by Erwan Le Corre, MovNat Founder
Do you remember the very first moment when you started moving? You probably can’t because it was at such an early stage in your life (as a matter of fact, you already moved to some extent in your mother’s womb before you were born). Experts call the early stage of a child’s motor development the “developmental stage,” and it involves not just the physiological aspects of a child’s physical growth but also his or her fundamental motor skills, ability to move around, and ability to manipulate the environment. This is the early development stage of our Natural Movement.
The acquisition of movement skills is so important to your future life and survival ability that your movement-development journey begins before you can even form a thought or articulate a word. Because it is a foundational component of your biological survival agenda, Natural Movement is a very powerful, evolutionary drive that is an instinctual, innate behavior.
For this reason, infants start moving naturally without the need for any instruction or even visual demonstration. They follow a species-specific developmental sequence and hierarchy of movement patterns that takes place almost totally similarly in every child.
The Physical Idleness Predicament
Unfortunately, under constant pressure of social conventions and the irresistible comforts and distractions of modern life and technologies, this instinctual drive for moving might, in most cases, seemingly disappear or significantly decrease in intensity. Even though the example set by parents, or the lack thereof, will rarely dissuade very young children from moving intensely within the safe environment where they’re usually confined, as the children grow older their drive for movement is often greatly influenced by the example of their parents and other adult associates. When the adults whom children look at every day of their lives are never physically active, sit all day, and can’t kneel without pain or squat without falling backward, children may subconsciously assume that this is a normal condition and that Natural Movement is superfluous, limited to what adults can do, a behavior that is not “appropriate” in most social situations, and even something one must avoid engaging in because too dangerous.
The number-one reason why some children lose their instinctual drive to move the way they’re naturally designed to isn’t just the lack of example of healthy, vibrant adults—or other children—who are physically active on a daily basis, but the ubiquitous presence of the exact opposite example: adults and/or other children who limit themselves to standing up and walking a few steps to the next seat. Next to the strength of instinct, mimicry is the most potent behavioral instinct that shapes who we become. (As the saying goes, monkey see, monkey do.) This is because humans are highly intelligent, social animals who learn a lot through direct observation of older humans. If a young child’s adult role models for movement behavior provide poor examples, it is likely that the child’s movement behavior will not be as “rich” as it should be.
I was personally blessed to have parents who not only encouraged me to go outside and move but who would also show me diverse examples, though only partially, of what Natural Movement is. My parents frequently would take me and my brothers and sisters in the woods, where we would hike for miles regardless of weather conditions. We also climbed boulders and trees, jumped off rocks to the ground or to the next rock, balanced on fallen trees, crawled through dense vegetation, slid down slopes, and so on. The proximity of such a natural “playground” was a blessing, but I was also fortunate to be shown such an example and pushed beyond my physical and mental limitations while participating in such healthy physical behavior with my family. How many modern children have seen their own parents climbing trees and have been encouraged to do so themselves, rather than being told by their parents to never climb a tree so they don’t hurt themselves?
My siblings and I were, to use a current term, “free-range” children. I was free to go solo anywhere I wanted, especially in the woods. I actually wanted to be there as often as I could, first because I just felt great in nature, but also because I wanted to keep expanding my “range.” Would it have been the same if my parents had spent all their time in front of a TV screen and told me to not go outside or do “crazy things” such as jumping and climbing? My natural instinct for Natural Movement was fully supported both verbally and by tangible example—as I strongly believe it should be for all children. My parents were not “bad,” careless, negligent parents; they trusted us and didn’t need to supervise us constantly in an overprotective manner. Yes, we took risks—a lot—but those risks were never unreasonable because we had experientially and progressively learned to be realistic about what we could do safely. Nothing bad ever happened.
Sadly, most children today are not only deprived of having a sound Natural Movement example, but they are literally prevented from going outside and taking the physical risks necessary for their optimal physical, psychological, and emotional development. Instead they are told to stay still, to stay put, to just sit, and to entertain themselves mostly through electronics. The message that movement gets you hurt, gets you dirty, and gets you in trouble is very loud, clear, and omnipresent.
Which is more criminal: letting kids climb trees on their own and play outside in nature as often as they want, or keeping them indoors to watch TV and play with electronics on the couch when they’re not in school?
Those children who are lucky enough to at least play through free movement on playgrounds made for them show the way to adults, but those adults often won’t listen. The adults sit on benches and chat or are glued to their smartphones and never physically engage with their children. Every time I have been at a park, alone or with my children, I’ve been moving naturally. Children stop and watch, baffled to witness an adult who “speaks their language”—the language of human Natural Movement. Then they often try to follow me and do the same; they’re excited to be shown the example they’ve been secretly looking for.
We are collectively dealing with a modern health predicament. Lack of movement is a major part of the issue—in addition to unhealthy nutrition, stress, and sleep deprivation—and it’s causing an important diminution of our movement instinct and a shrinkage of our movement variability, frequency, and intensity. With this lack of movement comes an erosion of physical function in millions and millions of humans across the planet. Even though many modern sports or hobbies provide an outlet for each of our natural movement skills—for instance, playing Frisbee involves running, catching, and throwing—what proportion of people actually engage in such activities? It’s alarmingly low. Clearly, this is not just a childhood issue; it’s also an adulthood issue because either you might have lost your movement instinct as an adult, or you might be one of the unfortunate children who never got a chance to fully develop their Natural Movement potential. Regardless of the reason, you are suffering the adverse consequences of it, and as you become a parent yourself, you might not realize how this issue is passed on to your own children.
In our modern, civilized, convenient lives, Natural Movement is no longer a survival necessity. It’s been relegated to a mere option—an accessory element of a so-called “healthy lifestyle.” There is close to no variability, no intensity, and no adaptability involved in our day-to-day movement.
What about fitness remedies or “solutions?” Most of us have at least one experience with the tremendous boredom incurred by conventional muscle-isolation or machine-based exercises at a local gym. We’ve never felt that those programs were based on our Natural Movement instinct, or satisfying to them, and the truth is that the overwhelming majority of people consider these programs to be a chore, or worse, a punishment for being out of shape. They are linear, predictable, mechanistic, reductionist, and sterile. They look and feel like factory labor. They are an extension of work.
However, remember that our bodies—and minds, for that matter—are designed for Natural Movement in nature, and both expect us to move and physically behave like our wild ancestors did. Although it is socially acceptable for an adult to “work out” on an exercise machine, it would be considered strange for an adult to move like children do, to move like wild humans do—that is, to run, jump, balance, crawl, climb, and so on—especially in places that are not “officially” designed for fitness activities. We have become, to a significant degree, domesticated creatures. Unfortunately, the process of domestication involves repression, diversion, distraction, subversion, and suppression of important natural behaviors. Our dysfunctional, limited movement patterns and activities reflect the effects of this process. It’s no surprise our instinct to move is gone in most of us! Neither is it a surprise that modern humans may “instinctually” attempt ineffective movements when they’re forced to physically respond to unexpected real-world situations. Instinct, in the absence of consistent practice and an overall healthy lifestyle, can take you only so far.
We need to stop tormenting our innate nature and begin nurturing it instead. Normalcy is not our friend; it’s a silent killer. Conventional wisdom is too often all convention and little wisdom. It’s time to make the physical expression of our Natural Movement instinct an intentional, constructive, beneficial act. Pay a visit to the playground and watch how children move. Young children truly lead by example because they have not yet been influenced by the fitness machines and trainers at the big-box fitness centers, and they are still free enough to follow their instinct to move.
Children haven’t fully developed their Natural Movement potential yet, but they are actively establishing the foundation for potential future excellence. They trust their human animal instincts, whereas adults are busy “teaching” them not to. We need to start seeing our own animality not as a “lower” plane of behavior in life, but as the manifestation of our biological foundation and essential biological needs that we should not deny. Are you hungry, thirsty, tired, sexually aroused, anxious to get outside, about to yawn, sneeze, take a deep breath, scratch your scalp, or smell your own armpits? Hello, Human Animal! There’s nothing to worry about; you are a biologically alive and active animal. Does it make you a “lesser” person to acknowledge this reality? Does it take away from your superb abstract intelligence, moral integrity or even spiritual elevation? Not at all.
Spontaneous, explorative, instinctual re-experimentation of your Natural Movement is the first phase of your journey to future Natural Movement mastery, and it enables you to rewire the entire system of your human body so that it goes back to its original mode and function. After you will realize again the powerful simplicity and amazing potential that moving naturally holds for your health and fitness goals, it will be time to consider effective methods and guidance to bring your Natural Movement potential to the level it deserves.
“Don’t you dare underestimate the power of your own instinct.” —Barbara Corcoran
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Note: this article contains excerpts from Erwan Le Corre’s upcoming book, The Practice of Natural Movement.