As I write this, can you believe I’m walking barefoot, feeling the sunshine, feet in the grass, admiring a flock of adorable ducks waddling along the Hillsborough River. It’s hard to believe that in this state of natural bliss, I’m actually hard at work – thanks to the modern technology of a little friend name Siri – the Apple iPhone’s built-in personal assistant who now converts many of my stories from speech to text.
What may appear as nothing more than an innocent walk in the park, turns out to personally represent so much more – intentional natural movement designed to improve vitality by simply using the body in more organic ways. If we examine the routine movements of our ancestors, those earlier humans who lived a typical hunter-gatherer life, many of the natural, everyday movement patterns of modern man suddenly dull in comparison. The nomadic life lent itself to time spent roaming, walking varied terrain on foot for hours, noteworthy amounts of manual labor, an intimate connection with their food production and the curious posture of squatting to eat and use the bathroom – which it turns out is one of, if not the best holistic ways to keep your joints and internal organs performing optimally.
But natural movement encompasses more than crouching to rest and digest, it also includes how we lift loads, how we swim, walk and even how we respond to stress. In its purest form, natural movement is about practicing the complete spectrum of organic human movements. It’s the practice of re-learning and re-defining our relationship to our body and its seamless movements, many of which are all but obsolete thanks to the comforts and conveniences of our modern lifestyles where they are deemed unnecessary.
In comparison to natural movements like walking, running, lifting and climbing, today’s exercise routines and sports are highly specialized, exaggerating the development of a few specific abilities that only represent a small sliver of our broader range of natural human abilities – and as they’re repeated over and over again, they cause routine injuries that are understood to come with the territory. But that’s not even touching the epidemic of a sedentary culture that keeps us seated from the moment we enter the kindergarten classroom and then throughout an entire career, which, for many like myself is a career in front of a computer screen.
The positions of the modern environment cause the body to adapt to a chronic position pattern that is ultimately damaging, develop a restricted range of motion and a chronic grip of tension most of us are well familiar with. But a regular practice of a wide range of natural movements can bring your strength, overall state of health, and confidence to a new level. By incorporating more natural movement skills into your current strength training routine, you will be better prepared for common life situations. Challenges such as holding a child while trying to get up from the ground, and more adventurous scenarios, like going for a hike, become effortless with practice. Life will be easier and less intimidating as you build competency in natural movement skills, becoming more durable, adaptable, and capable.
Once you have become a well-rounded mover you can work toward what could be considered the highest level of mind-body connection: movement autonomy. With it comes the physical ability and independence to move through challenging, complex situations without deliberately considering how you’re going to move or questioning whether or not you can do it. Quickly adapt to – and perform in – almost any situation. Your body learns how to respond with confidence. To learn more about these interesting ideas, check out the inspiring and hopeful book, “Move Your DNA” by Katy Bowman, which teaches people of all ages to reclaim their mobility and wellness through natural movement. My favorite part of the book is a very fascinating psychological component to looking at movement as a lifestyle rather than a compartmentalized activity to stay “thin” or “fit.” Katy’s book helps to adjust your daily habits of movement as well as offer some corrective exercises that can be done to mimic natural motions that we often miss in our modern lives.
Why I’m most excited to share this natural “movement” is the strange paradox it represents. While I’m listening to Bowman’s podcasts on a stroll after work, and my grandfather is perusing apps and DVDs devoted to Tai Chi, I can’t help but smile at the irony that the very technological revolution that spawned the loss of our natural movement patterns is the same one that is helping us reclaim our vitality. Both his strength and balance helped my grandfather survive cancer and continue to fly free into his 70s – and access an ancient Chinese martial art from his iPad. Here’s to new old moves…