It’s the morning of the summer solstice.
My eyes open just as the sun is kissing the tree tops. The singing birds let me know that I’ve crossed over to the waking world. The cool morning breeze rolls across my skin and I breath in pure freshness.
I begin this day (and many others these past few summer weeks) basking in my senses with a deep appreciation to be alive. In this moment, my body is telling me that it’s a damn fine day and I’m simply content.
My moment of harmony is interrupted as my brain comes online barking orders about his agenda. I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet and already there’s an internal tug-of-war going on…and that, in a nut-shell, is the human condition.
“Rise and Grind, Kel. Don’t fall behind!”
“Let’s HUSTLE! No days off!”
“Time to do work and get shit done! Let’s gooooo!!”
My mind is quick to harp on our current life struggles and doubts. He loves to rehash old news and obsess on an unknown future. He’s a master at making comparisons and keeping score. Stillness really freaks him out. I don’t mean to make him sound like such an asshole; he is me, after all.
At worst, he turns into monkey mind and starts running wild.
At his best, he’s solving problems, troubleshooting issues, crafting masterpieces, and when there’s work to do he’s all over it.
Really, it’s my on-going balancing act between the agenda of doing and experiencing.
I’m not trying to be a slave to grind, nor let life pass me by. I’m committed to having a full human experience — messy, confusing, frustrating…and beautiful.
With that, it’s time to rise out of this bed and continue on.
The Story of the Status Quo
On this day, some self-care takes priority over my mind’s agenda of getting to work as soon as my feet hit the floor. Today the choice was obvious, but usually it’s a real struggle.
I pack up and drive down to the Lakefront for a morning walk to get centered and perpetuate some positivity. I see other people rushing to work or working out and I feel a twinge of guilt for my lack of hustle.
I quickly check that noise. Brain, don’t kill my vibe.
I recognize this guilt as the product of an inherited cultural narrative, the story of the status quo. There’s a lot going on in this story, it shapes how we view fitness and work. The story has us convinced that we can “will” our way to any end. We value tenacity, grit, and hard work to solve every problem.
We pass these values down through our myths and hero stories. We hold up professional athletes as the example to aspire to. We say put your head down and grind away. Don’t complain, don’t ask for help, just work harder.
The thing that makes this story so persistent is that it isn’t all bullshit. Tenacity, grit, and strong work ethic are powerful traits to possess. The stories of people overcoming tremendous odds to succeed, inspire us to become better ourselves. Sometime you just have to STFU and get your work done, there’s no way around that.
The problem with the story of the status quo is that it’s out of balance. The story assumes that the mind is the driver of our experiences and the body is just the vehicle.
We say “mind over matter” or “it’s all mental” with the connotation that we just need to push past limitations. We only get one body, yet we’re incredibly reckless as we use it to carry out the agenda of our mind.
We are a culture trapped inside our heads. We crave the statistics and data to make sure we making the right moves. We’re often paralyzed without this “proof”.
We aren’t taught to trust the innate intelligence of our body. We misrepresent or ignore the signals our body sends us. We’ve become strangers to our own intuition.
The brain drives the body until the body breaks down. Then we throw our hands up and assume that’s just what happens when we get “old” regardless of whether we’re 30 or 80. That’s been our reality for a long time; long enough to see that it’s not helping us live healthier, happier lives.
This is what we’re dealing with in the status quo. A story that emphasizes “doing” and instant gratification often at the expense of our health. This underlying expectation that the brain has to be running the show 24/7.
Finding a Better Balance
In this power struggle, the brain often hijacks the body. I am no stranger to this phenomenon. Over the years my drive to excel has also opened the door for anxiety, depressed mood, and injuries.
More recently, I’ve been focused on growing without forcing, without beating myself down physically and psychologically.
My morning ritual has been a key player in finding this balance. It takes on different forms on different days but it always serves to tame my overactive brain and prevent a mental takeover.
On this morning’s walk, I curb my agenda to get in a workout or record some training footage. I recognize this continual need to be “productive” as part of the problem.
I start by walking the stretch of rocks along the shore. I take a moment to bask in the sun and watch the rays dance off the face of the lake. Then I begin my mini adventure. The challenging terrain demands my full attention. I’ve done this dozens of times over the years. I know this space, I respect this space, I’m at home in this space, but I don’t take it for granted.
The ritual continues as I meander through the park. I observe my alignment and mechanics as I walk. I breath in the fresh air and thank the sun for it’s warmth. I tread barefoot through the wet grass and savor each step — I always maintain this as one of life’s greatest simple pleasures. I break out for a few sprints across the field. I continue on taking any opportunities to interact with my environment. Touch a tree, walk on a curb, duck under a railing…anything to get off auto-pilot and stay curious.
I laugh to think I wanted to film anything this morning. There is nothing to film; from the outside this is an unremarkable experience. Inside there is spaciousness, unconfined by a fixation on the performance or the outcome.
I’m free from the chatter, free from perceived expectations, free of any particular agenda. I’m free to connect with my emotions without having to push them down or blow past them in order to accomplish something.
Slow Down, Be Human
It’s common to rush, to ignore the caution signs that the body sends via physical sensations or gut feelings. The tendency is to numb ourselves during the work and appear unaffected. We struggle to perform like machines but our humanity will always come through.
Where does this need to struggle come from? I see it as a reach for instant gratification. Our drive to be doing comes with the obsession of seeing the fruits of our labor immediately.
It has been said that we overestimate what we can do in a day and we underestimate what we can do in a year. Herein lies the problem. We tend to work hard and burn out rather than doing just enough, day in & day out, for the long haul.
Logically, we know that it is consistency that breeds achievement. However, the stories that inspire us generally only glorify the outcome. The process is boring. We want to see the finale, the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, the World Series…the regular season can be glossed over in the opening credits.
We want to see our bodies as machines capable of sustaining high output for as long as necessary. We are willing to shut down the parts of our own humanity that we deem too weak to be part of this machine. We are willing to endure high levels of stress and repetitive damage to our bodies for the sake of this output. We will sever our connection to our emotions to numb ourselves to fear & pain and joy & pleasure alike.
We strive to be machines. Cold steel and interchangeable parts constantly working until the work is done (which it never is). We are infatuated with the idea of existing without having to actually deal with the inconveniences of being — uncertainty, vulnerability, mortality.
No matter how hard you try, you are not a machine. Life is simply too short to be lived mechanically. The process deserves to be savored. Through this process, we shift our perspective and start to see the great strength that lies in the traits that make us human.
You’re So Money…You Don’t Even Know It
So maybe we’re not cyborgs, but the human body is nothing short of impressive. Let’s take a moment here to appreciate the elegance of the vehicles we’re using to navigate this life.
From a biomechanical perspective, the body is a finely tuned instrument, a masterpiece of design and function. The average body is capable of arranging itself in a staggering number of ways, more than you could possibly imagine. The nearly infinite number of ways the joints are able to articulate to change the shape of our skeleton is mind-blowing.
Movement is coded into our DNA. Your body holds an insane amount of technology to navigate your human experience on all kinds of terrain and through all kinds of demands. With the assistance of your brain’s ability to recognize patterns and learn from past experiences, your body does incredible things everyday.
However, the hallmark of brilliant design is seamless integration. The human body is so brilliantly designed we don’t recognize how amazing we actually are.
Speaking of design, we are surrounded by machines that enhance our lives but we know nothing about. As cool as my MacBook is, there’s no real need for me to understand it’s inner workings. I simply appreciate that it allows me to create all kinds of content and make a living. I love it, but in it’s absence I would adapt.
My body on the other hand is not just a tool to wield but an inseparable part of me. It deserves a much deeper dive.
Your job isn’t to technically understand every detail of your body, it’s to fully inhabit it.
From the machine perspective, we might see the brain (via the nervous system) as in charge of telling the otherwise stupid muscles what to do. The reality is more complex. The mind, body, and emotions all inhabit each other and all inform each other.
The mind and body cannot be separated. They are one, indivisible. Our emotions reside in the tissues of our body. Instinct and intuition play just much of a role as logic and analysis. When it comes to the story of us, science is nowhere near having all the answers.
The body is an open system, a constantly evolving organism. Through our senses we are collecting data from the environment and this data is being continuously processed by our brain. This on-going cycle is causing you to restructure yourself throughout your life.
Your environment and your experiences are literally changing you as you adapt to them. This is not machine behavior. Machines are designed to serve a purpose. To a large extent, you choose what experiences you have, how you will perceive these experiences, and thus how you will evolve.
There is an on-going conversation between your brain and your body. To run your body as a machine, dishonors this dialogue. As we learn to listen to the signals our body is sending us, we tap into the innate wisdom that lives in the body. The synergy of the whole system is what leads us to a richer human experience.
Go create art, have adventures, do epic shit…that’s why you have a human body. When you view yourself as a machine, you are missing the point. Machines are designed for the purpose of work. You were designed for so much more.
Return to Human
We’ve been living with the story of the status quo for a long time. Treating our bodies like machines has become our normal. The question we’re facing now is how will we protect the nature of our humanity.
Redefining a new normal is a process, it’s going to take some time and effort. There are no quick fixes and most of the time gratification is not instantaneous (not what anybody wants to hear, I know). But for the brave souls out there, we’ll explore some movement strategies to return to human.
Your body, your responsibility.
Accept full responsibility for your health by making a commitment to honoring your body. Understand that just about every decision you make has an impact on your body. The ways you train, play, eat, work, communicate, and relax all have implications for your physical health. This does not mean you have to quit all your less than perfect behavior. Rather this about turning awareness into a habit. Before you act, take a moment to consider the consequences on your body. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to do that thing, considering your body might just tip the scales in the right direction. These moment are where intuition is built.
Move more mindfully.
Whether you’re working out, cooking a meal, cleaning your house, walking your dog, or standing in line — stay in the moment. Stop checking out and paying half attention. Give your full attention to your body and physical presence. When you’re working out, feel where the effort and the exertion is going. In household chores think about your posture as you find yourself in awkward positions. As you’re out walking, think about your breathing, your stride, and your balance. Even when you’re doing nothing and your mind wanders, come back to the moment and check in with your body.
Go beyond exercise.
The gym offers more machine-like movement than human movement. From exercise equipment to high-intensity beat downs, the gym tends to reinforce the status quo. Resist!
Get outside. Train seasonally and move different ways throughout the year. In the summer, spend more time walking and running in the outdoors. In the winter, spend more time crafting your skills or your strength. Throughout the year make sure you’re not just crushing it in the gym but “exercising” your freedom to move as humans move.
Embrace the “soft skills”
We are used to pushing hard towards our goals. This is the “hardstyle” we’ve become accustomed to associating with fitness. This approach certainly gets work done, but often at the expense of our body.
Soft skills are qualities like mobility, balance, coordination, relaxation, and fine motor skills. These qualities are often overlooked in favor of the lifting heavy, moving fast, or just getting the job done. These soft skills, however, are a means of restoring your body and focusing the mind. When you shift from viewing your body as a machine, you create space to restore function, unlock new abilities, and experience yourself in new ways.
Learn from your mistakes.
We’ve all incurred stupid injuries because of pushing our bodies too far. Hopefully we make fewer of these mistakes as the years pass. It’s definitely not about being perfect though; you’re going to make mistakes along the way. Small injuries are inevitable but they can be some of our best teachers. So many times we try to blame our mistakes on someone or something outside ourselves. By taking responsibility for your mistakes you assume control over your learning process. Did you check out and lose focus? Did you get tired and sloppy? Did you momentarily fall back into the trap of being a machine? It will happen time and time again. It’s our ability to be accountable for ourselves that really drives change.
Change the Game
For a long time, I strived to be a machine and I put my body through hell reaching for “more”. I exhausted myself chasing goals that weren’t really mine in the first place. I lived with a constant sense of never being enough.
When I started to practice natural movement everything changed. I slowed down and I began to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for my body. I came to see that the way that I had been taught was not the way that it needed to be. Natural movement took me in a different direction; it has led me to write a different story for my life.
So then is natural movement your answer to becoming human again? Maybe. There is no one, definitive way. Just as we’re all responsible for our own body, we’re responsible for our walking our own path.
The way I see it, you can never have too much awareness. Anything that creates a positive disruption from the status quo is a good thing. Natural movement has been that positive disruption for me and many others. It has been the catalyst for a shift towards making health a way of life instead of a goal to chase.
You’re not a machine, you never were. Slow down, savor, stumble, make wrong turns, triumph, do what you love. Start owning what makes you human.