By Danny Clark, MovNat Performance Director and Master Instructor
The MovNat team has been on the move! We spent 4 days learning, teaching, and sharing ideas with Katy Bowman and her team of teachers at the Nutritious Movement studio in Washington state. What Katy aptly dubbed as a “co-lab” turned out to be a valuable experience for everyone involved. The joint event was the initiation of a larger partnership and collaboration between the two organizations, solidifying a relationship that began years ago when Erwan, Katy, and myself met at a MovNat Foundation retreat in Mexico. It also materialized into a special e-learning product that will be released in the near future (details coming soon).
I wanted to share with you some of the main lessons from the event:
Lesson #1 – Exercise doesn’t need to be a part of the movement equation.
Here’s the equation:
Total Movement = Exercise (the movements you do in an organized timeframe) + Life (the movements you do in your daily non-exercise behaviors)
First, let’s just make the assumption that if you’re reading this article you’ve taken the first step: you understand the concept of “natural movement” and agree that it’s an essential part of a healthy, able-bodied self. Becoming aware of the concept is the first step, but it’s a very small one. The next step usually starts with, “How do I incorporate more (natural) movement into my life?” This is where the approach becomes important.
Whereas MovNat would have you hijack your existing exercise routine to re-engage in an organized practice of Natural Movement®, develop capability through benchmarks, and then allow it to percolate into your life through a new understanding and love of movement, Katy would have you do the opposite. Through Katy’s lens, natural movement restoration begins with what you do outside of the concept of “exercise.” Through the combined potency of correcting alignment inefficiencies (accumulated from life in a stimulus-poor, culturally dictated environment) and also re-shaping/re-framing your environment (think furniture-free, walking vs. driving, less restrictive clothing), Katy aims to bring movement back to its integrated, yet modern state without entering the realm of exercise at all. Thus, Katy’s equation becomes:
Total Movement = Life
Simple, right? For more about Katy’s perspective on “exercise vs. movement” and CrossFit, read this article: https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/kickin-the-tires/
There’s a beauty to both of our approaches, and much overlap. Katy’s emphasis on subtle alignment correctives and modernized integration empowers those that have little interest in “exercise” and those that might be intimidated by (or just not ready for) more physically demanding tasks, such as jumping, vaulting, and climbing. MovNat’s comparatively stronger emphasis on developing conditioning through a structured spectrum of easy to difficult biological tasks (in other words, more classical physical fitness achieved through movements with evolutionary, but not necessarily always “modern” relevance) in tandem with movement competence empowers those that already embrace a more “alternative” physical lifestyle than what’s offered in modernity. It also paves a healthier path for those that become ready to be more physical – especially in nature – via an organized, proven path.
By diversifying not only movement, but the way we approach getting you to move more naturally, we collectively speak to a greater audience – which is why this co-lab was so important. Katy’s insights are a stiff reminder that exercise is limited in its potency in our pursuits against the dangers of sedentary lifestyles, and ultimately falls short of its promises if it isn’t relatable, unintimidating, and directly transferrable to people’s modern lives.
Lesson #2 – Precision matters.
In Katy’s award winning books, Move Your DNA and Movement Matters, she builds the case for sedentarism being a primary cause of many modern ailments – from the more obvious pains experienced during movement to the subtler markers of heart disease. Her correctives focus on moving more of us when we move. Because when we do move – even during movement-rich practices such as MovNat – the damage from leading sedentary (or active sedentary) lifestyles results in much of us still not moving. Not only does this decrease the efficiency of the movement practiced, but often reinforces patterns that are sub-optimal from the biomechanical perspective. Which translates to “ouch” if the smaller sedentary parts of us don’t spontaneously start moving on their own (which doesn’t always happen, even with mindful technique), for a variety of reasons.
Katy equates these movements to being the mechanical version of nutrition – with smaller, corrective drills being micronutrients and larger movement tasks being the macronutrients. Both are essential to survival, of course. Our culture is deficient in both, yet we only tend to focus on the macronutrients (evidenced by slogans such as “move more” and self-quantification devices such as Fitbits).
The idea that separates Katy’s work from the rest is the lens she operates from – which is the same as our own. Instead of being muscle-focused and only striving to connect to perform better in the linear movements found in traditional exercise, her correctives are directly applicable to natural movements. For example, if your knee pits don’t face behind you when you walk, you aren’t walking, running, or sprinting efficiently. Further, all the joints above your knees are likely not in the optimal position for other tasks…even simple tasks such as standing! Katy showed us how simple, small adjustments to position – especially those that improve walking – can greatly affect how we practice Natural Movement®.
On the flip side, letting go of such high degree of precision and allowing whole patterns to be practiced in a safe and logical/progressive sequence of development, as we teach in MovNat, proved to be extremely helpful in getting Katy and her teachers to overcome mental barriers preventing them from experiencing the larger practice of Natural Movement®.
Lesson #3 – For Optimal Results, Unification of teaching strategy is the goal.
Our co-lab with Katy was about something equally as profound as movement philosophy; it was also about teaching philosophy.
There’s a major disconnect between the professions of “fitness” and “therapy.” Pioneers such as our friend Gray Cook of FMS have helped bridge the gap by creating more interdisciplinary awareness within both professions. With fitness professionals armed with better screens/assessments/corrective drills, and with therapists able to better transition patients into more “functional” – ie anatomical focused – exercise modalities, the movement education industry (which encompasses both professions) has evolved in a positive direction.
Yet, a subtle war still exists among various modalities. On one end, certain disciplines emphasize education through doing. By simply doing more movement (and more varied movement), one becomes better at movement. From this perspective, the combination of mindfulness and environmental challenge are the true teachers. On the other hand, the therapists often emphasize safety. They stress the dangers of the body’s propensity for short-term patterns of compensation – such as baggage from our sedentary lives or past injuries. They harp on the need to reduce via correctives to ensure proper joint health and motor control in order to make such larger pursuits more sustainable.
To me, MovNat’s partnership with Nutritious Movement was symbolic of a greater unification; a more cohesive teaching strategy for “zooming in and zooming out”; a deeper understanding of honoring the interconnectedness of coaching styles; a respect for the importance of choosing how to coach based on “who” versus “how.” Allow me to explain.
At the event, I offered two diagrams:
In diagram one, I show various teaching styles along a spectrum – with “reductionist” at one extreme and “emergent” at the other. This is exactly why we see the tug of war happening in the industry – these seemingly opposing strategies have the illusion of viewing whole movement as dangerous for anyone but the anatomically “perfect” mover OR being neglectful of the more injury prone and mal-adapted. The emergent schools end up with high rates of injury, and the reductionist schools trap their students in a web of fear. Many teachers attempt to learn both extremes, but a true reconciliation remains elusive.
But notice the third category, “technical” which is MovNat’s primary teaching strategy. We attempt to reconcile the two by staying out of the extremes – we never just throw people into nature, nor do we reduce to the degree of a therapist. We offer a path from technical to emergent through a systematic process of restoration.
In other words, we take one step back from the organic process you went through in childhood to help reverse engineer and continue that process more safely and time efficiently. We avoid reductionist teaching because movement at the highest level isn’t ideal or perfect – it simply doesn’t happen the way we hope/imagine it should, even for those with the highest levels of joint health and body control. Thus, we focus on what we can control though the conscious awareness of the simple, easily digestable components of movement – ie, technique.
That said, MovNat is limited by its ability to reduce. Offering technical steps is excellent, but what happens when the first technical step is too much for an older or injury prone student – for example, what if someone can’t even get down on the ground to sit? Or what if even our best movers still struggle with injuries while attempting harder movements? Should we just send them to a physical therapist, even in the absence of injury?
Our time with Katy was spent learning each other’s language, and respecting the interconnectedness of teaching strategies that share a common big picture goal. We learned how the path to modern movement capability isn’t linear, nor should it be caged by the biases or fears of the teacher.
In closing, this co-lab marks the beginning of what I know will be an important shift in how we all approach movement education. Both organizations benefited tremendously from the experience, and I know that the upcoming e-learning product will help teachers and students alike connect the dots in their Natural Movement® journey.
Want some Help Getting Started With Natural Movement®?
If you’d like to learn more about Natural Movement® fitness and the lifestyle behind it, consider attending the MovNat Level 1 Certification or a MovNat Workshop. We hold events all around the world. Or, find a MovNat Certified Trainer or Gym in your area. We also offer MovNat Online Coaching as an alternative to live instruction.
Most people feel that they should be more physically active. Some even recognize the incredible value of movement training. But they struggle with actually implementing it into their daily lives. That’s why we work closely with people from all walks of life to help them move better, get healthier and stronger, and discover their true potential with natural movement fitness. It’s also why we work extensively with health and fitness professionals who understand the value of this new paradigm and are eager to start implementing it with their clients.
So, if you’re ready to take your movement practice to the next level, this is your chance. Please join our community and check out an event near you soon.