MovNat Montreal: 2-day Workshop Reflections by David Salmon
“As an amoeba, it’s very difficult to hunt wild animals. Try moving around with no limbs, using just your shoulder blades. It took a long time for humans to develop to the point of being able to move well, like we can today. Let’s review the process…”
This was the engaging introduction to MovNat given by Instructor Vic Verdier during a 2-day workshop in Montreal, Canada.
Over the weekend, our small group rapidly went through the many movements that humans are capable of, from a limbless shoulder wiggle (very inefficient for hunting) to walking, running, jumping, landing, catching, throwing, lifting, balancing, climbing, and defending. This workshop was an introduction to the fundamentals of MovNat. Vic made it clear that we couldn’t cover everything in detail, but we touched on all the basics, except for swimming.
One of the great and unexpected things I experienced during the workshop was the rapid bonding between participants (especially Jamon the puppy!). From being total strangers of various fitness levels and demographics, we all became a tribe, with Vic as our recognized leader. This was emphasized practically during the team efforts of building a log bridge and practicing the fireman’s carry during a Combo and led to a very enjoyable party after the workshop.
The most notable experiences for me during the weekend were not simply novel ways of climbing or an efficient method of dealing with an attacker. The biggest impacts of the depth of this MovNat lifestyle came during the lunch breaks, when Vic made arrangements to reconvene:
“Be back here in about an hour or so. A little late or early, it doesn’t matter. I don’t know what time it is and it’s really – not important.”
(Vic doesn’t wear a watch, nor does he own a mobile phone). This was surprisingly refreshing for me! My own daily life is dictated by sessions I have with clients, and within those sessions I have to be very aware of the time to get everything accomplished. To my chagrin, this attention to time has intruded into my off-work hours. The result is my being a slave to my watch!
Similarly, Vic led us through the paths and woods of Mount Royal in a very steady, unhurried pace, observing whatever was around him. This also impressed me, to be unrushed, taking easy time in the moment, moving naturally from point A to wherever. These indications of keeping a relaxed pace in life when haste is unnecessary seem lacking in today’s world. It is refreshing to remember that we have control over the intensity of our movements and that it is best to save haste for when we truly need it.
Regardless of their ages, everyone in the workshop was admonished to take it easy to get the feel of the movement before doing it intensely. And no one was made to feel inferior just because a skill did not come easily. (I appreciated this immensely – due to orthopedic reasons, I will never be a runner, barefoot or otherwise!)
Vic’s tone throughout the workshop was casual and friendly, yet there was always an underlying sense that we were learning something important – lifestyle skills for our survival as viable healthy humans, and physical skills that could mean the difference between life and death. Everything we had practiced could conceivably give us an advantage in emergency situations: crawling on the ground away from danger, jumping and rolling from a height, surviving a surprise street attack, or climbing to avoid a natural disaster.
This perspective on why we need to move goes beyond so-called ‘functional fitness’. As valuable as the trend has been toward using free weights and bodyweight exercises (as opposed to exercise machines), the modern gym is still a very artificial environment, compared to our natural world. Above and beyond specific performance training for sport, I have always felt the unsettling parallel between gyms and the wheels in hamster cages – they are something necessary to include in our sedentary, domesticated lives, or we wither in vitality. In many ways, we have lost the basic reasons behind the ‘function’ – why we actually need to be strong and agile. MovNat gives us these reasons, and provides technique beyond just strength and endurance to make efficient use of our potential.
The MovNat system is a practice of always being prepared for anything, rather than just a means to get fit in order to ‘look better naked’, or to be minimally healthy. This serious yet free attitude is sorely lacking in modern times. Our lives are so organized and predictable that we can move through our days half-asleep. Who needs to pay attention to where they place their feet anymore? Try moving quickly barefoot down a heavily rooted path in the woods, tossing a stick back and forth with a partner, and then carrying him back up the hill on your back! That is an experience that will punish the inattentive!
From my professional perspective (I am an NSCA Certified Personal Trainer with a diploma in Fitness and Lifestyle Management), MovNat has the potential to be extremely useful for bringing a sedentary population up to a healthy level of fitness in a sustainable and safe manner. It is sustainable because it doesn’t feel like exercise: you go outside and move your body, naturally and enjoyably so you incorporate it easily into your life. It is safe because you can go at your own pace and intensity, feeling your natural movements as you expand awareness and develop ability.
This scalability is important. I train many people in their 6th, 7th, and 8th decades. The movement patterns that are important for these older individuals are the same for any age, but they often need to be practiced at a reduced intensity. Balance, useful strength, and agility can make the difference between falling and breaking a hip, or simply stumbling and recovering easily.
Ironically, the elements of MovNat that are useful for older individuals are the same things we naturally engaged in as children, playing in the woods with our friends. As kids we crawled around, rolling if we fell, balancing on objects, and exerting our minimal strength just enough to do what we wanted to do. Similar to many martial arts practices, MovNat looks for the most efficient and strength-conserving techniques to get the end result. This is evident in the many ways of climbing on top of a horizontal beam, for example. A ‘muscle-up’ may work, but you will use lots of energy, whereas a proper body position and the right timing of a leg swing gets you on top almost effortlessly.
The lifestyle of MovNat also includes the recommendation to follow an ancestral approach to nutrition, which we casually discussed over lunch. This is, of course, logical – if we move naturally, we should also eat naturally. This also extends to natural sleep patterns, social relationships, pace of work, etc. The consistent combination of these lifestyle elements leads to an optimal fitness and health.
Physical movement cannot be a hobby we only do in our spare time – it is as necessary as breathing and eating, and we omit it from our lives at our peril. We do not get optimally fit for our lives in a vacuum, plodding away in a gym 3 times a week, working out alone. Fitness and health is a lifestyle, shared and reinforced with others in the tribe, to be experienced out of doors, in natural environments.
MovNat offers us an accessible and organized method of managing that lifestyle organically, with enjoyment and vitality. I will be moving naturally as much as I can in my life, and look forward to meeting others in this growing tribe!
Organic Fitness and Lifestyle Management Consultant
NSCA-CPT; Dip FLM