By Shelby Copeland, Level 2 MovNat Certified Trainer

Laying on my back, my hands and feet wave in the air above me. I look like an overturned turtle, a smashed daddy long legs spider. Heavy wet tears are rolling down my cheeks as I silently cry – an absurd juxtaposition of sentiments given my current physical silliness.

I’m being led through a ground movement flow in a MovNat workshop. I roll onto my belly and start looking around, my head and shoulders twisting back to try to gaze at my feet. We are going through a developmental sequence a baby would explore the world in. I’m crying because some deep down pre-language feelings are pouring out of me. Some ancient embedded memories of being vulnerable and small and looking up at my Sun and Moon – my mom and dad. We’re on our hands and knees now, rocking forward and backward like babies do when they are about to crawl. The feelings are still bubbling up. We push off the ground to stand – and there we are, someplace new – another level and perspective change to explore and discover.

Crawling around on the floor, crying like a literal baby, was not a place I imagined myself to be as an athlete, and frankly, as a human being. As a working mom with young kids, my plate was full. I was training heavily in general fitness and was starting to dabble my toes into Obstacle Course Racing and Ninja. I threw myself headlong into sport specific training and pretty quickly started dealing with overuse injuries.

The injuries (unattended to) worsened until I was totally sidelined. I was standing at the base of the 10 foot wooden pyramid ninja obstacle, holding my shoulder and watching person after person clear the wall, hauling themselves up with a nylon rope. I remained at the bottom, my heart sinking and my mind searching for what I could do to modify this movement because my shoulder was burning, dysfunctional, and not up for this. My ninja coach must have sensed my dejected hesitation. He looked at me and said “you have the opportunity to be what you never thought you’d become”. I had to walk off the mats for that one – tears streaming down my face as I collected myself in the locker room.

I certainly didn’t know what I was to become, because everything I’d been working towards was falling apart. I had found the sport of ninja and dove in headlong – training hard, progressing quickly and igniting an unquenchable fire in me. I competed in local competitions, and I was doing well. But now I was benched. I rode waves of rehab and restrengthening, only to get re-injured again. It was frustrating and confusing. I decided it was time for a change, and time to enter into a new approach to my training that didn’t lead to devastating pain and setbacks.

This is where MovNat comes in. I walked into a meeting with Rock Hancock, founder of MovNat Madison, and was ready to make some changes. Natural Movement seemed like a great fit for a rehabbing person, but what I was also surprised by was how I was met with questions about my overall lifestyle. We did a wellness assessment, and it helped make it clear that my pushing in the realm of fitness was taking a toll on other areas of my life.

Through working with Rock over the next few months, I really started thinking about wellness in a more holistic way, and started making changes across all the realms of my life. As I started identifying and then living in accordance with my values, life decisions became more clear; like leaving a toxic workplace, educating my kids at home, and investing in myself and my health.

I finally had the space to get to the root of the pain I’d been dealing with for years – hypermobility and chronic Lyme disease. I ended up on a healing journey that was challenging, but necessary, for my health and the well-being of my family. Rearranging my life to take on this healing work made the space for this to be possible, and I healed from some substantial health challenges.

In addition to healing in the emotional and health sense, I was starting to see huge improvements physically. Previously plagued by chronic pain and persistent soft tissue injuries, I was starting to feel more stable and pain-free as I trained MovNat consistently. We started with the basics: ground work, closed chain work, and general strength gaps that I had.

I loved working on new skills and how there was a clear path of progressions to follow to wisely approach each movement. I loved how I didn’t feel destroyed or super sore for days after training. It was a more well rounded and gentle approach to the sport specific training I was used to, and it felt good. I was giving myself permission to train less, but was still seeing significant strength and wellness gains. I started to have more of a sense of peace about training instead of angst like I used to. 

The power of MovNat is in consistent practice. Just like you have to eat nourishing meals each and every day, so I learned about MovNat. The ‘good stuff’, the nourishing stuff was in the daily practice of it. The gradual integration of skill and strength added up little by little over time, but I had to be patient and stick with it.

One of the biggest pieces of the puzzle for me was regaining trust in my body again after learning about the traits that made me injury prone. The reality that I am a cyclical being as a menstruating person helped me have realistic and compassionate expectations for myself and start shaping a new fitness paradigm for myself. My fitness paradigm had been largely shaped by an industry that centered around non-menstruating people. There were subtle expectations of pushing very hard continuously and adhering to training programs that did not account for hormonal fluctuations. Starting to tune into my menstrual cycle and my hormonal changes during different parts of the month helped me to train wisely and prevent injury when my joints would be more lax and unstable. My periods became free of ‘typical’ inconveniences such as cramps, PMS and bloating. My training felt more integrated into who I am as a cyclical being and I have remained uninjured for over a year, which is a pretty big change for me after dealing with continuous injuries previously.

MovNat was gentle enough for my healing, is challenging enough for my athletic abilities, and incremental enough to help me progress wisely. I wanted to be able to share this system with others. I decided to pursue my Level 1 Certification and successfully completed it.

After making some serious progress with chronic pain, I decided I was well enough to pursue L2. I flew out to New Mexico to train with MovNat Team Instructor, Jenny Ploss, and was able to pass my certification. Working with Jenny was fantastic because of the years of experience she brought to the table using MovNat alongside her Physical Therapy practice. I especially loved learning the regressions she taught me for older folks or for people using MovNat skills in daily life and tasks.

Witnessing how the MovNat system could be adapted to serve anyone, no matter where they were at in their progressions, was encouraging to me. It made me realize how accessible and useful Natural Movement is for all people: the old, the injured, the sick, the young, everyone. My hope is to work specifically with women to help them discover the joy of feeling strong and capable in their body, especially those who are returning to movement after a break based on life circumstances such as illness, shift of focus, or pregnancy.

MovNat is a movement system that has aligned with my values. It has been instrumental in helping me shift paradigms away from fitness gains to a more holistic perspective on wellness. It is for my whole family. The principles apply to myself and my kids and help situate movement in our lives in a purposeful way. It is rooted in community and a lifestyle promoting wellness and human excellence. It is a realistic and possible feeling and proves that athleticism isn’t based on natural talent; it can be taught and learned.

I can joyfully say today that my pain has basically vanished and my strength has surpassed what it’s ever been at. I have been able to accomplish things that I never thought possible, such as returning to ninja training and competing on American Ninja Warrior in spring 2022. I have started to set my sights on the MovNat Level 3 Certification. I feel confident, strong and that my movement fits into the values of my life.

I love how MovNat incorporates all elements of life and has served myself and my family well. I think there is something for everyone in MovNat: from postpartum moms, to chronic pain warriors, the young and old, and high level athletes.

About the Author

Shelby Copeland recently began shifting her career into fitness and wellness because high quality coaching and learning to move well had a huge beneficial impact on her life. As someone living with chronic pain and invisible illness, finding strength and capability in her body was powerful. She hopes to help others be prepared for life’s obstacles and adventures. Shelby is a MovNat Level 2 Certified Trainer and is a certified personal trainer through NASM.

Shelby is married and has two young children. Most days you can find Shelby editing videos, training for the MovNat L3, coaching kid’s ninja classes, riding a huge cargo bike around town, or caring for her kids. She enjoys rock climbing, ninja, OCR, fresh water surfing, hiking with her family, and learning new things.

You can connect with Shelby on Instagram here: @shelby_moves

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