Nothing like realigning my spine each day after teaching my kindergarten students!
My ongoing journey to finding the fountain of youth! We're all a work in progress!
Do you ever find yourself feeling like you are living in a box? Are the walls closing in around you? Do you feel like you’re in a cage, possibly spinning on that hamster wheel that our childhood pets would run on day in and day out? In fact, most Americans are existing as if they are in a cage, as we are no longer living as we were designed to live. Our true instinctual form of movement is being pushed out the door, and we are left with a society that has forgotten how a human is supposed to move in our natural environment. We’re too domesticated forgetting how God designed us to live and move. One of my favorite natural movement authorities, Erwan Le Corre, writes about the “Zoo Human Syndrome” which he says is a physical, mental, and spiritual funk brought on by overspecialization and a general disconnection from our natural selves. I couldn’t agree more! God designed us to be outside, moving in nature, not sitting in cubicles, offices, classrooms, homes, and malls, then finding ourselves leaving those cages to go back into another pen at the fitness center, the swimming pool, the bicycle, that same track or treadmill you run on each day, and even our cars. We’ve forgotten how to move with a purpose and allow our bodies to become fit in every sense of the word. We need to shed our shoes and remove them from the cage they are trapped in 12 hours each day, as well. We must permit our feet to function correctly, as they were designed! Click HEREto view our video on this topic and you might want to check out my corresponding blog about feet, too! Our ancestors needed to run from predators, jump over creek beds to find fresh berries, climb a tree to harvest nuts and honey, carry boulders to build a wall, balance on logs to cross over a stream, swim to get to the other side of a river to find that perfect spot for foraging wild mushrooms or tubers, crawling to retrieve food in from the earth...all to survive each day! Using their bodies as they were designed to move. We’ve forgotten what being human and living is all about!
Le Corre is concerned about people becoming overspecialized in certain movements and skills. He says, "Body builders can bench press 400 pounds, but can't run a mile. Marathon runners couldn't lift their own body weight. Gym rats who have forgotten how to jump or sprint. Office rats who have forgotten how to climb trees". Most athletes have found their favorite form of movement such as running, weightlifting, bodybuilding, cycling, or swimming, but once they step outside that specific workout program, their bodies are unable to do basic primal movements. Overspecialization in one form of movement can lead to injury. Runners end up with shin splints, bad knees, foot issues. Cyclists may have lower back issues, swimmers shoulder injuries. Le Corre believes if we repeat the same motion over and over, eventually, our body rejects that motion. He feels rather than mastering one sport, humans are meant to be competent in all athletic activities. Le Corre says, "From an evolutionary perspective, humans have been successful because we were able to master a whole range of movement skills."
For me, there was a time when I came home each day from work, to go into my home fitness center and workout with my various free weights and machines, surrounded by the concrete walls in my basement... another cage? Yes, I still use this method of exercise at times when weather may prevent me from interacting with the great outdoors, but it didn’t take me long to realize that I was missing out on becoming one with nature and how my body was truly designed to move. Thank goodness, 13 years ago, my daughters and I moved to our current home. It needed a great deal of work, and being a single parent with only one income, I knew it was up to me to take care of any work that needed to be done around the house as finances were very tight on a single income: Stripping wallpaper, sanding, spackling, painting walls, repairing toilets, mowing, weed whacking, hauling 40 pound bags of mulch around the yard, carrying 80 pound bags of concrete up a steep hill to install a swing set for my daughters. I was feeling so incredible! My young daughters were experiencing movements they hadn't had to do in the past. We called our family "the pioneer women"! The biggest "aha" moment came to me our first summer here. A flooded basement due to a natural spring in my back yard. I tried to look at this as a positive, as I've always wanted a creek bed in my yard. So, I took this as a sign from God that now was my time to create that creek bed and make my dream come to fruition. Luckily, being a teacher, I had the summer to dedicate time to this major project! I dug a trench that would carry the water away from our house, which become a beautiful water feature in our yard! This also made our property become even more of a natural habitat for the wildlife. So many positives from a flooded basement! (Always healthier to look at the bright side of a situation rather than looking at the downside!) I carried eight dump trucks full of stone ten hours each day for the entire summer creating our backyard sanctuary! This time outdoors in nature and moving my body as it had never moved before made me realize this was the ultimate form of exercise...God's Green Fitness center!! (Yes, I wrote a blog about that, too!) I would no longer think of exercise as just that 60 minute time each day where I would use my indoor equipment, but rather move throughout the day whenever possible outdoors...that to me, is how we keep our bodies in optimum condition! We have become comfortable sitting most of our days at work, in our cars, or at home watching TV, video games, checking our computers/tablets/cell phones for the latest happenings around the world, believing that exercising for 30 to 60 minutes each day will make this sedentary lifestyle that we live healthy. Where have we gone astray since those days when everyone was outside, interacting with nature, socializing with friends in our neighborhood, tending to our homes , not hiring others to do the work we can do ourselves?
Growing up, we heated our home with two wood stoves. We would spend many of our weekends cutting, splitting, and stacking wood! How I loved doing that! I still do!! Time with family, singing along while we worked, laughing, but moving our young bodies staying fit! That summer of hauling rocks took me back to my youth! My father understood the importance of tending to our land and home by working hard, moving as we were intended to move. Rarely were we inside sitting around. Back to our current home...Another great gift that came from moving to our new location was that we were back to living in the woods! I have always loved climbing trees and did so whenever I could find a tree to climb, but now I had trees everywhere! It was time to reinvent my fitness routine and keep that natural, inborn activity alive! This brought me out of that caged lifestyle and placed me back in my primal element; climbing, sprinting, jumping, balancing on logs, lifting odd shapes and random sized boulders, fresh air, sunshine…back to really living and feeling better than I ever have felt before! Now at the age of 55, I just keep getting better with each year! Knee, hip, back, and shoulder pains are gone! All because I'm not doing that same routine day in and day out for that 60 minute workout! Now I'm moving throughout my day, finding ways to keep active. I even incorporate this with my Kindergarten students. I have the children crawling and squatting in my classroom. We skip down the hallway, play follow the leader, dance about our room, investigate nature outdoors teaching science, math, history, health, movement; teaching my students to love life and enjoy being human in every sense of the word!! Nature is the ultimate classroom; more enjoyable, more profound, more applicable to real life situations, and more memorable! And, moving in nature with fresh air, sunshine, and not sitting at a desk! The perfect classroom!! We need to reevaluate our educational system! That will have to be another blog! At home, I love moving about my property barefoot, hauling rocks and logs, jumping over creek beds, climbing, crawling...living!! Going barefoot has improved my overall health in ways that I couldn't have ever comprehended! My feet themselves have gone back to looking youthful. No more corns, oddly shaped bones protruding on the top of my feet or on the side of the inner big toe mound due to wearing shoes that kept my feet bound. I can't imagine ever going back to living in a cage! God placed me in this home to put me back on track and now I'm able to share this wisdom with others!
We know that we work our entire body when we interact with nature as we were designed to each day, but an added bonus is we actually increase our working memory. Last year a study was published by researchers at the department of psychology at the University of North Florida proving that climbing trees or balancing on a beam can dramatically improve cognitive skills. In this study using proprioceptive dynamic activities, awareness of body positioning and orientation, the researchers used activities like climbing tress, walking and crawling on a 3 inch wide beam, going barefoot (as I’ve been saying!) navigating under, over, and around various obstacles, and lifting and carrying weighted objects. What each activity had in common was that they involved both proprioception and at least one other element – constant adaptation to the environment and changing terrain. The results of this study found an increase by 50 percent in working memory capacity!! That’s remarkable improvement! Two control groups – one placed in a college lecture setting learning new information, and the other a yoga class focused on “static proprioceptive activities”. There was no improvement in working memory in either of the control groups.
Not only is climbing trees, jumping over creeks/stumps/logs, carrying odd shaped rocks and logs beneficial for adults, but so many studies have indicated that children reap the incredible rewards, too! Click HEREto view our Workout Wednesday video about Trees! Being outside reduces our stress level. Numerous studies have shown that spending time in nature reduces cortisol levels, lowers blood pressure, increases resilience, heals our bodies from many diseases, and supports cognitive function. (As I keep mentioning!) When it comes to climbing trees, many parents tell me they worry about the possibility of their child falling and the fear of serious injury is just too much to bear. I totally understand that! However, by physically challenging themselves, children learn their strengths and limitations quickly. It’s important for our youngsters to experience pushing themselves and realizing when to stop and play it safe. Surprisingly, most children have a strong sense of self-preservation and when given the opportunity, they will exercise it. Developing hand/eye coordination, muscle strength, and the ability to assess their own safety are all skills that benefit children and they carry them into adulthood. These are often the same skills that are lacking in today’s screen focused world. Another benefit for children and adults when it comes to spending time outdoors, is developing a personal relationship with nature. When we care about something, we want to protect it. Think about the last time you took your child out to investigate nature. Encourage scientific discovery by looking at various plant life, birds, squirrels, insects, and deer. Maybe they’ll discover some new species and go on to publish an amazing study! 😊 Remember, children learn by example!