A new exercise experiment has wonderfully squirrelled its way into my life without me really directing it: staying fit by phasing out exercise and embracing the joy of everyday, spontaneous natural movement. This has been quite a discovery…
Last summer I quit the gym and started doing bodyweight exercise sessions outside or at home, began barefoot running, and continued with my sprint circuits. This was a great decision. Still structured perhaps, but at least more natural and outdoors (and free).
Following no particular initiative beyond enjoyment, I found myself incorporating more dynamic movement into plain-clothed life: barefoot style running between destinations, walking hands first down stairs, more vigorous ruff-and-tumble with my kids (what an invention – exercise equipment that shrieks with laughter).
I began to notice how I often didn’t get round to doing the structured exercise. There often seemed like little time to fit it in, with the kit change, the structured exercise itself, and then the shower. Such a performance can be easily decided against. Plus, structured exercise felt really serious and repetitive, even military. So I also often skipped it because it wasn’t much fun.
The next thing I noticed was that sometimes, when I’m walking along, I just get the delightful urge to rip into sprint. Not to ‘do sprinting’, but just to unleash myself on whatever open space I had just encountered. I began to think that these urges might be my body telling me something. Perhaps to burn off some excess adrenaline that may be running through me, which would otherwise convert itself into stress or lard through some backfiring bodily function. Or more likely, it is simply reminding me that I am a human – a primal, spontaneous animal.
It took a while, but eventually one day I managed the amazing leap of actually letting myself run like that in the moment that the urge took me, rather than put it off for my next planned Sprint Session that might not even happen for a while.
It felt… fantastic.
Just once, to answer the urge, was all I needed. There was exhilerated heavy breathing but not enough to get sweaty or anything. No kit necessary, no shower.
So recently, more and more I have been letting myself shoot up an interesting tree, do a pull up on an inviting branch or goal post, leap over a fence. Just for the fun of it as it presents itself – because it really is fun.
The thrill of being on a branch 20 feet off the ground when 5 minutes ago I was in an air-conditioned room is marvellous. And medicinal. As well as burning off harmful chemicals in the blood that modern life squirts into me, regularly touching trees is every bit as therapeutic as petting puppies.
I have felt ‘fit’ in the past, and ‘strong’. But I have never before felt… agile. A natural, expressive, playful state that helps in any situation. My body seems to love it when I treat it to what it was designed for. It rewards me with a rich, enduring feeling of energy and vitality. Is this how a chimp might feel??
Sometimes I do get changed and go for a run, but only because I really want to. But without the tedious routine of costume changes, structured robotic exercise and washing which gobbles up an hour or never even happens, it just boils down to wild moments of fun, answering nature’s call to move exuberantly. And the call gets answered frequently, exactly when it’s needed. No need to plan or worry, no need to schedule dutiful exercise slots, no guilt or excuses. Just a more active, enjoyable, wholesome, primal way of getting around.
There’s a whole new world up that sycamore tree.