Learn from Nature

The importance of movement


Humans evolved to move. Somewhere along the way, we forgot about this. The majority of kids today are less active than their parents were at the same age. While it is well documented that insufficient exercise can cause health problems, is it enough to just eat good food and do occasional exercise to resolve this? Most people would think it cruel to keep a dog inside all day and not allow it outside to run,  yet impose that exact same cruelty on themselves. If we can see clearly that a fundamental part of being an animal is to move should we not be following this rule?

The next time you see a dog being taken for a walk, take a minute to notice some subtle differences between Animal 1 (dog) and Animal 2 (human). The dog displays a mix of random and varied movement. Dogs walk, trot, sprint, roll, jump, shake, stretch, catch, and depending on the dog maybe even swim too. This is a stark contrast to how the other animal moves. Modern humans can go long periods of time without displaying any of those movements.  A lot of people's movements are very restricted. That wouldn't have always been the case.

Humans can complete all of these movements and more, much more. When we choose to, we are the best movers on the planet. As a species we can perform a more varied range of movement than any other. We can run 100 metres in under 10 seconds or run 100 miles in one day, swim 100 metres underwater or swim across seas, we can climb, flip, stretch, jump, balance, we can do all of this and more. Yet, we are a generation who are moving less and less.

Every other animal on the planet that can perform a certain movement does. If an animal has the ability to run, it runs, if it has the option of climbing, it climbs. We do not use our ability in the same way. While running is arguably one of the fundamental reasons why we evolved the way we have, a lot of people choose not to run at all.

If humans have evolved to move, then shouldn't we explore that movement? When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was run, jump, climb, I wanted to move and I had the ability to. We're all the same. But for some reason, along the way, we do this less and less. One day we wake up and we no longer can.

Is it any wonder we see increases of obesity, depression, anxiety, diabetes and other similar illnesses when we have lost a fundamental part of what we are designed to do. Our bodies want to move, not once a week, but everyday. We don't need to seek out an intense workout everyday, but we should aim to move in a series of natural ways at least once a day. By that I mean, to move in ways nature intended us to. Few animals stick to one form of movement. Shouldn't we learn from this and keep our movement mixed and varied too. If you only ever run, you will have poor flexibility, if you only do yoga, you will have poor cardio capacity. Sticking to one form of movement is, of course, much better than doing nothing. But, sticking to one form of movement isn't natural.

I believe this idea of random, varied movement is one reason why we should all spend more time exercising outside. Not on concrete roads and pavements but on trails, rocks, mountains, oceans and rivers. In these settings no movement is the same. If you trail run, every foot lands differently to the last, adjusting to the ever changing angles and surfaces. If you surf, each wave that rises is new and you move your body to adapt to that unique situation. If you climb, every rock face requires different movement to reach the next hold. It naturally creates natural movement.

I believe that using our full range of motion will allow us to move in more varied ways. The more varied our movement, the better our movement will be. If we can continue to move well into our old age then we will be healthier and happier for longer. It is what we were designed to do.

The more we do, the more we can do.




While researching this idea further I have come across a whole "movement" for this philosophy called Movement Culture. I discovered a movement dedicated studio near me in Vancouver that explores a number of different styles of movement including Capoeira, Yoga, Tai Chi, Martial Arts, Parkour, and Free-running. Before going to this I had the extremely misguided opinion that I was reasonably fit, strong and flexible. My first class was a humbling experience as my eyes were opened to a whole range of movement that I had not tried for years. I am slowly learning to move again in a number of new ways. Combining this with the activities I was already doing, running, climbing, hiking, mountain biking, surfing, yoga, playing football etc has made me feel much stronger and healthier and has opened up my range of movement immensely.

Here are a series of links for you to find out more:

Ido Portal - The inspiration behind Movement Culture.

Slava Goloubov - The guy who is currently teaching me everything I don't know.

Dharma Movement Studio - Where I am learning to move.


Why we must all learn from nature


Why we must all learn from nature

If we take the time to look, we can see time and time again that the natural world has a pretty good record for doing things in an efficient way. Take an old growth forest for example, it is a closed loop system where nothing is wasted, everything has a purpose and every single organism works towards the overall health of the forest. When everything serves the bigger picture like this we can see that both the individual species and the larger ecosystem thrive. It's not just the forests either, the oceans are the same, truth is, the whole planet's doing it. The whole planet, that is, except for one lonely species....humans.

The permanent, closed loop ecosystem of a healthy forest.
The permanent, closed loop ecosystem of a healthy forest.

On the surface it doesn't seem like we've done too bad from this tactic, the human population has, after all, surged to over seven billion people. The problem is, the more we have grown the more our ecosystem has suffered. As much as we try to pretend we aren't, we are rather reliant on that ecosystem to survive.

I believe that most people, if they are truly honest with themselves, will admit that the state of the world isn't great, that there is room for improvement. We don't need to go into all the details of what's wrong, we're all aware. We're all posing in a giant, worldwide, selfie, pretending life's #amazing, when away from the camera we all know something's not quite right. Our absence of action comes not from a lack of education about the problems, but from the fear of being the only one willing do anything about it. It's like we've all come to the end of a great party but no-one wants to start cleaning up until they see someone else do their share first. And that's just the problem, for some reason, living a greener, ethical, low impact, or whatever you want to call it, lifestyle is associated with making a big sacrifice. But is that really the case? Sure, it's hard to live a low impact lifestyle and have millions in the bank, but then, the happiest people I know are not the ones with the most money. The happiest ones are those who live simpler lifestyles, the ones who follow their passions and more often than not, the ones who spend the most time outside in nature.

The more time I have spend looking into this, the more I believe that it's not just about living a simpler life. That is undoubtedly part of it, but it's actually about living a life that is more connected to nature. If we allow ourselves to realise that we are part of the natural world, we can start to learn from it. Instead of trying to change our ecosystem to make it work for us, we can work with it. I know this may sound quite an alternative or "hippy" view but it really shouldn't be. After all, the natural world is really the only guide we have, its what some cultures have been using for thousands of years, observing the natural systems, learning from them and adapting to them.

There are many examples of this philosophy existing and being successful in mainstream society too. The Barefoot Running Movement is a direct result of noticing that the human body has evolved to run. Why spend money on the latest impressive cushioning and supportive shoe when you have a pretty good body that can do all that for you? The answer is that we don't, we just need to look at relearning a natural technique for running. Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centred on simulating the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. It has proved very successful as a way to create truly sustainable landscapes, communities and even businesseses.  Zero Waste and Tiny Home Living are growing in popularity from people realising that living a simpler, more natural way can lead to more freedom and more happiness. Further down the scale there are people like Ido Portal, and Wim Hof who are using natural techniques to make amazing progress in the fitness, health and well-being industries. Even the hugely successful Japanese Bullet Train's design came from an observation of the natural world. The shape of the train that allows it to travel at such high speeds is replicated from the beak of the Kingfisher. The engineers noticed that the Kingfisher was able to dive into water and create almost no splash. By copying it's shape the train became more fuel efficient, more aerodynamic and much quieter.

We can see this approach does work in a variety of ways, so why limit our use of it? What else could we learn from the natural world?

Movement: If you've ever taken a dog for walk you may have noticed a distinct difference between how dogs move compared to the person walking them.  They run, jump, stretch, roll, they are constantly moving, they rarely walk at the same pace everywhere. It's the same for all animals. Any animal that can perform a movement often does. We don't. We have the ability to swim, jump, climb, run, perform an array of somersaults, in fact, we're the most versatile movers on the planet. However, the majority of us do not utilise this ability. Observing the natural world in this way can emphasise how important it is to incorporate this varied movement into our lives. Running, climbing, swimming, stretching, dancing, balancing, acrobatics, by doing a wider range of activities you are replicating a more natural version of yourself which can lead to you becoming fitter and healthier.

Patterns: The natural world is made up of patterns. Seasons, weather cycles, symbiotic relationships, it is built on this foundation.  We spend so much time observing the patterns in the natural world but rarely look for patterns in our own lives. If we start to identify the patterns in our own lives we can use them to learn a wealth of things about ourselves, our passions, our efficiency, dietary issues, our energy and our moods.

Diversity: There is so much diveristy in a natural ecosystem. The more diversity the healthier the system. But yet a vast proportion of our society embraces segregation. This comes in many forms, from immigration, to class systems, to our friendship circles, even to our hobbies and the way we make money. If we use the natural worlds example it suggests we will be healthier and more sustainable by embracing diversity.

There are so many ways we can observe the natural world and learn from it. These are really just a random selection that I decided to write about today. I have been using this mindset privately ever since learning about Permaculture and I've found it to be extremely useful. It's easy too. You just need to start to ask yourself "What would nature do in this situation?"

It is a simple solution to a complex problem and it can be used for every aspect of our lives, if we have an open mind. It's a pretty effective bull-shit-ometer too. The next time you hear about a new diet or exercise regime, ask yourself "Is this a natural way for humans to eat/exercise?"  No? Ignore it and move on.

It might seem a little far fetched to think that by embracing something like natural movement we can help solve some of the world's problems. I would agree. But if we see that the natural way of doing something like this benefits our health and happiness, it can open our minds to try something else. The next thing could be eating real, organic food, reducing our waste, or working less hours. It's all connected. If we can show that working alongside the natural world allows us to thrive, then more people will be tempted to adopt this approach. We don't need to wait for others to make sacrifices before we change if by changing we become happier.


"Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”

Bill Mollison

What can nature teach us about our waste?


What can nature teach us about our waste?

If you have ever taken a walk in a forest, wood or fully natural ecosystem, then you may have noticed a significant difference between humans and the rest of the natural world.

We are the only ones who create waste.

No other animal or plant on the entire planet creates unusable, non-recyclable waste except for us. Take that forest you may have strolled through for example. Researchers have shown* that a healthy forest ecosystem recycles around 98% of all of its nutrients with only 2% leaving the forest each year through animals and water run off. 98% is an unbelievable level of self sufficiency. Especially when, if you look at the bigger picture, that 2% that escapes will only be used up by another ecosystem outside of the forest. So on a larger scale the natural world is in fact 100% sustainable. Well, that is until we arrived...

The average person in North America creates the following amounts of waste:

A day = 2kg (4.3lbs)

A week = 14kg (30lbs)

A year = 730kg (1,569lbs)

It's safe to say that we are a long way off the rest of the natural world. Even the most sustainable and environmentally conscious cities at present are only aiming to achieve about a third of what nature can.

Where nature recycles and reuses materials and nutrients again and again. We create waste that is on the most part unusable.  At its worst it is landfilled and takes hundreds, sometimes thousands of years to break down. At best it is recycled, requiring fossil fuels to transport and process, loses its quality and ultimately ends up on the landfill after a few uses. We are the odd ones out. It's a secret gang that us humans left a while back. While nature adopted a closed loop system we adopted a one way system.

Two examples of closed loop systems in nature. Copyright https://astont.wordpress.com

The sad thing in all this is that we actually haven't been fully kicked out of this nature gang. Good old Mother Nature is a forgiving soul and is still trying to accommodate us despite our repeated abuse of her home. She is also secretly a bit OCD and likes to keep a clean place. So while we are operating on our one way system she repeatedly tries to tidy up after us and create a closed loop system. She still tries to process our waste in the same way she would with a leaf, or decomposing animal because that's what she does best. The only problem is she hasn't realised the nutrients we are adding aren't beneficial to any of us. That's why our plastic waste is now being discovered in our food chain and the chemicals we spray on our crops are starting to affect our health. Nature is simply breaking it all down and adding it back into the system. We're like the crappy guests at a diner party, when everyone else spends ages cooking organic, healthy food, turn up with a McDonalds.

So what does all this teach us? It teaches us that simply because we can't see the immediate result of our actions it doesn't mean they don't have consequences. It also teaches us that the solutions are really quite simple. All we need to do is stop adding toxic, unnatural items to the loop, and start using organic items that nature can process and use again and again without it damaging the larger ecosystem.

How can we achieve this? With each action you take simply ask yourself, "Will this benefit or damage our closed loop system?" If everyone starts to play their part and contribute to the system with healthy and beneficial actions we can start to create a much more vibrant system for all of us.


*Gaia's Garden - Toby Hemenway