Wednesday 21 February 2018

Movement manifesto

Our bodies are 200,000 years old.
Genetically, physiologically, anatomically, we are undistinguishable from the first Homo Sapiens ever to have walked the earth.

Among the animal kingdom we are almost unparalleled in our capacity to move our bodies in space. We may not be the strongest or run the fastest, but we can climb, crawl, brachiate, swim, invert and walk on our hands, jump, flip, and roll… We are wobbly bipeds with a steady pronograde past. Powerhouses and endurance machines. We are the ultimate generalists, limited only by the rules of gravity and our imagination.

We once lived on an earth athletic. We once depended on movement to survive: to hunt, to chase, to escape, to fight, to gather. We used to be lithe and active, but the world has moved on... And whilst our biology may be stuck in the past of a common ancestor, we have made our surroundings comfortable and risk-free. We have become clumsy and sedentary.

To counteract the inactivity inherent to modern life, we have built a range of palliative, yet somewhat contrived and unnatural practices. We engage in organized sport and games on occasion, we run a few laps around a track or around the block, we take occasional bicycle rides, swim a handful of lengths in the local pool, but also–and for a lot of us- we spend our time quickly and efficiently in industrial concrete boxes powered by catchy dance music and flickering flatscreen TVs. There, we lift iron plates and wiggle our limbs strapped to surreal-looking, solid steel machines and contraptions. The lycra-clad world of the globo gym!

The fitness industry perceives and treats the human body as a machine, which responds and adapts to a set number of repetitions for certain exercises: it creates a ‘disconnect’ between our mind and our body… It implicitly assumes that we, as human beings, can control the way our body develops through a few physiological principles and equations. It encourages us to perceive our own body as ‘independent’ and ‘outside’ of ourselves, and it alienates us from it.

Fitness professionals have fetishized body parts: we are bombarded with miracle gadgets, and snippets of information which promise to deliver a six pack in six easy steps, six short weeks, six minutes a day. Part with your cash; buy the latest biceps upgrade and the latest quick fix... But in the end, what is it that we are being sold? Disembodied limbs which are not our own, and the shiny new products that come with them: we buy into images which do not reflect our bodily realities. We have turned our flesh and muscles into a commodity.

Away from the gym, competitive sports pitch man against man, team against team, distracting us from our shared humanity and disconnecting us from each other. The opponent is seen as someone to dominate and conquer, rather than a partner in a common pursuit. Stadiums and pitches become battlefields. We constantly fight each other rather than support ourselves towards a common goal.

Our exercise grounds consist of rings, cages, sport halls, swimming pools, tracks and gyms. Even in the world of outdoor pursuits, we climb on purpose-built walls and we kayak on artificial lakes and rivers. We perceive ourselves not as part of nature, but rather we see nature as an element to be tamed and modified by man in order to turn it into his own playground. We have become increasingly disconnected from our environment.

We need to free ourselves from artificial environments and from fancy gadgets. We need to free ourselves from a routine which is based around body parts and muscle groups; we need an approach which emphasises collaborative approaches towards natural movement.

A good movement practice should redefine our common understanding of exercise and fitness, and to promote a vision which helps us reconnect:
-          to our own body
-          to each other
-          to our natural environment

A story

In the winter of 2013, I stood on the city beach in Las Palmas, Canaries Islands.
Close to the water’s edge, two girls were practicing acro dancing in a display of sheer athleticism, strength, balance and skill which rivalled that of any seasoned performer. Their movement was an expression of unbridled joy, their bodies lithe and pliable as they cartwheeled, pirouetted, backflipped and somersaulted on the sand and in the shore surf in an intricate, yet totally impromptu choreography. These two were adults, but they played like inspired children under the waning light of the evening sun.
Slowly making his way towards them, having left his towel to go and dip his toes in the sea, an overweight Spaniard waddled and puffed, lumbering like some sea-mammal ill equipped for movement on land.
It was a study in contrasts: sheer agility next to clumsiness, lithe strength next to obese fragility, the sublime and the grotesque. It was a circus tent spectacle, as the trapeze artist soars and spins high above the head of an ungainly clown on the centre ring.
The scene spanned the full range of human movement capability.  For me, it was an epiphany.

7 Principles for moving

A good training routine should promote an approach based on:

-          An emphasis on movement and physical activity as a lifelong practice.
-          The development of a functional movement vocabulary.
-          A practice not based on a few training sessions a week, but rather an engaging daily practice of movement, more in line with the way our 200,000 year old Homo Sapiens body is designed to operate.
-          A focus on embodied practices and natural movement patterns which reconnect us to our own body and emphasize internal aspects, rather than external, physiological development
-          A focus on the creative and expressive aspects of movement.
-          A focus on collaborative non-competitive practices which reconnect us to our shared humanity, rather than pitch us against each other.
-     A focuson moving and training 'within' our natural environment. An approach which reconnects us to the earth, rather than pitching us against it.

Some movement resources

Free resources:

- Raphan Kebe's Scirocco sequence - A beautiful and engaging yoga flow which should provide a bit of a challenge for beginner movers.

- Marlo Fisken's Flow movement free youtube videos - Marlo has put quite a lot of free videos on her youtube channel. These seem strongly inspired by contemporary (modern) dance, but they make an excellent starting point for developping a movement practice.

- Antranik's Floreio Project, based on the material of Ido Portal, and also, his excellent post on combining Floreio movements.

- Jason Scully's grappling drills.

- Tom Weksler's youtube channel. For movement inspiration. Tom is one of my favorite movement coaches and, although his videos are not designed to be instructional, his channel is a constant source of inspiration. If you ever have a chance to attend one of his workshops, I would highly recommend them.

Paid resources - a roadmap to movement

- Marlo Fisken's Floor Flow and Flowbility videos. If you want to further your movement practice, I cannot recommend Marlo's videos enough. Although quite 'dancey', Marlo's sequences are so well put together and so graceful that she'll have you flowing in no time. Her sequences will really take your movement practice to the next level. Make sure you have completed the Animal Flow programme before moving on to these, or you'll be jumping in at the deep end.

- GMB elements and GMB vitamin - two good beginner movement programmes with a well designed web interface, clear instructions, and a fairly well structured approach. The drills make a good starting point for a movement practice, though there is less emphasis in these programmes on flowing from one move to the next. If you are struggling with the Animal Flow programme, I would suggest you start with these.

- Acro Yoga - how to win these 6 challenges. If you are looking for a partner practice, this series of Amazon videos makes a fun and well explained introduction to acro yoga.


  1. This is wonderful! Such a fresh and inspiring perspective! Thanks for sharing. It gives me so much to think about! I'm going outside tonight and try to be a better human. ╰(*´︶`*)╯♡

  2. Very informative! Thanks.

  3. I am glad you are putting a little attention back to this site. I regularly send people at my Golds gym here for bodyweight progression info. Thank you

  4. Always great and insightful!

  5. Great resources there Nick - I'm super happy to see you putting some attention back here. One thing I would encourage for anyone looking at the Tai Chi 24 form you mention is to continue practicing it regularly even when moving on to other things. There are a lot of layers in Tai Chi, and building mobility and strength in other ways will show different kinds of things going back to Tai Chi. It's a great continuing practice for checking in with your body to see what weaknesses still need to be shored up.