How to learn natural movement.
Natural, efficient, safe, healthy, beautiful, graceful and exuberant movement seems to be the norm in the animal kingdom. A lion does not need a workshop on sprinting technique, a gibbon doesn’t need a course in brachiation, and a bird does not learn to fly on the school benches. How do animals, including human animals, learn how to move?
A part is genetically determined: hardware (the body) and software (the brain and its programming) are partially formed by the genetic code. But an animal also needs an environment, a context, a lifestyle to build itself. Every animal has the genetic make-up to be a good mover. Different talents exist, but every species has a basic movement repertoire that all members possess. Don’t blame your genes…
Important factors for good motor development are:
1. A natural environment.
A natural environment that does not only allow you to move freely, but also stimulates and invites you to move, even dictates your movement. A natural and complex environment that delivers variety and demands adaptability.
2. Good examples
Good examples of efficient and beautiful movement: animals of the same species. Parents, siblings, members of the same group. Of course they need to be good movers themselves.
Possibilities to move and experiment. Trial and error. Sometimes literally falling and getting up on your feet (or paws) again. We learn by watching and imitating. Ask any observant young parent! It’s obvious that the factors from above are self-evident in the wild. For the modern Homo sapiens, this is not the case. The environment is anything but natural. There are lots of restrictions to move freely: rules and laws (‘stay on the path’), modern dangers (‘traffic’), other modern dangers (‘overprotecting helicopter parents’), … And it is harder to find examples of good movement to imitate. We admire pro athletes for their gracious movements, but we forget that such movement is our natural birthright. Watching and imitation is not enough. We need another important factor:
Even if all of the criteria from above are met, you still need time to learn and achieve good natural movement. It takes a long time for children to be proficient in all of human movement. Hunter-gatherers child’s play, a entire youth full of it. Some skills take even more time to achieve (e.g. archery). And once achieved, it is maintained by a life full of purposeful movement.
Feedback about the result of our movement, because movement is naturally goal oriented. No abstract (functional or not) exercise for hunter-gatherers, only practical movements with a purpose. So feedback is about efficacy: do you reach your goal? But feedback is also about efficiency: do you reach your goal in a safe and economic manner?
Thus automatic natural movement needs a stimulating, complex, natural environment that not only gives us the freedom and space to move, but makes us move. We also need good examples to mimic, and feedback to evaluate the efficacy and efficiency. And enough time to practice.
Note that all factors are very much connected to each other: experimentation causes variety, but variety and a complex environment invite to experiment. If you always do the same, there’ll be minimal feedback and learning. Without time, no experimentation…
So, how inviting is your environment? Who are your good examples? Where’s the feedback of your cardio session? How do you know your walk on the treadmill in high-tech shoes is efficient? How much time have you spent practising skills? How purposeful is your abcoach abdominal exercise? How varied is your training?
Another important question: how do you feel when exercising?
Energised? Revitalised? Exuberant? Reborn? Connected? Free? Well?
If not, come move with us! Get yourself a dose of natural movement. Emerge yourself in movements that make sense to your organism. Learn to move better, because it is your birthright.
And if you have children, make sure you give them the time, space, and environment to play outside. Play outside together. Maybe your kids can be your examples?
image credit: Elisabeth Marshall Thomas (from her book on the Kalahari Bushmen: ‘The Harmless People”). A good example of fine motor development!!