The lost art of movement and how it undermines our well-beingApr 12, 2020
We don’t move like we used to do. How does this impact our lives and our wellbeing?
By Peter Appel
We often talk about how we’ve tamed, or domesticated, wild animals and how it has helped us survive.
It’s commonly thought it started with dogs.
Newly discovered rock art from Saudi-Arabia dating as far back as 8,000–9,000 years depict hunters surrounded by dogs, some of them on leashes.
Although this is a debated issue, the domestication of dogs probably happened much earlier, between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago.
Dogs and horses were tamed to help humans with transportation and hunting, but also to be pets and companions.
Sheep, goats and other animals, as well as plants, were domesticated for food.
However, what we usually don’t talk about is that we humans also have domesticated ourselves.
Over time, we’ve changed our own behavior in many ways, both mentally and physically.
You could say we’re a self-domesticating species!
We’re paying a price
Now, why is this important?
First, let’s take a look at what domestication means.
Domestication is selective breeding during a long period of time. Certain traits in an animal or a plant are prioritized and certain traits are suppressed.
You gain something.
And you lose something.
As always, for what you get, you pay a price.
When we’re talking about human movement and how we humans have tamed ourselves, we can say that the ability to sit still or do repetitive movements for hours has been valued higher than the ability to move well.
And this has had consequences:
New research across thousands of years of human evolution shows that our skeletons have become much lighter and more fragile since the invention of agriculture – a result of our increasingly sedentary lifestyles as we shifted from foraging to farming.
The question is, how does this translate into movement?
The wild thing
Now, let‘s go from thinking to observing. Take a look at this footage of wild wolves!
You don’t have to look for many seconds to see something very special:
The ease and lightness in their steps.
How effortlessly they move.
It‘s almost like they’re hovering over the ground.
I don’t know about you, but I find it extremely beautiful. I can watch over and over again.
The tamed thing
Next, let’s go to our beloved pets and observe how they’re moving!
To be honest, some dogs are quite good movers, but most dogs are not.
And how could they?
They spend most of their time indoors. And when they go outside, they’re mostly – like the dogs in the clip – on a leash.
(By the way, it’s quite funny to see the stray dog in the clip. I wonder what he’s telling his tame friends?)
Of course, most dogs would have the innate capacity to move better, but they don’t have the possibility to keep up and develop their skills.
They simply spend too much time in the same way as their owners do.
They could do a lot better, but compared to their wild relatives they probably would fall short.
They don’t have the same bone structure and muscle strength anymore.
It was lost generations ago.
Would they cope?
Now, take another look at the first footage of some people walking in a crowded marketplace in Boston.
Watch how they’re using their bodies.
And compare it to the clip of three, native hunters from Namibia.
What do you see?
How are the city dwellers moving?
Compared to the hunters?
What have we as “civilized modern humans” lost?
Let’s make a thought experiment:
For a moment imagine we’re moving the people from Boston to the Kalahari desert in Africa.
How would they cope?
For how many hours would they survive?
Do we care?
Maybe it’s an unfair comparison?
Frankly, I wouldn’t survive either.
It’s an unfamiliar environment. You need a lot of knowledge to stay alive during such tough conditions.
But maybe you say it’s a useless comparison? We don’t need that level of movement skills anymore? Not in modern life.
And that’s also true.
At least to some degree.
Today, we mostly live in comfortable houses and move around with cars and other types of vehicles.
When we go hunting, we just go to the shopping mall!
And if we want to see graceful or powerful movement we can just turn on the television and watch sports or ballet dance.
So maybe moving well is just an unnecessary luxury?
Why would we need to be good movers anyway?
Who cares if we’ve lost the skill?
The joy of movement
Now, take a look at the work Katarina Jäger and her crew is doing at Intrinzen.
They’re helping horses to recover healthy, happy movement.
For me, it’s totally stunning to see how the horses are responding.
The joy, the power, the pride you can see in their body language.
Or as Katarina Jäger says:
– Through a deeper understanding of functional movement, exercise physiology, and especially motor control and learning, a horse can recover the joy of movement they were born with.
So, if horses can, what about us humans?
Can we also find a way back to our healthy, happy movement?
And what could we gain from it?
We can recover it too
Actually, the reward is bigger than we think.
As I see it, moving well is crucial for our health.
We need the ability to move well in our daily lives for our bodily systems to function optimally.
We need movement to keep our blood circulation, lymph system, craniosacral system, and our digestion going.
Without movement, everything slows down and gets sluggish. And gradually we might become sick.
But there’s even more to it.
When we don’t use our bodies, they become numb and lose their sensitivity.
We get dissatisfied with ourselves and our lives.
When our senses shut down, we lose the sensual pleasures in life.
We might get depressed and our sense of self and our self-esteem might become weaker.
So from my point of view, movement is crucial for us to be alive and to feel alive.
And just like the horses, we can get it back if we want to do it!
Updated on the 12th of April 2020
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