The rhythm of Food Activity Rest predates medieval medical treatments, and yet the concept helps set the foundation for Hildegard’s healing harmony. We first discovered a modern perspective on Food Activity Rest by reviewing Dr. Matthew Edlund’s work on Circadian Medicine.
The value of Dr. Edlund’s mnemonic FAR has far-reaching health benefits. In its most basic form, it has helped me remember the best routine for our six month old son, Lee. It’s easy to remember that after Lee eats, he needs to play, and then he goes to sleep. That simple routine makes his life, and by extension, our lives so much more enjoyable.
Food Activity Rest: how going FAR can help you go long
We are responsible for the rhythm of our daily lives. The flow of our actions and periods of inaction are how we compose the music of our lives. As Hildegard of Bingen demonstrated through her music so long ago, a good composer must understand the balance between action and rest, and the importance of timing.
Hildegard believed that music was a gift to humanity, a means to harmonize us with heaven and earth, and to tune our lives into focus. This grounding and unifying notion of music has many parallels but none as essential as how we arrange those measures, those units of time throughout the day, to construct our own lives.
The music and rhythm of FAR
Dr. Edlund tells us that music is in our genes. Sleep, hunger, growth, and the beating of our hearts are all tied to our internal rhythms. The sounds we make and hear can also influence a variety of these rhythms through biofeedback.
Music can slow down and equalize brain waves, inducing greater states of relaxation, focus, and even alertness and general well being. It can also positively affect blood pressure, stress hormones, immune function, memory and learning, and productivity.
Our natural connection to music offers many wonders, but through managing our own rhythm of life – a different kind of music composed of action, rest, and energy, we can lead a long life of health and wellness. This approach is called Food Activity Rest, or “FAR”.
The FAR Side
The three phases of FAR include what is essential to our survival: food, activity, and rest. The balance between these three essential phases of living is an important determinant in overall health and wellness. Alternating between these interrelated components of life is a simple but effective means to improve overall well-being. The idea that productivity, rest, and nutrition are interrelated is what Hildegard focused on when she advocated for moderation and the 35 subconscious virtues.
As humans developed mastery over the environment, the component of physical activity became less essential for the procurement of food, shelter, and general safety. For most of us, food is abundant and shelter is rather luxurious. Danger has been rendered as an abstract, something we needn’t directly worry about or work to mitigate most of the time.
Limits of activity in our modern lives
So we are left with activity that is largely mental. Instead of regular physical demands in our daily lives we have long sedentary periods that are often only interrupted by periods of eating. Our modern environment encourages long periods of mental activity without physical interruption or periods of mental rest. Together, these conditions lend to a rhythm of living that is at odds with our innate preferences. The mechanisms that have developed through necessity over time also need to be used or the whole system begins to break down.
We can see how this rhythm of life might just be creating a systemic imbalance that Hildegard cautioned against. The result is a kind of dissonance due to our bodies having not caught up with the comfortable, sedentary, mentally demanding, and over-stimulating nature of the modern world. This dissonance is causing strain on our bodies but also on our minds and our spirits.
Dissonance rises for what we need and what we get
In music, dissonance is a tricky thing. It is unstable, creates tension, and demands resolution. The dissonance is a question that seeks an answer, a restoration of balance that has been momentarily displaced. Musical dissonance is often associated with expressions of pain, discomfort, and conflict. Since our bodies are naturally attuned to music, it no surprise that dissonance is often experienced or felt as well as heard.
Dissonance is a hunger that asks to be satiated; a stiffness that asks to be stretched. While these brief periods of discord can provide depth and complexity in music, the beauty of this element resides in its counterpoint, consonance.
Restoring balance according to Hildegard
As dissonance is ultimately resolved back into consonance, this resolution restores the balance that enables dissonance to work toward the whole and not against it. Prolonged or unresolved dissonance makes for music that is difficult on the ear – and in life, prolonged dissonance is taxing on the mind, body, and spirit in a similar kind of discomfort that signals an imbalance.
Balance of Hildegard’s viriditas
Luckily, we naturally seek out consonance, a kind of homeostasis, just as Hildegard captured in her idea of Viriditas. Viriditas is all around us, in everything. The flow of this essence of life, the greening power of the divine, is ever present but we must continually seek it out. We need to move. We need to consume this energy in the form of healthy, healing foods; to feed our souls through meditation and living the 35 subconscious virtues; and to rest our bodies and souls through regular fasting and cleansing in order to maintain our balance.
Luckily our bodies are quite good at seeking such balance. So while we may no longer have a direct relationship between activity and survival, the biological signaling remains. Our minds and bodies crave this restoration of balance, a marriage of activity and rest. We just need to acknowledge this craving and work to invite balance back into our daily lives, by setting our rhythm to Food Activity Rest.
The Flow of Food Activity Rest
Living a life based on FAR is about acknowledging the signals our bodies are sending us. Listening to our own rhythm in order to make music that reflects our natural disposition toward balance and wellness.
Food Activity Rest is merely a guideline, a tool to help remind you that these three elements are essential on their own but also interconnected, such that no one element will bring health or illness on its own accord. The three components co-exist as three beats that comprise a rhythm. FAR is about finding the flow of life that best serves this rhythm.
Modern Challenges of Food Activity Rest
Maintaining this rhythm isn’t as easy as it sounds. Our culture is obsessed with optimization. Yet in this desire to optimize, the simplistic, natural rhythms that are always working to seek out balance are often overlooked or even interrupted.
The result is an imbalance in the pattern of Food Activity Rest, i.e. too much activity and too little rest or too much food and to little activity. Most “solutions” to the multitude of problems that arise from these imbalances overlook the premise of maintaining balance via the rhythm of FAR.
Instead, most solutions are based on singular, isolated issues with remedies that are one-dimensional, often leading to further imbalances and a continuation of the underlying problem. This approach leads to the habit of racing through each day, while attempting to juice each moment to is maximum or delaying parts of the rhythm and then attempting make up for it later on.
The consistency of Food Activity Rest
But if you practice the simple idea of FAR you will be more likely to maintain a rhythm of life that is conducive to wellness without constantly chasing the latest way to optimize. You will be more mindful of the union between food, activity, and rest, as well as the myriad of ways within each phase you can employ to make small moves throughout the day that will lead to bigger changes in your health and well being.
How FAR Works
Food Activity Rest is just as it sounds. You organize your day around the idea that each morning when you awaken you are stepping into a flow of life that alternates between these three phases of living.
The rhythm of FAR can be applied in both specific and general terms. It can be a way to thoughtfully incorporate specific priorities and actions within each specific element and it can be a reminder to order our daily lives around how our bodies naturally perform their best.
In either case, we need healthy energy to fuel activity; we need activity to keep our bodies strong, minds healthy, and spirit lifted; and we need rest to sharpen our minds, heal and grow our bodies, and connect with the natural world around us.
The rhythm of F.A.R. can be incorporated into your daily life as a part of forming healthy habits. You can incrementally incorporate small choices into your routine that will make room for larger changes as you progress.
Tips to incorporate FAR
- A brief walk after dinner or during your lunch break
- Taking fruit and nuts to work so you are not as tempted to snack on sweets that tend to always be around
- Understanding the difference between rest and sleep and making sure you are getting enough of both
- Go Slow Food by slowing down and cooking a meal at home
- Getting outside every day, find some green space, take a walk in the woods
- Incorporate a meditation practice into your day
- Taking the stairs to live a longer healthier life
Compose Your Unique FAR Rhythm
There are many ways to maintain your healthy rhythm. Start simple and keep FAR in mind when you are making all of those small, often unconscious, choices throughout the day. You are the composer of the music of your life. Do what works for you, but do something so that your music will be heard for a long, long time.