My "Rules" of Mindful Movement

I’ll never forget the day I tumbled down the rabbit hole of movement...

I was sipping an Americano at a Starbucks in Highwood, IL, my eyes glued to the screen of my computer as I was doing research for my upcoming role as a MovNat trainer. I spent that entire afternoon watching YouTube videos of various movement practitioners, completely mesmerized.

“Oh my god that was sick!!” The man next to convulses with alarm. Not my fault he drank too much coffee.

“Holy shit!” A lady earmuffs her kid and glares at me. Ok, my bad. I’m now that guy. Sorry.

I can’t help it though. I try to keep any further utterances of awe from spewing forth uncontrollably. Still, I’m clearly having a very visceral reaction. The other occupants were probably staring at me like I was a crazy person, this was just the start of all the odd looks I would get as I ventured into this new world. I sat there until suddenly I realized that hours had passed and daylight was slipping away. I was overwhelmed by a combination of caffeine and digital inspiration and knew I had to go out and move on my own.  I never thought twice about it, the world was now my canvas and I now had a new set of tools - a new outlook, really - to go create a masterpiece.  I love to draw and I love to write but give me a blank piece of paper or screen and I’ll momentarily freeze under the magnitude of all the possible options. For some reason, it’s not like that with movement. An intricate blend of nature and nurture have made movement expression a very viable outlet for me.  And this is probably what made my transition into MovNat so seamless.

Fast forward a few months, I’ve devoted a lot more time to movement exploration and I’m out traveling the country teaching the modern Methode Naturelle and loving life.  People coming out to my workshops have seen the videos of my mentor, Erwan Le Corre, sprinting, climbing, jumping, swimming, crawling through rugged natural environments with ease and grace and they want to learn how too.  Soon I’m helping equip fitness professionals with the tools they’ll need to spread the movement love. Damn, this movement revolution business is easy! Not so fast. After a while the momentum seems to be dying down as the attention span of the masses wanes.  It’s a very strange experience to invest yourself in an ideology that starkly contrasts mainstream beliefs.  The healing value of movement was as clear to me as civil rights or marriage equality…it just made sense on logical and intuitive levels.  But the masses of Americans just weren't getting it”  Burnt out from traveling and in need of stability, I resigned myself to the opinion that the world just wasn’t ready for MovNat. Almost, but not quite yet.  After all, revolutions take time...

So I packed my bags and went home.  I was down, but far from out. My beliefs hadn’t changed but I needed to find a new approach.  I began teaching my movement philosophy under the guise of "body weight fitness" classes. At least, now I could work with people for an extended time and help them turn into movement ninjas. We started by exploring developmental movement patterns, bipedal weight shifting, non conventional bases of support, joint mobilizations (giving fancy-ish names to make basic principles sound advanced is still so satisfying) and most people got a little better. Better, but certainly not the massive, through-the-roof, off-the-Richter-scale type growth that I was expecting. And the rants.  So many rants about mindfulness, breathing, posture, slowing down, yadda x3. I love to rant but I was repeating myself every damn day.

2 major lessons emerged: 1.  Don’t hold people to your standards, hold them to theirs. 2.  Before movement, foster mindfulness.

Lesson one is just solid advice for anyone  in a helping profession, but lesson two is what this post is really all about. Our culture simply doesn’t allow us many opportunities to move which has led many people to become separated from their bodies.  Conversely, fitness has created many compartments, restrictions, and expectations surrounding how and why adults “should” move - mechanical movement for cosmetic reasons. So we end up with 2 big groups of people: those who simply don’t move much and those who treat their body like it were a machine.

In either case, a few months ago I began starting out class with a simple set of my own 4 “rules” to help my students enter a more adaptive state of mind for their movement practice.

They aren’t really rules per se, it’s more like mindfulness training. I encourage people to consider class as an opportunity to learn more about themselves, to connect, and to move like a human.  These rules are meant to set the stage for that experience.

1. Love and Respect Your Body.  In the world of fitness there’s this pervasive mentality that you have to abuse yourself to see results.  This leads people to think fitness is about pushing your body to extreme limits regularly.  It’s a trickle down byproduct of the overemphasis we place on organized sports and elite athletes. All the Gatorade / Under Armour / Nike / Adidas commercials glamorize this ideal and create an unrealistic picture that people aspire to. I want create an atmosphere centered on taking care of your body, not tearing it down; an expectation that you move well before you move intensely.

2. Have Fun and Make Mistakes. I have seen too many classes where everyone is so walled off from one another.  No one talking, no one smiling, everyone scared of connecting. Why so serious?  We’re all is so damn concerned with opinions and social norms and being “grown ups” that we deprive ourselves of the freedom to explore moving our bodies. The reality is no one is keeping score and no one is judging you.  This introvert's advice: come out of your bubble.  Take a chance to see yourself a different way, and grow.

3. Observe, Imitate, Explore.  Just because we move together doesn’t mean we have to move identically.  Movement (and therefore, fitness) should be a personally-defined experience, after all no one should know your body better than you.  As a teacher, I expose my students to a diverse array of movements and empower them to build their own practice.  There are guiding principles of movement, but not a lot of concrete rules.  Take the chance to explore and you may just come across a lot of unexpected goodness.

4. Keep Calm and Trust the Process.  The distinction I’m trying to highlight is between an outcome-focus and a process-focus.  Historically, we are a culture of people driven by the pursuit of outcomes - linear progression towards a finite goal. In fitness, many people are trying to make it from point A to B as quickly as possible before that vacation, wedding, reunion, race, etc…This attitude isn’t inherently wrong, but it creates some pressure to rush and cut corners.  On the road to our goals are the occurrences, lessons, and experiences that shape us.  The process is where the transformation occurs. Have your goals but keep in mind that there is a wealth to learn along the way.  Slow down and let progress come, organically. The road may take longer the but changes will run much deeper.

These are my rules of mindful movement. I understand it's not an easy shift to make, evidenced by the somewhat puzzled looks I get from new comers. Yet, if you can come to operate from a more mindful space you'll soon see there's a lot more to all of this than calorie burning, thigh gap, and 6-pack abs.

And I'll leave you now to discover for yourself just what I mean.  Move well, friends.