they manage to push past the temporary unpleasantness of these intense efforts.

In my experience, the most satisfying moments of life involve overcoming challenges and succeeding the in face of adversity. Of course, there is pleasure and even happiness to be found in spending time with friends and family, watching a good sitcom or observing a beautiful sunset. But I don't believe these pleasant experiences alone make life worth living. Not only do those who actively seek comfort and avoid challenge lead lives that seem less than wholly satisfying, they also run a greater risk of losing the very mental powers that help make life enjoyable. Likewise, those who seek longevity merely for longevity's sake may choose safety and routine over the trials and tribulations that can help them discover both a long and fulfilling life.

Uncomfortable as they may be, mental and physical challenges are a part of life. Those who embrace these obstacles and learn to work past them can get more out of existence, now and in the future.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Is Life a Virtue?

There is a common assumption that life is a virtue, that the mere state of existence is something to be cherished, prolonged and assiduously safeguarded. Facebook and Pinterest posts offer us “5 Tips for Living Longer” and “12 Tricks to Be Healthy.” Gatorade reminds us “Life’s a sport. Drink it up” and Coca-Cola that “Life tastes good,” while Red Bull “Vitalizes body and mind” and Walgreens sits “At the corner of happy and healthy.” Repeated interactions with family, friends and media reinforce this message that longevity and health just are important.

Yet a closer examination calls this assumption into question. In her book New Demons, philosopher Simona Forti denounces the desire to maximize life, pointing to writers like Hannah Arendt, who “emphasize[d] that any ethical discourse must assume life is not the highest good for mortals,” (198), and the ancient Greeks, who believed “a life that is never put at risk for something higher is practically unworthy of being lived,” (199). A few examples may help to elucidate these counterarguments.

To start, there is no virtue in the fact that Adolf Hitler existed. The world would have been better off if he had never lived at all. And there is a philosophy thought experiment that imagines the world external to my mind does not exist as I perceive it, that I am merely a brain submerged in a vat of nutrient-rich chemicals and hooked up to electrodes attached to a computer that generates what I believe to be the sensory experiences of my life. Surely, this existence (such as it is) doesn’t count as good.

We also tend to think of virtue as requiring some effort; one must try to be compassionate, honest, strong, wise and just. While effort is required to live well, the same type and standard of effort don't seem necessary to simply live. Under normal circumstances, we don’t try to breathe, sleep or keep our hearts beating, and the acts of eating and drinking don’t appear to be praiseworthy.

Furthermore, life will inevitably end, a trait atypical to other virtues (aside from their attachment with human death). It would be odd to say that honesty is a virtue, meaning that one should strive to be honest, while at the same time admitting that all that truth-striving will ultimately prove futile. What’s the point of saying one should act a certain way while also granting that same action is impossible to do?
The attempt to moralize existence comes to the forefront in the modern health movement and its corresponding backlash. When pared down to their essence, basic wellness incitements like “eat vegetables!” and “exercise!” start to look a lot like “be healthy!” and “live!” It should come as no surprise that an easy and convincing riposte follows the lines of 1) I am alive, 2) I hate vegetables and the gym, and 3) I fail to see the advantages of your advocated life of things that make me miserable.

In a recent column in The Guardian, author Mark Greif of “Against Exercise” fame further articulates the hollowness of inducements to longevity:

Health, exercise, food, sex have become central preoccupations of our time. We preserve the living corpse in an optimal state, not so we may do something with it, but for the feeling of optimisation. More and more of life gets turned over to life maintenance at the very moment you’d think we’d be free to pursue something else.”

So living itself cannot be what we are after if we wish to persuade others of the benefits of longevity and physical virtues. The reason you ought not to kill me is not the fact that I will then cease to live, but that my desires, pleasures and dreams will cease along with my life. Likewise, the reason to live longer cannot be to win some existence marathon but to exercise those same desires, pleasures and dreams. Preston Sprimont does especially well to separate existence from the positive experience of existence in distinguishing surviving versus thriving:

“We ought to seek pleasure and accomplishment in our existence. Instead of settling for not quite dying today or tomorrow, we should establish feeling alert and energized every morning, thinking clearly, performing well, sleeping easily, and improving consistently as our standards of living.”

While Sprimont, like Grief, points to the optimization of existence, Sprimont distinguishes thriving as promoting pleasure and achievement. The benefit of life is that we have the opportunity to enjoy our experiences, activities and relationships and help others enjoy the same. In this vein, longevity itself is not a virtue but a vehicle to do (more of) what we love and what is important to us. Whether you prefer a life of personal pleasure, one of constant charity toward others or something in the middle, living longer and healthier will allow you to get more out of your passion, both in quantity and quality. By the same token, living a long, healthy life devoid of any other joys, triumphs and good deeds is a colossal waste of a lifetime. 

In short, our primary goal should not be to prolong life but to live a life worth prolonging. We should not concern ourselves with either merely or optimally surviving, but with finding a purpose in life and constructing an existence that supports that purpose. Life is not a virtue, merely an accessory to a virtuous existence.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

2016 Year in Review

At the most basic level, KineSophy is concerned with ethical arguments, that is, arguments about what we should do and how we should live, particularly in regards to physical health and fitness. The most effective arguments apply to both the general and particular. If you have an argument for why one should not lie, that argument should support honesty in general and it should explain why you should not lie when the Nazis come to your door looking for the Jewish family hiding in your attic. Reason and logic provide the force behind any good argument, but abstract statements about right and wrong often seem impracticable. Conversely, examples may help illuminate the application of an argument, but they do not replace reason in supporting a valid conclusion.

For the better part of three years, KineSophy served as the home for my search for a particular concept of ethics that incorporates physical virtues. From 2013 through 2015, I presented a series of general arguments for the relationship between physical fitness, cognitive performance and a host of moral virtues. This year, I shifted my focus to depictions of how people follow the ethics of KineSophy in real life and how we can apply this theory to real-world ethical questions. This approach included new perspectives from the realms of health, fitness, movement and lifestyle, the first entrants in a Hall of Fame of KineSophy exemplars, and different applications of the KineSophy theory to related issues in health, society, fitness and philosophy. The following is a brief summary of KineSophy in 2016.

2016 saw inputs from three new voices to KineSophy. In February, fitness coach, writer and Olympic weightlifter Preston Sprimont argued for a lifestyle of thriving over merely surviving: “Thriving is an exploration and pursuit of what the body and mind are capable of. It is embracing human existence and seeing what we can achieve. It is constantly seeking self-improvement.” Examples of thriving include eating fresh food, getting quality sleep, being active, enjoying time with loved ones and taking the time to relax.

In April, yoga guru, corrective exercise pioneer and The Roll Model author Jill Miller emphasized the importance of self-guided self-care in achieving relaxation, range of motion improvement and a better understanding of one’s own body. In her KineSophy interview, she stressed that “we all have a body and nervous system that can be positively manipulated,” and encouraged readers to assess and creatively address their unique difficulties using the tools she provides. Clark Depue, a CrossFit athlete, coach and author of Meditative Fitness, echoed this personal approach to physical and mental well-being. In a May interview, he explained his method for combining meditation and physical training “to take ownership of your inner world and what you are creating for yourself, to be the most happy and fulfilled person you can be.” Depue believes each individual can apply his own personal beliefs to a meditative fitness practice to help overcome stress, anxiety, depression and anger, along with making gains in physical health.
In March, I said more about what the KineSophy ethical theory looks like in practice. Unlike much of contemporary ethics, the KineSophy theory is well-rounded, combining physical virtues with intelligence, bravery, honesty, justice, kindness and other moral virtues, all while maintaining respect for the inviolable personhood of others. July saw the first example of this theory in real life, with the induction of the Greek philosopher Aristotle into the KineSophy Hall of Fame. Aristotle made significant contributions to agriculture, astronomy, biology, botany, cosmology, dance, ethics, history of philosophy, logic, mathematics, medicine, metaphysics, music, philosophy, physics, political history, political theory, psychology, rhetoric, theater and theology. In particular, his ethical theory explicitly recognized physical virtues like strength and speed, and he was even known to hold lectures and discourses while walking around the academy where he taught.

In August, tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams joined Aristotle in the KineSophy Hall of Fame. The Williams sisters have combined to win twenty-nine Grand Slam singles titles and eight Olympic gold medals. Venus was the driving force in persuading the Wimbledon tournament to award men and women equal prize money. In recent years, Serena has been an especial target of racist and misogynist criticism, yet her continued on-court success and off-court courage expose the maliciousness of her detractors. Both sisters serve as strong, independent, socially conscious African-American female role models.

2016 also afforded me the opportunity to apply some of the ideas of KineSophy to other realms of thought. In June, I explained how my research for a new fictional work on mass shootings has led me to believe that most killers don’t just snap, but harbor grudges over a long period of time because they lack the basic resilience to overcome life’s setbacks. I hypothesized that because physical training teaches individuals to fail and move past those failures in a relatively low-stakes environment, it could have significant benefit in helping violent individuals better channel their reactions to hardships.

In October, I followed up on my previous performance-based dietary self-experimentation with an investigation of how our food choices affect the organisms and environment around us. This Complete Guide to Sustainable Protein looks at diets from an ethical, rather than experimental, perspective and breaks down protein sources for vegans, vegetarians, pescetarians and omnivores in terms of protein density, monetary cost, greenhouse gas emissions, water footprint and energy use. Last month, I dissected arguments against attaching a moral stigma to food choices and obesity with reference to previous KineSophy articles on hedonism and movement standards. Though dietary, health and fitness decisions are (most immediately) non-moral (self-directed) decisions, a person’s physical health may impinge on moral (other-directed) actions, as when one person must be strong enough to move a second incapacitated person to safety.

I have built KineSophy over four-plus years now, laying most of the foundation in the first three years and growing and extending the edifice these past twelve months. A continued progression lies in store for 2017. I look forward to new voices and perspectives, new ideas on which to test the theories of KineSophy, and new exemplars of a life well-lived—physically, mentally, spiritually and morally.