A few weeks ago I participated in a MovNat course in Thailand. The experience gave me so much to chew on (more than just their recommend Paleo diet.) MovNat defines 13 movement capacities that we should train for our survival. Their website explains:
Human beings possess locomotive skills such as walking, running, jumping, balancing, crawling, climbing, or swimming. In addition to locomotive skills, human beings also utilize manipulative skills such as lifting, carrying, throwing, and catching, and combative skills, such as striking or grappling.
We practiced techniques for each of these skills. To justify each lesson, we imagined application scenarios. Why be able to climb over a high bar? In case rabid dogs where chasing you. Why learn to crawl on your stomach? If you needed to escape through a low passageway. MovNat prioritizes practical training in which we overcome obstacles to hone specific capacities. We learned the precise steps to effectively run, climb, perform rescues, defend ourselves, etc.
From the confines of privilege and security, some of the applications seemed far fetched. If I have never encountered that situation does that mean that I live a sheltered life or that it’s not practical? Perhaps a bit of both.
A dangerous episode may require heroic athleticism. Yet a sedentary lifestyle poses a more opaque and equally insidious threat to our survival. If we sit to earn money, transport, and entertain ourselves than consistent and varied movement becomes foreign, painful, and avoidable. To addresses obstacles to movement we can pursue therapeutic training with less regard for their direct application.
To understand the difference between therapeutic and practical training, take the squat as an example. During the course we inevitably squatted a lot—to crawl, lift heavy sandbags, and lower our center of gravity on narrow log.
Alternatively, we could unpack the action itself. The full range of motion squat requires unlocking the hip flexors, stretching the inner thigh and hamstrings, increasing external rotation in the hips, aligning the knees and mobilizing the ankles. A complete squat (a.k.a ass-to-the-grass) enables one to successfully use the bathroom across Asia. Very practical!
Practical and therapeutic priorities intersect yet also diverge. To achieve a particular skill, practical training could exacerbate pain whereas therapeutic practice may have no immediate application. The course was deeply healing. We all uncovered new abilities and one participant even quit smoking. Yet one of the most graceful and strongest athletes endured perpetual sciatic pain.
To exercise for a lifetime of well-being, let’s consider the priorities, rationale, and long-term consequences of our physical pursuits. Regardless of why and how we practice, Westerners need to be moving more. The MovNat 13 philosophy opens fascinating possibilities for physical training. Yet we need to broaden how we conceptualize conditioning for our survival. Therapy is practical.