I’m interested in all movements missing in a sedentary culture. This is different than classifying people as “exercisers” or “non-exercisers.” I’m looking to quantify (or at least qualify) all of the most common human movements humans experienced until very recently. Recognizing a squat or a leap as movements that fit into a hunter-gatherer movement model is pretty straight forward, but what’s harder to see are the smaller movements experienced through thermal regulation, or the way our body had to shape shift when interfacing with the ragged-edged wild. Though these movements are small compared in magnitude, they are frequent. When it comes to physical adaptations, volume matters, my friends.
I’ve been struggling with what to name these types of movements—movements of the skin and fascia and adipose and muscle that don’t involve contraction, just mashing a body part up against something else. All I’ve been able to come up with for now is “pressure-deforming movement”, which is pretty meh. As in, I don’t see #pressuredeformingmovement taking off on Instagram any time soon.
But more important that what we call it, is making sure we can identify what it when we see or feel it. Here are some examples I came up with. (You can tell I spent lots of time taking professional photographs and hiring amazing graphic artists to draw these fantastic circles.)
I wrote a presentation abstract for the Journal of Evolution and Health called Move Your DNA: Movement Ecology and the Difference Between Exercise and Movement, about why we need to break down definitions and rebuild them to include movements currently being excluded from the science of movement. You can read the entire thing here, but below is a snippet of the piece, and I’ve bolded the section on pressure-deforming movements:
“Movement can be defined as “any motion that creates a change in shape of a body or parts of a body”—and need not be bound to an intention or caloric expenditure, or limited to physical fitness variables. Movement is not defined by a physiological outcome, but by a transition in geometry. The human body can move and be moved in numerous ways beyond those that utilize skeletal muscle: for instance, horripilation, or “goose bumps,” in response to cold; the pressure-deformation of parts interfacing with sitting and sleeping surfaces; or loads to the tongue and jaw during breastfeeding or chewing. Yet these movements are currently unrepresented without a definition of movement outside of physical activity.”
In our sedentary culture, and more specifically, in our culture that has us coated any surface we’re likely to interface with in pillows and cushions, we’re finding the need to schedule pressure-deformation supplements—massage, body/ball rolling, cobblestone mats—to replace the movement-nutrients (i.e. specific movements) that come from moving your body atop/over/through objects that move a lot more smaller parts when you interact with them (e.g. arms smashing into limbs and bars or stuff being carried, leg-stuffs deforming to accommodate sitting or lying down on the bumpy ground).
Just like vitamins, these movement supplements are nourishing us in between cushion time, but perhaps we’re overlooking WHY we need them and HOW this type of movement integrate more naturally/relates to natural movement. We’ve made our habitat flat, smooth and cushioned, and thus eliminating hundreds of movement. We’ve reduced our body contact points to our feet (mostly), hands (a little), and our knees (hardly ever). All of that movement gone missing, that we have to add back in separately. Out of context, we mush, pull, and bend tiny areas of our cellular bits that fall between the out-of-nature cracks. If you couldn’t see how foam or ball rolling relates to natural movement, maybe you’ll be able to now: you’re putting back, in isolation, the movement that the natural world requires of you when you move through it. You’re taking a dose of #vitamintexture because your movement diet is deficient in more organic forms of texture. Get it?
And P.S. I think there are benefits of animal to animal and animal to plant contact that go beyond pressure, but I’ll save that for a different post. Until then, read (or listen to) Move Your DNA and Movement Matters if you want to expand on these ideas.
P.P.S. This is one of the reasons I sleep on the ground and have gotten rid of so much of my furniture! What? Read more on going furniture-free here.