Moving Naturally…Mindfully

Vic and Julie.

Vic and Julie.

I’m fresh off the beach—tan, relaxed, and annoyed at the fact that shoes are still necessary in my Oregon spring weather. I attended the brand spanking new week-long MovNat retreat in Costa Rica the first week of April, spending seven days with MovNat master trainer Vic Verdier and assistant instructor Julie Angel, with a cameo appearance from MovNat founder Erwan Le Corre.

Now, y’all know I love me some MovNat. I’ve talked about it before (and here) and I’ve sung its praises. So no need to retread that territory. Instead, I’m going to talk about something I haven’t seen discussed before.

This shit’s hard and you might come up against the dark night of your soul.

We’re talking seven days of non-stop physical exertion and mental energy. So here I am, up since 5am being blasted by the blazing sun on abrasive beach sand that has found its way into every crevice and orifice of my body surrounded by strangers I want to impress but I smell like a swamp rat that fell into a septic tank despite having showered at least twice that day. What’s that I hear from the trees? Oh, just some scarlet macaws laughing at me.

But alas, this is what I paid for and dreamed about for months. The month of March 2013 happened to be one of the most stressful months for me in recent memory, and the whole time I consoled myself with thoughts of MovNat on the beach in Costa Rica. And yet, I found myself with a serious case of monkey mind, of being unable to fully immerse myself in the reality around me at that moment. Even though I’d been practicing MovNat for a year-and-a-half and even though I had over ten years of mindfulness and meditation training behind me, I was failing miserably.

The thing I love about MovNat is that no matter how physically adept and accomplished you are, eventually you will find a weakness. Everyone has their reckoning. But I’d wager a guess that all of us—everyone—fails the mindfulness test with startling frequency.

Ahh...that hammock I never got to use...

Ahh…that hammock I never got to use…

There are many great reasons we have the comfortable modern lives we do. We have unprecedented control over our environments, from temperature to food, but we don’t yet understand the consequences of these decisions. That’s what ancestral health is all about, unraveling these ties that bind so that we can examine the individual threads. But I’ll argue that many of these conveniences and alterations to our environment lead to a…how to put this gently…softening in our adaptability and resilience. For example, when we were outside in the heat and high humidity, my brain refused to focus and listen, preferring instead to get grumpy and sprint for the end of the lesson so I could shower and nap in my air conditioned beach bungalow.

Folks, it wasn’t so long ago that air conditioning didn’t exist. That soft mattresses, myriad and non-seasonal food choices, cars, washing machines, anti-perspirants, chapstick, blow driers, clean water out of the tap, and ice cubes didn’t exist. A few choice comforts are lovely, to be sure, but our endless quest for comfort and convenience is turning us into a bunch of pansies. Our great-great-grandparents would be appalled.

How do I know? When I was push-pull crawling through the jungle floor all military style, mimicking a movement soldiers and hunters throughout the ages have performed, all I could think about were the fire ants and spiders I saw scampering ahead of me at eye level. I tried to console myself with how amazing the earth smelled—like pure incense. We forget, everyday, that it is a true privilege to be able to move our bodies in this way, much less voluntarily as part of a vacation.

As my treasured yoga (and life) teacher, Paige, says, “Your mind will give out long before your body.” Our minds will trick us when things are too easy and our minds will trick us when things are too hard.

That technique is great, but when's lunch?

That technique is great, but when’s lunch?

MovNat talks about the difference between energy direction and dispersion. This applies to mental energy as well. I noticed as the days went on and the group got more fatigued, the chatter levels rose. We all wanted to broadcast our mental state, our comfort levels, or whatever nagging injury was barking. This is mental dispersion. I found myself struggling with some unpleasant internal messages, so I did my best to sit with all the thoughts swirling around and not send them out. Physically, I was surrounded by the Pacific undulating out to the horizon, black sand meeting it, the songs of birds and waves. But inside were doubts shrouded in black fog that fought with fang and claw.

I had many successes on many days: mastering the contralateral foot-hand crawl on the beam, getting on top of the bar with a good leg swing, improving my jumps. But there were major challenges too. I may be able to get on top of a bar just dandy and I may be able to squat with the best of ’em, but I am a complete embarrassment in combatives and MovNat’s swimming technique. These weaknesses were heart-breaking to me, because they are among the most important when the shit hits the fan. I nearly drowned poor Julie trying to practice a water rescue, and I had haunting thoughts about being unable to protect my daughter, should it be necessary, from an attacker. On the last full day, I finally had to bow out of a swimming exercise because the waves and murky waters combined to make me motion sick and uncertain of my abilities.

But everything else, I made it through. Luckily, we have this opportunity to practice, to learn to be useful, should those skills ever be required. And when you get to the other side, after the sense of relief, you feel stronger, more confident, more capable. We ran through the jungle barefoot for almost three hours, and I was so proud of my comrades who set their personal discomforts aside to help and look out for each other. Nary a word of complaint was uttered. And we were all transformed.

The tribe.

The tribe.

A MovNat retreat WILL be amazing, but it will be amazing only because you went beyond your comfort zone and discovered something about yourself that couldn’t be learned any other way. Trust that, give yourself over to it, show up for yourself, say “yes”, and see what happens.


4 Responses to “Moving Naturally…Mindfully”

  1. What a great and challenging experience! Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Great review.
    It seems to be hard but honestly I’d like to thank you for sharing your feelings and thoughts.

    I was wondering to “invest” my holidays in a retreat, and now I’m sure I want to be out of my comfort zone to learn everything couldn’t be learned any other way.

    Thanks again and congratulations to have the opportunity to feel again your true nature.

  3. Loved to hear about the Costa Rica experience! I did the January MovNat cold-weather workshop in New Mexico this past winter and I definitely realized where my weak points were. As the group’s only female, I definitely felt like I was experiencing a more complex array of mental challenges. Thank you for sharing!

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