Why do we practice movement?
Why take the risk, why suffer the ups and downs, why get dirty, and sweaty?
Our good friend Trevor Hash from Strength Side recorded this beautiful video about his thoughts on the why of movement practice after attending Return to the Source 2021.
Before I offer my own answer I want to explore the background a bit.
The most common answer we get to this question is “to be healthy”. If we are honest with ourselves, for many of us the reason is to be sexy!
Whether that means looking a certain way or being able to do bad ass tricks that impress people.
For some the motivation is the reward of achievement, a higher jump or bigger deadlift. For other folks the reason might be just sheer fun.
These can all be powerful reasons to move, but it’s clear they are not enough.
In the United States, fitness is a 30 billion dollar industry! Yet we are the most obese & physically weakest generation of humans in history. Worse, we have skyrocketing diseases of inactivity, such as Type 2 Diabetes, chronic pain, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
We also have rising epidemics of depression, lack of meaning, anxiety, suicide and abuse of perscription drugs.
We get constant messaging about the benefits of physical activity. We are bombarded by images of hyper-fit celebrities and articles about their workouts and body transformations (dirty little secret, most are using performance-enhancing drugs). Instagram and YouTube are filled with the most amazing feats of physical ability in human history. Despite all this, almost half of Americans don’t exercise at all in an average week. Less than a quarter get both regular and vigorous exercise.
We have misframed the problem. People don’t need to just move more and eat less. We need to recover from the deeply anti-movement aspects of our culture. We need to rediscover the power of movement to bring meaning to life, how it can cultivate our character, and connect us more deeply to the world.
We need to recover from a culture that has punished us for moving. Our culture has replaced play with physical drudgery, and replaced movement-based work with digital work. Our inherent drive to move has been punished away through a school system that insists that movement is only to be done in a designated space, during short periods, and under adult supervision.
Children constantly receive the messages: do not run, do not jump, do not climb, do not roughhouse, and do not play ball sports.
We have replaced traditional childhood play at a very young age with professionalized team sport activities. These activities focus on winning rather than enjoyment, and frequently result in burnout, injury and loss of interest in movement.
All children have an inherent desire to explore their physicality. Children have an immense joy and drive to run, jump, climb, throw, catch, build, roughhouse, and swim. We have created a system that punishes that inherent desire for movement. Then we ask why nobody moves!
We need to remember as a culture what every small child knows: Movement is fun!
More than that, we need to articulate something the child cannot yet point to: movement is so fun because it is vital to our being.
Movement is fundamental to what we are. Descartes got it wrong in separating the mind and body and declaring the mind the center of being. It is not Cogito ergo sum; “I think therefore I am.” It is Movere Ergo Sum; “I move therefore I am.”
The body and mind can not be separated and the purpose of the body-mind is to be able to act in the world.
Witness the example of the humble sea squirt, a class of animals who are closely related to us vertebrates (more technically chordates). Like us, they have a nervous system organized around a central tube, and like us they use this nervous system to control muscles. This tube of muscles in their tails allows them to power themselves through the ocean during their juvenile phase.
However unlike vertebrates they have a second life stage where they bind to a rock and become filter feeders like muscles, or oysters. At this point they no longer need to move and something interesting happens; they digest their brain and nervous system. When they stop moving, they no longer need a full nervous system.
In contrast, the human nervous system is the most complex system in the universe. At least that we have discovered.
People think of that complexity as an expression of our capacity for abstract thought. We believe our brains are so complex because of the wonders we can build in our minds.
Make no mistake, we can build wonders in our minds but what we have neglected is that those wonders are boot strapped on top of motor control. The first purpose of the brain is to guide movement. To paraphrase Jordan Peterson, your mind is embedded in your body, your emotions are offshoots of action tendencies, because action is everything fundamentally.
The mind and body are continuous.
Not only are the body and mind inextricably linked, the nature of our being is inherently embedded in the world around us and extended into the social and relational realm. This is the fundamental premise of the school of 4e Cognitive Science.
When we understand movement in this broader perspective, we begin to see that it’s not just something we do to keep our body healthy. Movement is fundamental to the full cultivation of our humanity.
All of this aligns perfectly with what we at EMP have discovered over our years of teaching.
It is within movement practice that we humans have the capacity to connect most deeply with what is inherently meaningful. The relationship to the different aspects of ourselves, and the world around us. Through the EMP practice we map our own bodies, our emotions, our thought patterns. We attune to our environments, we learn to compete, cooperate, and coordinate with others.
Jean Piaget, the great developmental psychologist, believed play was at the center of moral development. He believed this because it is within games that we find out how to work well with others.
So let me offer my answer to the question that initiates this essay; why do we practice movement? We should move because it is the most fundamental means for the cultivation of the self. Movement practice is where we can fully connect to the sensory world in which we inhabit.
Our experience is that almost all those who sustain a movement practice for decades have discovered this fundamental truth at some level. The veteran of 20 years of parkour, martial arts, yoga, surfing, even bodybuilding all tell you the same thing. They keep coming back because the practice helps them become the person they want to be.
It gives them meaning! Meaning that is beyond anything so simple as better cardiovascular health, six pack abs, a back flip, or even just fun. Lots of things are fun, some of them are not so good for you. Movement is not just fun, it’s meaningful. It is meaningful because it is actually fundamental to everything you are.
When our practice connects us deeply to what matters and progressively transforms us into the person we want to become, that is the type of practice that continually attracts us back. Even through all the many hurdles life can throw at us. The optimal movement practice improves not only our health, it improves our mindset, our character, and our relationship to the world around us and the people in it.
That is why we practice movement at Evolve Move Play.
If you want to experience what we do for yourself join us for one of this years retreats, spaces are extremely limited and go fast.