3 Unexpected Benefits of Natural Movement

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1. Meditation in Motion

Meditation is simply the intentional practice of mindfulness, of being fully present in a given moment, instead of trapped in your head contemplating mights and should'ves and maybes.

You can't be in your head when you're moving naturally. You're usually doing something tricky. Not actual tricks, but the kind of thing you need to concentrate on to do correctly, where you need to look where you're going.

After practicing natural movement for some time, I realized that I was not drifting off during my workouts anymore. I used to do a set, think about dinner, do another set, think about an argument with an ex, do another set, etc. Sometimes, I would even think about stuff during the sets themselves, which wasn't hard to do when all I had to do was repeat the same motion over and over.

The thing about natural movement is that it isn't just about the body doing a motion; it's about the entire organism coordinating all it's resources to accomplish a task.

  1. The eyes spot the landing
  2. The brain calculates whether or not the distance is manageable
  3. The nervous system coordinates the muscles
  4. The arms add some momentum
  5. The legs fire
  6. The ears keep you balancing and aligned
  7. The nerves in the feet sense the impact and send that information back to the nervous system, which corrects to absorb the impact
  8. The whole time, you are calculating the next step and the next movement, maybe adjusting for a slight shift in the ground under your landing
  9. You can even manipulate your emotions: calm yourself to improve balance, channel your agression to win a fight

The whole organism is involved in a very intense way (sure, your nervous system is involved in simple movements as well, but not nearly to the same degree).

The benefit of this has been a wonderful habit of being present in everyday life. Walking down the street, I am constantly checking in with my balance, listening to everything, feeling each and every step. Even just sitting and writing this post, I'm aware of my posture and weight distribution, the sounds all around me, the people walking past the window. Somehow, I can practice Awareness of all this without being distracted.

2. Changes Your Priorities

I think most people get into exercise because they want to change something about themselves. The don't really care about what they can actually do. They want a body that suggests it can do certain things, but the doing itself is secondary. Hence the obsession with big muscles and small waists; these features suggest a body that can move with power and grace.

Of course, not everyone acquires such a body by actually moving with power and grace. So we are trying to fool our biology, and that never goes well...boredom at best, injury at worst, you know the drill.

But a funny thing happens when you start practicing natural movement. Perhaps you started the program because you heard it was good for your BMI, but then you notice that the goal isn't so much to 'get a good workout' but rather to accomplish some goal, or empower yourself to do that. You notice that you are capable of things all those magazine cover bodies aren't, and you realize that looks aren't everything, that we've become so divorced from a really useful body that we have created these absurd extremes to symbolize what a functional, healthy body looks like.

I used to be jealous of the bodies of the top CrossFitters (which suggests where my priorities lay in that program, and perhaps what CrossFit was selling). My wiry frame, while strong and fast, was an embarrassment.  Then, I started paying more attention to what people could do. Some of my biggest inspirations in natural movement don't look especially impressive, and they are very easy to underestimate, but then they pull themselves onto a branch like it's nothing and I suddenly feel very stupid for caring how big anyone's shoulders or how well-defined their abs are.

And now I look in the mirror and I love what I see. Not much has changed in terms of appearance, though I can definitely do more, since 2010, but I certainly feel happier about it.

3. Makes You More Playful

I walk down the street and see a tree branch overhead. Without even thinking about it, I jump up and swing around for a bit, startling the lady next to me while her toddler stares in wonderment (and a bit of jealousy).

Why is playfulness a good thing? I don't think I have to explain that, and if you're the kind of person who would avoid natural movement because it might make you more playful, I'm not sure you're in the right place.

Laughter makes you feel better. It opens up your soul and allows it to breathe. Even when life is hard, the ability to stay positive, to crack a smile and a joke, will make a big difference in keeping you sane as you tackle the big problems. Being playful is a big part of that.

When things are hard, you have a choice to be dour and melancholy or to be upbeat and joyful. As much as we love to make a big deal of our problems, it's usually easier to overcome them by smiling. Giving yourself more chances to be playful through natural movement will make it easier to see opportunities for playfulness in other areas of life as well.


So those are my thoughts. If you're in the natural movement community (and you are if you're a human), please share any other unexpected benefits you've run into in your practice.

Photo credit: Noël Zia Lee on Flickr