The Greenwashing of Exercise

greenwashing movnat play

This post is cross-published on my coaching blog, Warrior Spirit Movement.

Most mornings, I head out into the mountains, not to hike, but to ramble. I go where my heart leads me, over rocks, up trees, through fields. And when I am on the trail, I move over it in my own way, hopping from rock to rock or crawling along past wary hikers and excited dogs. Moving in these ways has me sprinting, swinging, scrambling, leaping, reaching, and everything but “Hiking.”

I came to Boulder expecting to find an understanding community where my weirdness would be accepted. Instead, I found a place where normal, socially-approved movement is simply greened up a bit and called “Natural Living,” where barefoot running means a jog in Vibram FiveFingers and every expression of freedom needs to be accompanied by a purchase, a concession to the shackles of consumerism.

I pass “Trail Runner” and “Dog Walker” and “Rock Climber.” I even see a few “Spiritual Seekers.” All of them are proud of their labels, and scared of me, rarely greeting me, unusual in friendly Boulder. I represent something dangerous and wild; they thought that by taking their movement-in-a-box outdoors it would be more authentic, natural, and perhaps even wild, but my presence, unshod, unshirted, and unconfined, reminds them how deep their restricted ideas of movement have penetrated into the very way they think.

The dogs and kids get me. The adults rarely do.

Chain the Body, Chain the Soul

Civilization is the systematic domestication of human beings. We are born wild and free, eager to explore the world outside of the womb, full of all the vitality, creativity, and risk-taking spirit every entrepreneur aspires to. As children, we possess all the courage we need to be the most wildly self-assured artists.

And the process of growing up to fit into Civilized Society is the meticulous taming of that courage.

Very quickly, we are put in mental and physical boxes. First, the boxes are assigned spaces to sit quietly in rows, Then, they are boxes (or bubbles) on standardized tests. Then, the boxes become a bit more creative in their oppression: your major, your job, your career.

We become defined by our role in society. We become cogs in a machine. Cogs cannot be allowed to turn at their own pace, or not turn at all, or turn on a different axis. A cog that does is dangerous and needs to be destroyed. The machine of society seeks to limit how its members can move.

And so it is with us. The very first and most visceral form of individual expression we have is how we move. Language, while versatile, does set limits on how or what can be expressed; it is a form of a box. But movement is constrained only by our biological and evolutionary heritage. It is the purest form of expression.

Nip it in the Bud

Therefore, movement is the first thing to be limited, controlled, and regulated. One of the main objectives of traditional schooling is getting children to SIT STILL. They are taught to only move at specified times of the day – recess or after-school sports – and then they are taught to only move in approved patterns – jogging, pushups, situps, weightlifting – and finally, to only move in specific places – gyms, athletic venues, exercise parks, running trails.

But you have to wonder, what was wrong with rambling, crawling, rolling, and toting, on the bed or the couch or under the dining room table, in a vacant lot or a backyard or a forest grove or a construction site, anytime and just because?

I asked that question once, and began to wonder what might happen if humans continued moving in the instinctual, expressive ways we had when we were young.

What if our movements hadn’t been suddenly cut off by the needs of a factory-school system? How would adults move if we remained free to move from the beginning, and what would the implications be for other areas of our life? Would we be be so afraid? Would we feel so mentally trapped?

I came to Boulder to explore this question in humanity’s original playground: untamed nature.

Finding the Outsiders

At first, I was disappointed and lonely, but then I realized that there were others like me, who had come here expecting something different but were likewise overwhelmed by the mobs of triathletes and trails runners. There was a community for me to be a part of, but it was in hiding, discouraged and disconnected, each one of us thinking we were the only ones.

I met a woman in her 60s who had been disillusioned by gym routines that left her bored and injured, who believed she had a right to enjoy her body on her own terms, rather than a fitness magazine’s. I met young men who spent their days wandering the trails and peaks around Boulder, not ready to call themselves rock climbers or hikers, but who hated being caged in the manufactured frames of a weight machine or a box gym.

Raised in Captivity

I learned something else, too. I learned that many people, despite their commitment to health, want to stay safely inside a box to pursue it. They want to simply follow the status quo, and when they get bored or injured, they don’t want to ask the hard questions why. The answers, they know, would force them to admit something scary.

It’s not scary because it is dangerous or risky. It is scary because it requires them to be present, to make choices that regular training frees them from: Should I step here or here? Should I run or jump? Should I go this way or that way?

And most people like to be told what to do. You cannot be told how to move naturally, just as you cannot be told how to play.

So, this is what I do: I give people the tools to forge their own way. I give people back their bodies and their movements, those most essential, foundational tools of expression. In the same way that a parent might get his kid a paint set in the hopes of stimulating creative freedom, I hope what I teach will stimulate people to break out of all kinds of boxes.

My challenge to Boulder is to get outside of the fitness industry boxes, instead of simply painting them green. I’ll be waiting off trail somewhere, swinging from a tree. If you'd like to find me, check out my coaching and group training projects at Warrior Spirit Movement. There will be videos and wilderness trips soon. Check it out and get on the mailing list.

Photo credit: lululemon athletica on Flickr