Our second task in the ‘Build a Strong Foundation’ challenge is to assess our current exercise regime and see how we can move more, whether as part of a planned exercise session or as incidental movement that adds up over the day. In our evolutionary past as nomadic, hunter-gatherers, and prior to the industrial age and the replacement of hand tools with modern machinery, physical activity was part of our daily lives. With the introduction of personal technological devices, we have become a sedentary species. Our task is to bring movement back into our everyday lives, with minimal environmental impact.
I remember reading ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear’ by Jean M. Auel as a teenager and being immediately enthralled by the protagonist Ayla and her adventures. I devoured that book and subsequent books in the Earth’s Children series. Ayla was my hero. I admired her strength, independence, determination, and her ability to look after herself in difficult circumstances. Even though she was a fictional character, I identified strongly with her, seeing something of myself in her; she was someone whose qualities I aspired to develop in myself, and whose connection to the natural world I shared.
In ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear’, young Ayla has a deep curiosity for nature and exploring her environment, especially the ocean. Then an earthquake destroys her home and she loses her family. She is forced to fend for herself, alone in a strange world, until she is adopted by a Neanderthal tribe. As she grows and matures into a young woman, she is described as having a “tough lean body” and “flat wiry muscles”.
In ‘The Valley of Horses’ Ayla lives alone until she meets her mate, Jondalar. He describes her as having “…flat sinewy muscles of hard use … her arms were long and graceful and declared her strength unselfconsciously. Ayla had grown up among people…who were inherently strong. To fulfill the tasks required…lifting, carrying, working hides, chopping wood – her body had to develop the necessary muscular strength. Hunting had given her wiry resiliency, and living alone had demanded efforts of strength to survive. She was probably…the strongest woman he had ever seen…”
These descriptions of Ayla’s lean, sleek, muscular physique paint a picture of a strong, healthy woman at ease in her own body, someone who uses her body as a tool and a vehicle through which she engages herself in the execution of her daily tasks, and someone who inhabits her body with grace, strength and deep awareness. Contrast this with a person living in modern society, who may be overweight or obese, unfit, or lacking in muscle tone, with no awareness of their own body, who relies on machinery to perform most of their daily tasks for them.
Our sedentary lifestyles are slowly killing us
There’s a growing body of scientific evidence that sedentary lifestyles are endangering our health and putting our lives at risk. Yet this is not what nature intended for us as a species. From an evolutionary perspective, our roots are in a nomadic, hunter-gatherer existence. Historically, we did what our bodies were designed to do – walking, growing food, performing daily physical tasks, getting out into the fresh air and sunshine – all were part of daily life. The human body was designed for mobility, movement and continuous activity, not prolonged periods of sitting.
With domestication of animals, industrialization of our food supply, the eight-hour a day office job, and the increased accessibility of cheap, personal technological devices, our hands-on lives have become hands-free lifestyles – static, sterile and spoilt. We spend three-quarters of our daily lives as sedentary beings, with everything we could possibly need at our fingertips, accessible via remote control or a keyboard, or we have designed machines to do the work for us. The risks may outweigh any perceived benefits we may accrue, including obesity, back pain, poor circulation, cancer, increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and premature death.
Move like a wild animal in nature
In ‘The Mammoth Hunters’ Ayla is described as having “…the natural fluid grace of an animal, a horse perhaps, or a lion.” Observe an animal in its natural habitat – running or swimming, hunting or foraging for its own food, mating and playing, using its entire body, its own limbs or appendages and body weight to perform the daily tasks required to keep itself alive, alert and present in its natural environment. Think of a dolphin, using its sleek, streamlined, hydrodynamic body constructed from a combination of dense, fibrous connective tissue, blubber and muscle, to propel itself through the water with powerful fins and fluke perfectly designed for stability and speed.
Let your life move you
Wild animals don’t need gadgets or machines to perform their daily tasks, using their bodies to move through space. We live in a different world, where technology has taken over many of the tasks we performed with our bodies and hands. We have lost the ability to fully inhabit our bodies, to be present and grounded in our personal spaces. We need to increase the activity in our everyday lives, use our bodies more, focus our lives away from excessive consumption, and rely less on gadgets and machinery.
Use your own body weight
When designing an individual exercise program, we must consider the environmental impact of our choices. Think of the raw materials (steel, plastic, rubber, neoprene) required for every person to own their own exercise equipment (communal set-ups share equipment and require less resources). We don’t need complicated equipment to work out. Opt for whole body exercise using your body weight (running, walking, yoga), with no or minimal equipment (an eco-friendly yoga mat and kettlebell). Avoid artificial indoor environments and exercise outside in nature.
Stagnating water is unable to flow. Our life energy needs to move, like a cascading waterfall. If we don’t move, our muscles atrophy. We need to bring movement back into our lives and increase our body awareness, becoming more active, engaged and present in our bodies.