Wild Body: Discovering Natural Movement

The purpose of the Wild Body series is to help you thrive in a dynamic environment. As you return to natural movement, your body will become adaptable and you will rediscover the joy and energy you had as a child on the playground.

This series will be published on a regular basis over the next several months. It was developed in partnership with Dan Houlihan of Emergence Wellness, who is certified in MovNat and several other fitness specialties.

Wild Body Natural Movement

The Need to “Demodernize”

Boaz Quote

Our modern world is filled with many wonderful innovations and conveniences. However, the growth in technology has begun to deteriorate our connection with the natural world. We have lost touch with each other, the environment, and our own body and mind.

Industrial comforts like chairs and cars have diminished the need to move our bodies. In fact, Americans now sit for an average of 13 hours per day (in addition to sleeping). This means that we are sedentary almost 90% of our time (Ergotron Survey). As one study demonstrates, this behavior is having a detrimental impact to our health:

“Every single hour of television watched after the age of 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes. By comparison, smoking a single cigarette reduces life expectancy by about 11 minutes.” (British Journal of Sports Medicine)

Of the people that do move, many simply run in a straight line, perform isolation exercises, or focus only on cosmetic changes. Further, most activities are done in a structured, controlled environment.

As a result, the Modern Body has become unhealthy, overweight, and unfit to thrive in a natural environment. Over the long term, we risk losing mobility, strength, and function.

My goal with the Wild Body program is to reverse this trend by helping you reconnect to your primitive state. I will show you how to take an active role in creating the body and life that you desire. I will teach you how to thrive, not just survive. In the end, I hope that you will experience the most important benefit: to live a full life of adventure, love, and joy.

Wild Body: A Return to Natural Movement

Forencich Quote

We need to remember that natural movement is not just linear, lateral, or rotational. Rather, it’s a fluid combination of all planes, directions, speeds, and environments. Think of a tiger in the jungle. Would she only run in one line or jump in one direction? No, she “practices” movement of all types, as her survival requires a variable range of natural movement. In other words, she can adapt to a variety of environmental and situational demands.

The Wild Body program will help you move as you were meant to move, by tapping into the “exuberant animal” as Forencich describes. We begin our return to natural human movement with the fundamental skills outlined by Erwan Le Corre in his MovNat philosophy. His program focuses on three types of movements that simulate real-world actions:

  • Locomotive: rolling, crawling, walking, running, jumping, climbing, and balancing.
  • Manipulative: lifting, carrying, throwing, and catching.
  • Combative: includes striking and grappling.

By developing and conditioning each of these natural movements, you will establish a broad foundation of physical competence. This will help your joints, muscles, and other soft tissue experience the full expression of human movement.

The Context of Natural Movement

While natural movement is at the center of the Wild Body, it’s only part of the equation. Attention also needs to be given to the context in which the movement is done. Below I will discuss three important components of context: dynamic environment, mindfulness, and play & exploration.

Dynamic Environment

Natural environments are highly dynamic. They contain a large range of unpredictable variables, such as terrain, surface, distance, weather conditions, and more. If your purpose is to develop a Wild Body, you must adapt your natural movement to this context. Establishing a dynamic training environment, whether you’re in the gym or outdoors, will help you develop a practical level of fitness.

MovNat

Mindfulness

When performing natural movement, one must be mindful and fully present. Mindfulness is an awareness that develops the connection between the body and mind. By focusing on how your body and its surroundings interact, you will develop better adaptability and assimilation of natural movement skills.

For example, box jumps are a common tool in functional training. Generally, there are two types of jumpers. The first launches up and down as fast as possible, slapping her feet and making a loud noise on landing. The second works to improves capacity, but tries to land as softly and reactively as possible.

In this example, the second jumper demonstrates much more awareness of her body and the environment. She will produce a more effective neuromuscular pattern with relation to takeoff and landing. This will signal the proper firing sequences and create a more resilient body in the long run.

Play and Exploration

Play, self-discovery, and exploration represent the final component. Together, they will add excitement, contextual demand, and creativity to your natural movement. This will complete your return to a Wild Body.

Watching children develop is a wonderful laboratory to see the effectiveness of play. They are born into the world with mobility and they develop strength, coordination, power, grace, and balance all from exploring and playing with movement. There are no sets, reps, or split days. Rather, they simply tap into their natural movement patterns that are built into all of us.

Playful Child

To play is to improvise, explore, take risks, and have fun. Dr. Stuart Brown, a prominent researcher in the field of play, states that “play is a very primal activity” that is “preconscious and preverbal – it arises out of ancient biological structures”.

Unfortunately, as we begin school and careers, we dramatically reduce the amount of time playing and exploring. We start doing what we’re “supposed” to. We wait for external validation and disregard the power of self discovery and experience. Yet it is this discovery and experience that is vital to feeling alive and exuberant.

The Wild Body program will help you return to the first years of your life and rediscover play. This is a crucial step to break free from the physical and emotional restraints from our modern, structured society.

Getting Started

Nietzsche Quote

Before I discuss the x’s and o’s of moving in future articles, I believe it is vital that you first define a purpose for your movement. It’s important to listen to the inherent wisdom in your body, create your own story, and find the meaning of your movement so that it becomes a daily practice that you love.

In my own experience, I initially viewed fitness as a means to achieve scientific outcomes: maintain muscle and bone mass, keep my mind fresh, and look and feel good. However, upon the birth of my son, I realized that my true drive  was the desire to live fully with my family. I want to crawl, roll, and run after my son and hopefully grandkids. I want to explore the world with my family, meet new people, and see new places. I never want to miss an experience due to a physical limitation.

In this way, there is never an end to my fitness. I am always exploring new movements and learning from my children. I train with movement and I play with movement, and the most rewarding aspect is doing this with my family.

You may have a different purpose, but I challenge you to sit down and ask yourself what you ultimately want from this program and in life. Once you see this clearly, there will never be another day in which you dread movement.

Next Steps

This series will be published on a monthly basis. Each piece will cover a basic movement skill and discuss how to add play and sensory training to practice that skill. Together, this will provide consistent stimulus to ALL of your proprioceptors, muscles, and senses, which will help your body thrive as a whole unit.

As we progress, remember that I am simply a jumping off point. I will give you ideas and inspiration, but my hope is for you to explore and create your own movement practice. From this practice, you will feel energized by your deep connection to the natural world, both within and around you.

References

Boez, Noel. Evolving Health: The Origins of Illness and How the Modern World Is Making Us Sick (John Wiley & Sons, 2002).

Forencich, Frank. Exuberant Animal: The Power of Health, Play and Joyful Movement (AuthorHouse, 2009).

Photo credits: Chloe Fan and Alexander Forst-Rakoczy.

About the Author

Dan Houlihan Centered
Dan holds certifications from American College of Sports Medicine, MovNat, Functional Movement Systems, National Strength and Conditioning Association, and USA Weightlifting. Read his bio or visit Emergence Wellness.

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