Danger! Uneven ground

3 08 2012

A couple of weeks ago I received an email outlining the need for “urgent” works to be undertaken on the footpath outside the building where I work.  The email described the works as critical to render the paths safe for use.

The funny thing was I remembered walking on one of the paths that morning and I didn’t seem to recall any dangerous chasms or pits, ledges or crumbling ravines.  No matter I thought, clearly there was something I missed that really needed fixing.

As I left work that afternoon I payed particular attention to the paths on the way out of the building and despite actually looking for a problem, still struggled to find any.   I did notice that a couple of concrete slabs had risen a few centimetres in comparison to those next to them, but surely that wasn’t the critical, urgent works to which the all staff email referred?

Turns out it was.  The next morning I again paid particular attention to paths on the way into my office building and noticed that several of the “joins” where concrete sections meet had been ground down to make them totally flat.  The danger apparently had been averted.

A couple of weeks later I happened to mention this comical situation to a new staff member who had previously been in a site management position for the offices where I work.  I alluded to the fact that I was a little bemused as to how a concrete join raising a few centimetres actually constituted a critical or urgent problem.  Her respond simply blew me away.  She explained that in fact the works were tendered following the hospitalisation of two staff in a two week period.  I’ll repeat that to help it sink in, two people had been hospitalised after tripping on raised concrete joins and so this meant that we had to urgently grind down the paths to make them safe.

Since when did the human being become so incapable of normal movement that walking across anything other than perfectly flat ground would pose any problem whatsoever, let alone put someone in hospital?  If ever we needed evidence of a species in trouble, this is it.

I’ve no doubt that the people who fell on the 2-3cm raised concrete joins that then caused a hospital stay were somewhat less than well conditioned.  In fact I’d even go so far as to say that they were probably towards the bottom end of the human physical capability bell curve, at least I hope they are.  But it did make me think about the life of the modern human and whether all the development and “progress” we have made since the industrial revolution has actually helped us to move, or caused us to start losing the ability altogether?  Ask yourself this, what percentage of your life do you actually move on uneven ground?  Now ask yourself another question.  If you lived as a natural wild animal, in nature, when, if ever, would you find yourself on flat ground?  In fact you wouldn’t have to go far back in history at all, probably only a hundred years or so, to realise that only a small percentage of our time would have ever been on flat ground.

Movement in our modern world is entirely predictable.  Our homes have flat floors, our roads and paths are perfectly flat, our buildings have flat floors and even our “nature” parks and reserves tend to have paths and boardwalks put in place to make moving “easy”.  But is it really moving?  Perhaps our desire to make things easy, to make “nature” accessible, and even to protect nature from the impact of people visiting it, is really causing significant problems for humanity?

When I talk to people about what natural movement means, about what I do, I explain that I move and train in nature as a way of increasing my capabilities.  Not only do I not avoid uneven ground or obstacles, I actively seek them out, because moving across and through challenging terrain is quite simply the most effective way of maintaining and increasing my movement capabilities.  And because I do it barefoot I’m building my raw capabilities, available no matter what the situation.

I’d love to think that the modern world will quickly realise the slippery slope it’s created for itself by developing the hell out of everything and flattening out our world.  But it won’t really.  I’d love to think that people will come to their senses and accept responsibility for there own physical incompetence, as opposed to blaming someone else for tripping on a raised paver, but this is unlikely too. At least in the short term.

Still, if enough people stand up and question why all our terrain has to be flat (and boring) maybe we as a species can find our way out of the zoo we’ve created? Maybe.

Play, explore, move, parent.

3 07 2012

People who know me know that a lot of what I do in terms of “training” or “fitness” or “workouts” is very loosely associated with the conventional view of these terms.  Actually what I’m really about is playing, exploring, and moving. I’m also very much about parenting. And to me good parenting means playing, exploring and moving – with your kids.

Children use play to learn, its their job!  It helps them to build the skills and competencies needed for adult life including physical, mental and social skills.  Google “importance of play” and you’ll find stacks of supporting information on this, but when I reflect on my own experiences as a child, as an uncle and as a father, I know without doubt that playing with your kids is super healthy, super good for them and super good for you.

I don’t exactly know when or how I learned this but I’ve always known that actively engaging with kids, being and seeing their world, connects you to them more quickly and strongly than any other way.  My guess is that this was learnt by association from my father who did a great job at being part of my world.  Yes as I got older he was my team’s soccer coach or the umpire at my cricket matches, but rolling around on the ground and wrestling with my father and brother rank higher than almost any of my early childhood memories.  As do days at the beach swimming, throwing a ball, playing cricket and snorkelling.  Not specific things that happened, but the memory of the activities themselves is what I hold fondly in my mind.  As an adult, when I look back on many of those times I recognise that I often used to end up hurt and in tears, but that wasn’t what I remember.  What I remember was feeling connecting, feeling loved and in strange way being taught.  I am absolutely positive that I learned all manner of vital lessons from all those bumps, bruises, scrapes and tears.  So if I haven’t said it to the directly enough, thank you to my brother and my wonderful father teaching me so much, simply by engaging with me.  (btw – for a great book and website on this check out The Art Of Roughhousing, highly recommended)

Anyway this post was not meant to be about exploring all the developmental benefits of playing with your kids.  There are oodles of them I’m sure and some basic research will give you plenty of scientific reasons to back up my laymen thoughts.  But really, this post is just meant to get people thinking about investing, not spending, but investing more time with their kids and playing, exploring and moving.  And this investment doesn’t have to cost anything but is really just about igniting the spirit of play, exploration and movement in order to connect with the same spirit in our kids.  And I guarantee the return on that investment will be ten fold that of any material item bought for them.

So what does play, exploring and moving with your kids look like?  It’s only limited by your, and their, imaginations and the willingness to indulge.  Make the decision to go with the flow and the rest just happens, but here a couple of examples that Alex and I have put together (literally, constructed, filmed and edited together which is also an awesome activity to do together) over the last couple of months.  Enjoy!

The first was a recent weekend at the beach.  It’s winter in Australia and was about 16 degrees but beautifully sunny so we spent many hours playing in the water, the sand and that headland.

And the second was a stop off at the local library whilst riding home from the mall.

Freak Factor

19 06 2012

“OMG! Did you see that crazy Leopard running barefoot down that rocky hillside?  Doesn’t he realise how dangerous that is and how easily he could step on a rock, or root and hurt his foot, or trip on a branch, or miss time a foot placement and go tumbling down the hill?  You’d never catch me doing something stupid like that. What a freak!”

Most people would probably agree that a Leopard careering down a hill after it’s prey is an entirely natural behavior and poses little real threat to such a capable creature.  It does this kind of thing every day and has grown up preparing itself for just such an activity through play and practice.  So why is it so different for us?  Surely we humans, one of the most capable and adaptive creatures on the planet should still be able to run barefoot down a hill at speed?  I’m confident in saying that we all could, in theory, but sadly most of us stopped the natural progression of play and preparation we commenced as children and no longer move naturally.  And because we don’t, we can’t!

Substitute “Leopard” in the opening statement for some of the nicknames I’ve been given at my office and you’d be hearing some of the conversations that happen every now and then in my office I’m sure.  I’ve been nicknamed “Rock Boy” and “Captain Caveman”, but I also get confused stares as I venture out of the building barefoot and take off up an adjacent hill running.  Looks of confusion then turn into almost pained anguish when I return covered in dirt and grass from crawling, rolling, sliding and climbing through the scrub or lifting and carrying rocks and logs.  People look at me with genuine astonishment and wonder how it is that I am actually working in the same building as they do.  I’m an agile capable human animal that is seen by most of its kind as a freak!

At least once a week if possible I venture onto a small nature reserve behind my office building and leave the office woes behind me as I lose myself in nature.  I walk, I run, I climb trees, I balance on logs, I lift stones and logs, I stalk birds or kangaroos, I dig up roots with a stick, I imagine hearing a predator and sprint off, I scurry under branches and through scrub, I leap over fallen trees and basically move the way I would have moved everyday in a natural setting.  I return literally zinging with energy and feeling more alive than at any other time of the week.  I only wish I could do it more often.

Aside from the obvious physical benefits these activities provide I’m also training my mental capabilities far more than most people realise.  Rather than just running on flat ground with no obstacles or dangers to manage, running barefoot through the bush means I need to be constantly aware of what I’m doing, totally in the moment, else I face the very real likelihood of serious injury.  It also means that every run is different because I never take the same path twice.  I don’t run on trails, I literally run through the bush.  This means that I’m constantly challenging my body and my mind with changing stimulus and in doing so implement continuous adaptation.  The beauty of this natural method is that I don’t need to assess and modify my work out every 4-6 weeks because the changing stimulus is constant and provided by nature itself.  Change is the default situation.  This was recently covered by a quick blog here by my good friends at the Tengeri team.

So am I concerned that people think I’m a freak for what I do?  Well yes, and no.

YES because I’m truly saddened by the fact that the vast majority of people associate what I do as such a foreign activity that they literally struggle to come to terms with it.

But NO because I know just how beneficial and important what I do is to my physical and mental health and quite frankly I don’t give a shit what people think.  Never have.  I also know it’s entirely natural and the feeling of freedom you receive from training this way, particularly with an element of playfulness in your mind, is addictive.

I’ve always felt a lot like a caged animal and as a child I hated being told to stop climbing something (everything), or to sit still, or to leave things alone and not explore how they work.  I just hope that one day the bell curve shifts back to a place where the ability to move naturally, to live freely and to embrace our instinctive aptitudes is average behavior.  Normal. Everyday. Expected.

Until then, call me what you will but I promise you, it won’t stop me getting my freak on!