Your Environment Moves You – Podcast Episode #99

Katy Bowman and Dr. Ihi Heke talk about movement and indigenous approaches to health, including Heke’s Māori framework – that our relationship with where we’re born and where we live has implications for our health. This wide-ranging and fascinating conversation also explores non-person-centric approaches to health, and the idea that exercise depends on a cultural context. Dr. Heke explains what it means to be a river person, and how that has shaped how he lives. Plus, Katy answers listener questions on running, minimal shoes, and plantar fasciitis, and swimming and alignment.

Podcast Sponsors


00:00:53 Reader Question #1 –  – Jump to section

00:07:14  Meet Today’s guest – Ihi Heke– Jump to section

00:11:48  Movement and Knowledge  – Jump to section

00:19:59  Health as an incidental outcome – Jump to section

00:25:15  Are you a mountain or a river?  Jump to section

00:40:27  More On The Bike Trip.  Jump to section

00:45:48  The Boston Marathon or something better?  Jump to section

01:02:50 Reader Question #2 – Swimming and shoulders.  – Jump to section



Find more Katy Bowman

Ihi Heke’s Mobile Wananga Facebook Page

More on Dr. Ihi Heke

Atua Matua on YouTube


The Dynamic Collective

Venn Design


My Mayu

Soft Star Shoes



Sign up for Katy’s newsletter at

Access all previous Move Your DNA podcasts via your podcast provider of choice (Stitcher, iTunes, Libsyn, or Soundcloud).


It’s the Move Your DNA podcast with Katy Bowman. I am Katy Bowman, biomechanist and author of Move Your DNA and a bunch of other books about movement. This show is about how movement works on the cellular level, how to change your position as you move, and why you might want to, and how movement works in the world, also known as movement ecology. All bodies are welcome.  Are you ready to get moving?




KATY:  Hello friends. I’m so very excited to introduce many of you to the work of Dr. Ihi Heke, but before I do, I’m gonna quickly answer a listener question from Ted in Denver.


I’ve been running minimal for 10 years. I think I’m the last guy with Vibram’s five fingers. I also do crossfit in minimalist shoes. All pain-free and smooth sailing. However, I added Karate a year ago and got a dynamic workstation at the same time. And after those two changes, the Plantar Fasciitis came roaring back. If I stand for long periods and also after karate, my feet just ache. Now I’m in a sleep boot, arch supports, etc. Back to square one. I’ve also noticed some low backache if I stand for over 10 minutes on hard flat surfaces. Is there information in one of your books, or a specific podcast/blog episode that I could refer to in order to help me figure out how to find and correct the cause of this problem and go back to my former barefoot/semi-barefooted life?


Ted, ouch!  Sorry. Ok, so I’m reading this and I’m thinking a bunch of different things. So I don’t know what your running is like, so minimal running can be off-road, it might be cement. I’m gonna assume that your crossfit is probably done inside. I could be wrong but that would be my assumption. I’m not certain of the consumption of moving on hard, flat, and level that you had. So, here’s the thing.  It’s interesting with “I’ve been doing this for this long period of time and now it’s bothering me” where we think just because we’ve always done it that that means it will always be fine. But rather you can always do something and be slowly kind of like slowly working through a tissue or creating a cumulative tissue damage which then appears, and you’re like, “I want to go back to doing the thing” but maybe there was something all along that was kind of in-process a little bit. I’m not able to know that. And maybe you’re not able to know it as well. But these are some of the things that you’re going to think about.  “Was I running varied courses in varying ways or would I have had the same type of foot strike over and over again?” I’m also not sure if you have plantar fasciitis in one or both feet, because when it’s in a single foot versus both then I’d be kind of like, “ok, well, given that your structure is fairly evenly distributed there’s a way that you’re loading one foot versus the other.” If it’s both feet that could not be the case. Then you also, though, know that you added, at one glance it looks like you added two things: karate and a dynamic workstation, but that could also be that if you converted it to hours, that could mean that to your feet you added 6 extra hours of daily motion. So maybe if you had a form issue, meaning a distribution of mass. So not only just the arrangement of your pieces but the mass distribution that the arrangement of pieces creates, now you are loading that maybe imbalanced structure (that just means that you’re not distributing your weight evenly on both sides), you added a tremendous volume load to your feet. So if you had some preexisting damage that at that lower volume of movement you were tolerating but then this greater volume caused you to then get back to what you were saying – square one. So then I’m wondering; Did you have plantar fasciitis before?  Or all these things. If I could just … maybe I’ll interview you for my next episode. But anyway, this is going to be helpful for a lot of people to begin to think through their own situations. So, you did add quite a bit of volume, so I would look there. And I assume that in doing karate you are barefoot, so is that your only barefoot activity? So then the question is; “Is there information in one of your books?” I guess I’m thinking Whole Body Barefoot because the exercises in that would help you see if in your resting position if you are more on one side versus the other so can you start doing some of these few, simple exercises to help you figure out if you’re distributing the work of moving your body forward when you’re walking or running evenly through both sides or do you have one side that’s kind of like rowing harder a little bit – so to speak?  Play with terrain. Maybe not when you’re in such an acute state. But is there a way to vary the load to your feet once you’re better. So try Whole Body Barefoot.  There’s a couple of alignment snacks on feet. It’s challenging to learn movement through text. So if you’re not a text lover … I mean I do think there’s enough stuff in Whole Body Barefoot that would give you – like calf raises.  Can you do some calf raises? I call them elevators because instead of just going up and down I want you to be looking at your ankles in a mirror to make sure as you go up and down you’re not noticing your ankles dropping out to the side. And then you can check out a couple of foot snacks and start playing around with those including using a ball on the feet.  So in the end, all those correctives are trying to diversify the load that your feet are experiencing.  And so, another thing, thinking back. You’ve been wearing minimal shoes for a long time but I don’t know what correctives you did before you got in there, so that’s the thing with shoes.  Shoes offer a bit of support in kind of like a hard flat world. When you don’t have a ton of foot strength. And maybe because we sit so much even hip or leg strength. So when we transition to them over time without adding that strength back in you can see kind of an issue. But you’ve been wearing them for 10 years. That’s quite a bit of time.  So anyway, try that, check that out, and hopefully that helps. Thank you Ted for asking and thank you to our Dynamic Collective for supporting listener questions. Collective includes:  Unshoes, Earthrunner, Venn Design, MyMayu outdoor boots, and SoftStar shoes. For more information on these companies, go to the show notes, click listen, click podcast transcripts. They are linked at the top of the show notes.


Ok, I cannot wait any longer. Let me introduce you to Ihi.  I met Dr. Ihi Heke at the Ancestral Health Symposium at in Aotearoa also known as New Zealand last year and got to spend some time with him and his family.

While he wears many hats, he is currently a health and physical education consultant, he is involved in a number of national and international projects, including working with Johns Hopkins University where he was funded by the Global Obesity Prevention Center to conduct a study using traditional indigenous health approaches alongside Systems Dynamics. (Which we’ll talk a little bit about – a lot about, actually in the show). Dr. Heke is also working with Washington University in St. Louis to develop training programs that use Social Group Model building from indigenous and non-indigenous perspectives. He wrote the Atua Matua Māori Health Framework that has been gaining recognition globally in Japan, Ireland, Canada and the US. Dr. Heke is a strong supporter of mountain and river connections that can be converted into traditional physical activity and training opportunities suggesting that gains in health can be incidental outcomes that begin with connections to rivers and mountains. Kia ora, Ihi welcome to Move Your DNA.


IHI: (speaks in Māori language) That means Hello back to you in Māo.


KATY:  I love it. That was good. I was rushing to get my Māori dictionary so I could respond appropriately!  I’m very excited that you are here. There’s a lot that we could talk about but I have to kind of narrow it down to be respectful of time. So there’s two things that I wanted to start off talking about and the first is, what is a Atua Matua Māori Health Framework – is the first part of the question. The second part of the question is how does that relate to this line in your bio which is:  Dr. Heke is a strong supporter of mountain and river connections that can be converted into traditional physical activity and training opportunities suggesting that gains in health can be incidental outcomes that begin with connections to rivers and mountains?


IHI:  Well it sounds really hardcore when you say it like that but I don’t know that it is. We as Māori are the youngest indigenous population on the planet.  New Zealand has only been populated for something like maybe 1500 years. It’s a difficult island to get to. No natural currents or winds push this way. But Māori are moving all through the Pacific and this is one of the final places that we came to rest.  Because of that, in terms of indigenous views on the world, we were the last to have the colonizing effects of the English here. So we have held on to our customs and our traditions fairly strongly. And when we disagree with our government, we tell them, very vocally.  And if we still don’t like what they’re doing we build our own and design our own Māori health framework such as the Atua Matua option. It was something I built in 2014 more to monitor my own approaches to how I work with Māori communities so that I wasn’t further institutionalizing or colonizing their minds by using university-based concepts with Māori communities and embedding those colonized views even further. So, in 2014 I looked at some of the environmental representatives that we as Māori use a lot. We call those Atua. Atua are personifications and guardians that overrule or look out for things that happen in different environments. At the moment most Māori could tell you seven or eight of those but as we uncover more information we’re at around 150 different environmental representatives and their roles. Atua Matua looks at 12 levels of Atua influence.  And the 12 outcomes that we have as humans that can be learned from knowledge that’s collected together from mountains and from water. So, if you like, in essence, Atua Matua is ways of knowing, learning, and practicing that come directly from the environment.


KATY: How does movement relate to knowledge in your framework?


IHI: I could talk you to death on this topic. You know that, Katy.


KATY: I know. Do it!


IHI:  You’ve got to bump in now and then or I’ll just get carried away and forget we’re even in an interview but, what’s happened … around early 1900s – 1908, I think it was there was the Tohunga Suppression Act passed by our government which meant that any traditional practices that were conveyed to Māori communities were illegal. So this information I’m talking about has been gone for 110 years. We’re reinstituting it and saying “Well actually if you want health to change in someone Māori, it can’t be about people.”  So health, in our opinion, has nothing to do with people. Health is more of an understanding of the environments that cause you to be the way you are. And so in our country, we have tribal groups that live near mountains, some that are near rivers, some that are on plains, and some that are near the ocean. And for that tribal group to survive and flourish, they need to understand the environment at its peak and know the ways to align to it so that they can survive. Collect together the attributes for them to do that and to develop in a way, both physiologically, psychologically, and spiritually in ways that allow that tribe to align best. And that’s what we’ve done. Albeit subconsciously for quite a few. They don’t know that they have the muscularity, the intellect, even the skin color and stature that’s required to exist best in that place. But we have. And so this discussion and the framework that I’ve built was to contextualize why. Not what we do but why we would engage, or not. And use that as the basis for making changes. Because, and I think is probably the same for non-indigenous groups, our biggest issues are recruitment and sustainability. First, how are we gonna get Māori to come through the door and have a look at what we’re suggesting? And if they do, how are we going to keep them there? And at the moment physical activity and health don’t do that. They won’t sustain effort from Māori. Even though intellectually they know it’s in their best interest to do that. But after 4 or 5 weeks they’re not sustaining effort in those places because it’s around the concept that humans are important. And to be blunt, we’re not.  We might exist 80 years but we have mountains that are millions of years old and in that million or so years, they’ve collected together a lot of knowledge that has huge amount of potential benefit for the way we conduct our lives. What we’re doing is contextualizing that information better for ways that they can learn and move forward. That make sense?


KATY: Yeah. So it’s like health is something that’s an anthropocentric perspective which means you do something purely to keep yourself well but if you don’t identify as being the most important thing in your environment then pursuing health for that reason makes no cultural sense. Is that right?


IHI:  Yeah, well there’s a lot of different models around this but a well-known one from education is the Chet Bromfield that talks about the social-ecological model that begins with the learner or in the health context that’s the patient at the center and everything else should be structured around them for them to be able to improve. We don’t think that’s the case at all. The environment is at the center. And every other aspect spins out from that ending in the individual on the periphery sometimes, if they’re smart enough, understanding whatever the water and mountains are trying to teach them. And stars are too actually.  And by that I mean that it’s not as though you have to have – well in some ways you do I suppose but – at the moment most Māori are the wrong set of glasses and have the wrong hearing aid on. So they can’t hear what water’s trying to do. But if you sit next to the ocean or a gurgling river, what happens after a half an hour as you feel more relaxed – you feel reinvigorated and ready to do something else but can’t quite put your finger on or verbalize what’s occurring, that form of language when it’s coming from a river when it’s slowly burbling away – there is a form of healing. I don’t want to get into that space of thinking that I’m a little bit way out there that I can talk to rivers. It’s not that case at all.  If you want to have it in a more concrete form, that means that when we go to the river, that’s why I want to improve agility, then I understand the knowledge base that caused the rock to be a smooth shape so that I can move my feet across it and cause agility to be shown in me. Our river did that. Not me. But I have the potential to benefit in the way that I might play a sport because I understand that a river caused that round shape by its flowing across it.


KATY: So movement is not really separatable from knowledge in that way, right?


IHI:  No. That’s an interesting part there that some of the early intellectuals – if you want to call them that – Descartes, a number of other Greek authorities on that sought to separate the mind, body, soul concept.  As Māori, we didn’t believe you could. That all of them were interlinked. And that when you engaged with the environment there’s a spiritual, there’s a psychological, and a physical aspect of that place and of us. And that each one of those lines of thinking can connect up. Mostly what happens is people try to connect up on a physical level but they don’t understand what psychological and … spiritual is probably the wrong term for ways that we connect to environments but, in essence, when we’re talking about spirit we’re talking about an ability to connect up to the essence of a place. For example, one of the things I see a lot in surfers is that people think that they’re looking for the perfect wave when they go out surfing. We don’t think they are. They’re looking for the essence of the representative of the place that comes from the ocean. And once you understand the personality of the Atua, of the ocean, then you’ll be able to stand up on a wave which is a representation of pure essence that comes from the ocean. And that’s what you’re looking for. Not a wave. Just an expression of essence.


KATY: Now I have that as a quote to talk about later because that really stood out for me when you were talking – when I heard you speak at the ancestral health conference and the quote is:  “Even some surfers think that they’re out searching for a perfect wave but from a Māori perspective they’re not at all. They’re searching for the life force that the ocean represents.” End quote.  That was you by the way. It was beautiful.


IHI:  Was it.


KATY: It was great. Fantastic.  


IHI: Sounds like me.


KATY: Exactly like you.  So I’m actually processing what you’re saying right now but my mouth is going to say something else which is not unique for me at all. So the quote that I pulled – and there’s a lot of videos of you out there so if anyone wants to sit and listen and kind of let these ideas wash over you, you’ve done plenty on YouTube which are great.  But the quote is: “At the moment we are practicing someone else’s model of what health looks like. At the moment we’re focusing on health as something we have to pursue. Health should be an incidental outcome. It should be something that pops out at the other end when you understand ancestral knowledge.”

So my question for you is, do you think – well I’m just gonna put air quotes around “outside” or your natural setting, your environment is required to understand ancestral knowledge.


IHI:  No. Not at all. As your husband knows, I’m half Irish. I’m from Aerana. So there’s part of me that has a tendency to understand the Irish landscape and the way that’s caused me to- and formed certain personality traits. One of the things that I often hear from New Zealanders, as is non-indigenous people that live here as well, is “How does this affect me. What does this mean to me if I’m a New Zealander?” And what I say to them is whether you’re indigenous or not, you have experiences from four or five years old are connecting to a beach or a lake or a river or a mountain that cause you to want to continue to return to that place. And it’s those experiences that are universal – right across all humans.  We make connects to people and sometimes to places but what I’m suggesting is that connection to place is in a space that has longevity – that will continue to drive us to return over and over and over. And I think what happens and I’ve used this as an example with some of the Māori communities that I’ve worked with is that … In a coastal town, I was working at, I had two boys come to me and they said, “Oh we want to do the Boston marathon.” And I said, “Oh great. Are you from Boston?” And they said, “No.” So, “What are you going there for?” And they said, “Well, it sounded like a good idea.” I said, “Do you know your own mountain? Do you know your own area? Have you run over these places first and got the experience and the knowledge base that can come from your own mountain?”  “No” “Ok then start there.” So we started and I said each morning we’re gonna run up there but we’re gonna change the reason that we’re there. So the first morning was there because we wanted the physical run from it. I said that’s ok. We’ll run up, up until we get tired. Run on a spot, carry on a little bit more. The second hour said we’re here for a psychological experience. So today we’re not gonna run the track. We’re gonna run straight. And whatever you come across you deal with it. So on the way from our house to the mountain is the river. So I said, we don’t go across the bridge, you go through the middle of it. The third day, was about the essence or light force of the place. And what we found on the mountain was that there had been locations where particular formations had developed. There were places where waterfalls were flowing.  There were places where there were natural divots that were big enough for us to lie down on. So that’s what we did. We went there, we laid down and we talked about our connections to place, our connections to why we were doing the things we were doing. But each time we did it it was creating a connection to a place. Now as Māori we can show a more recent historical ancestral connection to that quite a few non-indigenous can’t. But my point is that you still have those same feelings. You still have those experiences there. You may not be able to verbalize them and ironically neither can ours. Neither can Māori but, you still have that connection to place that is equally as valuable as non-indigenous. The way you discussed it with others is different. And sometimes what I see happening is non-indigenous people trying to claim indigenous process as theirs.  And especially information. I said that’s not right. You can’t do that part. But you can talk about the similarities between the way you engage with a place and the way someone indigenous does as well. Not to say one is better or worse. But I do because my way with things are better.


KATY: laughs.  Well, you have to be right. You’re the expert. Right?  You have to say it how it is.


IHI: No. I mean to say that my understanding of my rivers from my district is mine. And it’s the way I do it. So for me, it has to be the best way. But all I can do for other people is show them examples… that’s what the videos and the discussions are.  An attempt to show our model of examples that contextualize the way I think. And once I understand why I think some – in a particular manner, the rest of it’s quite easy. But until I can get to that why do I do the things that I do, then if I try and in a more what about cross fit or what about a running program, it’s not gonna work. Because there’s no contextual relevance for why I would sustain it within that place. And non-indigenous are exactly the same here. That unless you can prove why you connect and why it might be relevant, the chances of you carrying on are very slim.  And if it was for health’s sake or for physical activity, none of us would be getting overweight and none of us would be unfit. We’d all be fine. But we’re not. So in essence what we have to pursue is the knowledge that’s represented by different environments. And that’s universal for sure.


KATY: You said once which blew me away because I see people and by looking at them and the way that they move, I can tell where within their body they have been and maybe where they’re going in the future if all things continue as is.  As a biomechanist it’s like looking at everything like a building and saying, woah, this is starting to eek this way. I can see that movement so I know by the time you add one hundred thousand of those and this structure will shift this way. But you had said that when you look at someone you can tell if they’re from a place with mountains, or ocean, or river.  So could you talk about that a little bit? Because I found that fascinating, grounding. So I just wanted to hear a little bit more about it.


IHI:  Well that’s surprising. I didn’t even think you were listening to me most of the time I was talking. Because I was just flapping head.


KATY: I’m sorry what?  Did you say something?


IHI: Yeah, what’s that noise. So when I was discussing those ideas it’s that subconsciously we tend to reflect the attributes and personality traits of environmental attributes as Māori.  And we personify environments for a couple of reasons. One of them is that if we do that we have obligations to it which means we can’t leave behind. We can’t understand our existence without knowing those places. But we’ve been forced into a space where we do at the moment because we’re trying to use the New Zealand government version of what health looks like. And in that space, you don’t acknowledge the environment. You forget all of that and it’s about you as a human. And we say that’s actually a load of crap.  Secondly, when it comes to understanding the reasons that you’ve developed the way you are, there’s some consistent aspects that continue to show themselves in people from certain places. Now some of these things that … and some of them are quite tongue in cheek as well but we laugh and my grandparents from that year and backward, they were very astute at being able to pick where someone was from before they even spoke about what their tribal area was. But in general, we have some of those traits. If we’re – and I’m from a river. I’m from the Waikato river which is the central north island of New Zealand and it’s a big strong flowing river that comes off one of the central mountains as well as the central plains. And I tend to have the personality traits that come from a river. I’ll listen to people for a while. I’ll put up with it. Put up with it. Then I’ll go around them or over them but I’m carrying on. I’ll continue to postulate and espouse certain ideas to get to the end point that I’m after. Which is, in this case, I’m looking at what benefits we might be able to glean from understanding the environment.  So that’s my main driver. Even though I can’t use health and physical activity in that discussion, I would like our people and especially our tribal groups to last longer. Five weeks ago my brother died at 53 and my father died at 46. So our people don’t make it very long at the moment. So we’re trying to, in essence, make sure that we have more longevity and through the pursuit of knowledge that comes from our environment, make sure that our tribal groups strengthen their genetic material by understanding the things that cause us to think a certain way. So I think in essence being able to understand why a person will react a certain way, why they’ll reflect the place they come from. Another funny example and I teased them often about this, is the ones that come from the coast is – we have a monthly cycle of concepts called the maramataka – and you can find these online and you can read about them. What they are is that in districts Māori would put out each month depending on the lunar cycle which days were better for planting, which would be good for fishing and what I’ve been proposing and which days are better for certain types of physical activity depending on lunar cycles. So these are hundreds and hundreds of years old, the ones that we use for hunting and fishing and so on – and gardening. But they haven’t been applied to human performance in a long time and we’re reinstituting that. And these are things like on days when we have an incoming tide arriving on sunrise means that we’re bringing new nutrients and then we have the sunrise or a rival of a full-blown sun that we’re – those are double power days. So we’re good for producing power outputs. Versus other days when the moon is waning and we don’t celebrate the death of the moon. As Māori, we tend to have quiet periods during that but those are rehab days. And on other days we have agility. On other days we have quickness training. On other days we have balance and coordination. So each lunar day changes in terms of what we can show as an output.  And my point is and my example here is that for fellows that live near the coast we often tease them and say that well, we can’t afford to come and meet with you on an outgoing tide because you’re not going to be there. We come to lecture and you’re not interested. But if it’s an incoming tide you’re happy for new information to be brought in to your community. And they are. But what we say about them is that they’re only good for 12 hours. The other 12 they’re gone somewhere.


KATY: Well you’re a river. And the quote I have is: “I’m from a river.  The way I deal with things is to go around them or to wear them down.” Which I love.  But let’s talk about your bike trip. What are your favorite modes of movement? The ones that connect you the most.


IHI:  Well, I think cycling is the dopiest of all of them because you’re in one position with your neck stuck out and your lower body is doing everything and your upper body is going “bugger off”. However, I grew up in a very mountainous area which didn’t quite suit my background as a river, but there are a number of alpine rivers that are coming off those. So I spent a lot of time up in those places, looking at rivers and getting out into the far reaches of alpine areas and a mountain bike suited me to do that. So I learned from a really young age that I could access more information, subconsciously – I didn’t really know what it was that I was looking for. And I’ve only really been in the last 7 or 8 years been able to verbalize what had achieved.  But, I like the idea of being able to use a mountain bike for the mountain’s sake and not for the bike’s sake. And often a lot of the people I work with will tell me how new the technology is on their bike and I really couldn’t give a rat’s backside. It’s got wheels and it goes round and that’s lovely. We’ve got to stay grounded in the idea that a mountain bike will connect you to mountains in much the same way as an outrigger canoe will allow me to experience the ocean and the sea. So they’re mediums for delivery. And with the concepts that we’ve been promoting around Atua Matua frameworks is that in the past our ministry of health and education has presumed that to deliver any interventions aimed at indigenous people, they have to use indigenous or Māori methodologies and modes of transport to deliver that.  And there were only four. And, for example, that was outrigger canoes, Kapa Haka performing arts, Mau rākau, which is a form of stick fighting, and Mamau which is like a type of martial arts. What I’ve been suggesting is that the medium is just that. It’s a medium for the delivery of concepts that come from a Māori origin. So I can, for example, I’ve been teaching through snowboarding and skateboarding Māori assistant procedures by having groups of 3 people and in that group of 3 one of them is going to experience what we call, and it’s come from my name Ihi, where you’ll be on the edge of a mountainside, looking off the edge and you’ll be crapping your pants saying I might die but I might be able to do it.


KATY: Wow, have we gone to snowboarding before?  It seems like you just read my mind.


IHI:  No. Not sure but the second person is a rather interesting one, they’re watching the other person. And I call it the wehi phase. And the wehi is where you feel fear for someone else because you’re not sure if they’ve got the capacity to pull off what they think they can. But you’re gonna watch anyway.  It’s kind of like that train crash kind of thing – “I’m gonna watch and see what happens.” And there’s another person in the wonder phase. Watching the interaction between the two: the ihi and wehi phase. And what happens is the person starts or doesn’t but a few minutes later there’s a discussion between the three of the things that went on. And it’s an assessment procedure that comes from Māori.  And the medium of delivery is snowboarding. But the snowboarding doesn’t matter. It’s the knowledge that the mountain caused to happen to all three of them. Because they’re on the side of the mountain. And if the mountain wasn’t there, none of this would have begun. Does that make sense?


KATY: Yes. Beautiful.


IHI: Good.  Never been called that before. People just look at me as I’m a bit odd.


KATY: We call you beautiful behind your back after you’ve left is what we say.


IHI:  Yeah. I bet that happens.


KATY: It does happen sometimes.  Well, and I’m thinking, you know, these modes that you’re talking about to me, I’ve heard you talk about the relationship of your mountain bike with the mountains and I also think of you the river. It gives you such a fluid, a fluid downhill motion to. At least the downhill part where you can still, still be a river even on the mountain. You know you’re still a river – you’re still riverish moving down a mountain. But let’s talk – I want to talk about your bike trip a bit because to me that adds the medium. The medium was cycling that you used to go check out the water of your people. So can you talk about – just give us a little information about what the trip entailed and what the purpose of it was and maybe what the experience of it was.


IHI:  Well there’s a couple of things that come up there. One of them was, you know you were just talking about my background as if it was snowboarding but I also use mountain biking – they kind of connect to rivers and so on. But, depending on which area you’re from, when you’re talk about water we have ways of showing a genetic connection between humans through those places. And if I’m from a mountain area then what I talk about is that there’s a god of storms that produces the first snowflake that becomes the first raindrop. And as Māori we talk about the life essence of water and that everything it touches it removes some of that life essence until you get to the polluted form that has no life essence. And when you step into that as a human that’s what causes you to lose life essence from you into that water. And that’s why we say it is a dangerous place to be. Because it has to balance itself as water and it’s trying to do that. And why I’m telling you this is that when that rainfall drops and then it touches the earth, then it shifts into another phase that makes it palatable and ready for humans to engage with. That then turns into the first, what we call lacuna which is the first drops coalescing into a stream and then it becomes the awa which is the river, then it becomes the roto, which is the lake, then it becomes the fana which is the harbor, and then it becomes the tae which is the ocean. And what I just told you there is for a mountain person it gives the hierarchical preference to the mountain of the origin of water because it formed from the first drop that touched the mountain but it ends in the ocean. If I’m from the ocean and I live on a coastal area I’m gonna start from the other end and have Tangaroa, the god of the ocean at the top of that hierarchy. And move in a different way of what causes water to form.  So from an ocean person’s perspective everything ends up being salt water. Because no matter where it is it’s gonna end up out in the ocean and becomes the culmination of all forms of water. And as Māori, we know there’s quite a few types of water. We have water that’s in swamps. That’s wairepo. We have water that’s in areas where there’s estuaries. We have puna, which is water that comes up out of the ground. And incidentally, those puna that we have we would use them for different activities. So some were for healing. Some were for post warfare, for cleansing. Some of them were our equivalent to Gatorade and we would use them before we were going to do physical activity. Each one of those springs was used for a different activity and rationale. We have different types of ocean water depending on the color of it. We have different colors of lake water and ocean water depending on which wind is interacting with it. If we have a southerly wind – because in the southern hemisphere the cold winds come out of the south – not like the north for you. But when we have a south wind come in, it changes water to a dark black before it arrives. So we know which wind is on the way by the color that we see change in the water body that we’re sitting next to. So we use them as predictors for how our personality traits will therefore change because when a southerly comes we start to hunch our shoulders and close down because we know the cold is on its way. So you see the connection between all those different forms of water. And there’s a whole range more. In fact one of the things that happened with the ministry of health here is they talk about hauora which is a new word for health, and oranga, that’s another way of looking at health. There’s not much discussion of that in the pre-European context. What we’ve talked about was the waiora tinana. Wai is water so it’s the life essence that comes from water. So pre-European times we were very interested in water and what it caused in us. But that bike trip we’re talking about there, 2016

I rode from the top of the north island to the bottom of the south using a fairly convoluted pathway. It was 3000 kilometers. And each day I’d ride a minimum of 100 kilometers and I would want to look at a different land-based explanation for why an environment did what it did.  So those were connected to mountains. And the mountain bike was a really useful medium to deliver that. This most recent one which I finished last week was traveling the length of the island again but trying to use more water based interactions. So sometimes I’d ride, sometimes I’d paddle, sometimes I’d swim. There were different ways of understanding what water was doing and it’s personality traits and how we reflected those. So again it was several thousand kilometers. It was trying to understand why water, affects us in the way it does. The last phase of this is in 2020 is a star connection. As Māori we explain all of our environmental connections through land, water, and stars. So, the final phase is to be able to navigate to different places using star or constellation suggestions or alignments or philosophies to understand why people are the way they are as well. Is that ok?


KATY: Yeah.  Will you do another one, do you think?  You did one for mountains, one for water. I’m thinking you don’t really need to do one for stars but I wonder what it would … would the stars change as you…


IHI: Yes absolutely. We’ll do another one for stars but hopefully what I would do with that one is show a collection of videos that are spread across a year. For example one of the things that I talk to schools about at the moment is the idea that we can get risk assessment based on what shifts we see in our environment. At the moment most schools tend to use meteorological service where they go online and it tells them what weather is coming. In the past, we didn’t have internet so we used a system of understanding. For example, this is a reasonably simplified version of it, but we had five indicators that we would follow from the environment. One of them was looking at insects. Another one was looking at birds.  Another one was trees. Another one was fish. And the last one was star movements or what was happening in the atmosphere. That last phase of looking at what stars do – for example, we can predict weather changes based on which stars have shrouds or have halos or have changes in them that will help us predict 2 weeks ahead. Sometimes further. And we’re trying to teach our children to be able to read what those signs are and they can feed that back to us via a risk assessment process about whether they should leave the school grounds to engage with outdoor education. So it’s reasonably simple to us, but some are finding we are in a bit of a struggle to get their heads around. But it’s quite cool stuff. And our kids are really enjoying it. So one of the schools that I work with up in the north of where I am here, we’ve got a bunch of spiders that we’ve asked the janitor to leave on the school grounds. And we read those spiders fairly regularly. One of them is that, if we pull the spider web apart and then go off and do an exercise and come back, how much of it’s been rebuilt gives us a measurement of time from the insect that’s based in that area. We also use it for tracking people so that we can see how many bikes have been through an area.  Because if they go down one pathway then the cobweb will still be there. Verse one where it’s been broken if they’ve traveled down that path. Spiders, for us, have three different web types so we can see from that which type of vehicle is being used. So if they have the sheet web that lays on the ground we can look early in the morning we can see how many people have passed over it. Pretty basic stuff to us but there’s a lot of people who have forgotten how to do that. But, in essence, those bike rides and paddling and so on is to reintroduce that information back into Māori communities. So from those bike rides the aim was, 100 kilometers a day, 3000 ks over thirty days to make the Maramataka that shows us what lunar effects might be happening to us physically and show a video of environmental science that coordinates or explains occurrences across a month from a Māori perspective.


KATY: Did you do it by yourself or did you take a group – meet a group?


IHI: I did it by myself because I’m not that sociable.  And not that easy to get along with.


KATY: That’s true. I totally vouch for that. Both cases.  Was there any stand out moments? Doing it – did you, I’m not going to say find what you were looking for but did you discover information or knowledge that you wouldn’t’ have otherwise known?


IHI: Well it’s a funny situation with the environment. Often what you’re looking for isn’t in the place where you would suspect it being because we have a particular way of expecting knowledge to be presented to us that we’ve learned from institutes such as schools about how information is unloaded. The environment has a different way of teaching you that is often convoluted and odd. And the way that it delivers at times when you don’t expect it to. And in mediums or domains that you weren’t focused on but make the connections to. Before this – I’ll explain this a little more – those lads that were wanting to and run the Boston marathon, they ended up running quite a few local mountains and then some national level mountains that were big ones and doing 8 and 10 hour runs. These are boys that are 140 kilos.  They’re big lads. Big Māori boys that had never run further than down to the local shop and back. But the motivation for them was they wanted to pursue higher and higher levels of knowledge. That didn’t mean running to the top of a mountain and standing on the head of an ancestor and saying, “I’ve conquered you.” I said that’s a non-indigenous process that we’ve got nothing to do with. But through the process of getting up the side of that mountain, the mountain will have different steepnesses that will challenge you about whether you have the right to access the next level of knowledge. So a mountain will lay itself out with ways that you can recover, ways that are steep to filter whether that can get delivered to you. Now those lads that I had that were looking at how they can engage with the environment and in ways to understand things better. They came there for themselves initially – wanting to lose weight and get physically healthy. I said to them it’s not sustainable otherwise you would have done it before and you would have made some changes. But I said what about if we look at say 20 different soil types. Or 20 different surfaces and we record the sound your feet makes when you move across wet grass, across gravel, across sand when there’s a big swell and there’s a wave that will come and will cover the sound of your feet every three or four seconds and then it will cover it again. I said why don’t we go out and try to record 20 different soundtracks from 20 different soil types and surfaces.  And then review those at the end and see if we can define which place it was that we were at. And the incidental outcome of that was that they learned to run. But it was never actually what we were after was to make them feel better or healthier or better runners. It was the pursuit of the knowledge about what sound was produced by their feet when they moved across and interacted directly through their feet with a different source of land. And my point is (there are always bloody long points, I’m afraid Katy, there’s never a short explanation) I’ve found that information in gardening. I was looking at Maramataka, gardening came up and it led me on to the idea of wow, Māori explain 45 different types of soil. It was something like 10 different types of clay. Red, blue, yellow, some with bramble, some with sand. I didn’t know the names or the intent of all of those different types of soil, but my application of it was I’d like to know what they do, how they interact with each other and more importantly what happens when I move across it. But the incidental outcome was, if I did 20 days of recording, I would have four weeks of running from 5 days a week from taking these people out. And after a month of running, it’s self-sustaining.


KATY: As I understand it, your perspective was created and is geared for the Māori people and the needs of your indigenous people maintaining their ancestral knowledge. Did you also write it for yourself?  Did you gather more insight as you were assembling the framework? Which came first? Did you sit down to write a framework or was it just you’re out in the garden and you have this experience and you recognize it needs to be included in the framework?


IHI:  It was a funny situation.  You know I’ve been an outdoor educator for more than 30 years. And not knowing that I was being taught all the time. And having a couple of close calls where I nearly didn’t make it home. I thought, “Wow, I nearly died today. That was a close one.”  Realizing that I was trying for – the environment was trying to teach me life lessons. And you have to be open to those when they occur. And I wasn’t. Until seven or eight years ago when I went to a Māori community and I said, “Well we’re gonna do this for physical training today.” And one of them said, “Why? There’s no food there. I’m not going there.  Can’t see the point of it.” I said, “Well, fair enough.” And then as I pushed further and further on, one of the communities said, “I’ll engage in some of these activities if they have a connection to my ancestral understanding of that place.” So they kicked me off into introducing or re-introducing traditional Māori games. And we had some, one called Ki O Rahi. This is blood interesting, this one. It was sponsored by McDonalds into 31,000 schools in the US in 2004 to be taught because they sponsored 3 indigenous games to be taught in schools. Māori here had never heard of the game because it had been long gone for over 100 years. I started teaching it here 18 years ago and there wasn’t much interested in it. When I had a Māori community and started teaching them, they got it straight away. And why it was interesting to McDonald’s and non-indigenous it’s one of the very few games that has two teams playing against each other but with completely different outcomes that they’re trying to achieve. One side of the team is trying to touch a post that’s in the middle, the other side is trying to touch 7 posts that are around the outside and then come in the middle to score a touchdown. Those 7 posts represent the 7 stars of what we call Matariki. Which I think you call Subaru or Pleiades. So there was a whole range of high level knowledge they were teaching through the game and that’s what people were actually after was the knowledge base of why we would do something. Now the interesting part about trying to get these fellows re-introduced to some of these old games was that they didn’t know that that was what they were after but it felt as though when they engaged with these traditional knowledge bases, health and physical activity came more easily. Because knowledge  became the center of why we were there. It became the overarching principle for why we would engage with each other through the environment. And so after a time of thinking about the way I actually had been making it worse for Māori communities by trying to teach institutionalized views of what physical activity looked like. It changed me. Because these people said “I’m not doing it.” So I had to reinvent a way of engaging with communities that wasn’t about health or physical activity. And as a consequence, this Atua Matua and this new framework that I wrote, I wrote it for my own uses to ensure that I had an authentic way of connecting to communities that didn’t have anything to do with health or physical activity. So when I first wrote it I didn’t expect anyone to read it. And I’m still surprised. And I know that quite a few people struggle with that. So out of – 9 out of 10 people that have read it said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” That it’s just too complex. There’s too much information and it seems like you’re just talking out your backside. Well, in a lot of ways, I don’t actually care. Because it only has to mean something to me because my particular lens has come from a river. So the examples I present are, if I was in this situation looking at it from a river knowledge perspective, this is how I would react. This is a model for you to maybe apply as a mountain person or as an ocean person that might convert what you’re trying to do into those same incidental outcomes that could affect a change at a health or physical activity level. But with a focus on environmental knowledge first. And that’s the essence of it. I wrote it to try and sort out my own crap. And I don’t know if it made it worse.


KATY: Well we’re almost out of time. But I know that other people are using the framework or are considering or you’re helping other people apply it – other indigenous populations maybe or maybe even other areas who are Māori.  Who are you working with and if there are people out there who want help within their own communities or have you come as a speaker where can they find you?


IHI:  Well, funny enough, that ancestral conference that I went to, I wasn’t even sure I was there. Nice ideas and so but I’m not sure that I align with it and didn’t know what the intent was for inviting me.  And I enjoyed it and they’re great people and so on. But I wasn’t sure whether we would be in phase or not. Some of them were. Some of them weren’t quite sure what I was up to. It just depends on that state of, or phase, of which you are and whether you’re ready to assume this mantle. To be able to take on environmental knowledge takes a shift in your head. To be able to see things for what they might intend. It’s a bit like that matrix moment of the red pill and the blue pill. You can carry on doing physical activity and health pursuits the way you are now and be moderately successful, but if you take the red pill or take the other rabbit hole, you’ll find out a whole range of stuff that you never knew. And it opens up a whole world of information and approaches that give you a new insight into why you might do something. That, in essence, is why I’ve been following this pathway is that I’m not sure where this rabbit hole is going to go but I’m enjoying the process because it has more contextual relevance to the communities I work with and to the way I conduct myself and my roles in trying to promote health to Māori. As far as that’s concerned in working with other communities, there’s a number of videos that are on YouTube under Atua Matua. There’s a Wānanga mobile facebook page called The Mobile Wānanga with Dr. Ihi.  And there’s a bunch of information on there as well. On teaching people how to build google earth virtual tours that show locations in their district, which pre-European Atua used to exist there, and how we can obtain physical activity and nutrition from those ancestral bodies of knowledge but deliver it via a medium that’s come from google earth and it’s digital. So those are going out at the moment. I’m being funded through develop those for four schools in South Auckland. It’s a 3 year program. The other ancestral check I was talking about, Zee from Ancestral Meeting, he’s working with a group of powerlifters in San Diego and applying a Maramataka link to the way he’s asking his powerlifters to lift on certain days and not others. That’s aligning with lunar movements. I’m working with groups in Japan that have had the Shinto religion which follows the environment and has been lost to a certain degree and now are interested in what we are doing here.  I’m working with groups in Ireland that I just visited. They’ve been developing their version of Atua approaches which are called Trisula which is a set of 3 spirals that talk about different institutes of their lives and how they can engage with the environment better. And a number of first nation groups in the states that are starting to engage with some of these ideas. Non indigenous academics are accessing this through systems dynamics because when we talk about genetic connections that start from an environment and end at a human, those align really closely with systems concepts. So just put up a paper for review that does a comparison or an investigation of what systems dynamics does and what an Atua Matua approach does and how they mirror each other very closely. There’s a bunch of information floating around out there. It’s humbling that people would want to read it. I never intended anyone to. Often when they ring me and quiz me and want to know what it was I was talking about I’m fairly abrupt and say “I don’t think I have to explain myself to you.”


KATY: You’re gonna have to give the red pill. You’re the red pill now. So you’re the guy.


IHI: Yeah well maybe.  I’m reasonably sure a lot don’t actually want the blue pill and don’t want to know.


KATY: They think they want the red pill but they really just want a slightly purple blue pill.  Well, we can handle what we can handle.


IHI: Yeah, exactly.


KATY: Ok, well thank you very, very, very much. I am not an indigenous person but I would like to say thank you for your work because I feel like it enriches my experience. So thank you for that. And also thank you for taking time out of the things that you are working on for your communities to do this for mine. I’m also very appreciative. I know your time is valuable.


IHI: (Speaks in Māori language) I had to say that your family, when they came to visit with me was the easiest and most gracious of guests we’ve had.  You didn’t want to sleep inside, which is a new one for us. But was more than welcome. We’ve got a sleeping area with a camping area outside our place and it was cool to see people understand the benefits of being able to stay in the forest next to our house rather than in the house.  And we really enjoyed having you here. And I think that what you are doing and the way that you engage with people, and the innovation and creativity you’re espousing and connecting with is fairly unique. And no wonder you have the followers you do. I hadn’t met you before you arrived in New Zealand. I was somewhat suspicious because you were talking about being a biomechanist and I’ve always been relatively cynical of the ways they think about people first.  But was thoroughly motivated and encouraged to try to find out more about your work and the people you work with and have no problems working alongside things that you’re doing and even the work that we’ve done this morning. So, the privilege is ours and I appreciate and am humbled by the fact that you would ask me to speak to you today.


KATY: Thank you very much.  Grateful. Grateful to you and your whole family is so gracious and the space was amazing and to get to watch that sun come up, it was just spectacular. And the slide. The epic water slide. My kids will never be pleased for the rest of their lives until we get back to your house where they can ride a proper water slide.


IHI: Well I think that quite a few parents have a different view because of broken collarbones but that’s good to hear.


KATY: We came out unscathed.


IHI: Yeah!


KATY:  Ok, again that was Dr. Ihi Heke. He is a New Zealand. I will link to some of what he was discussing including he has a Facebook that was dedicated to the bike ride he used to explore concepts of traditional Māori wellbeing through a Māori perspective. And I’ll link to as many other things he was talking about as I can.


Before I go, I’ve got one more question: “Katy,  I am 30 and have had shoulder and neck pain and tension almost as long as I can remember. It’s been suggested to me in the past that swimming might help my shoulders (which besides their tension and pain, also grate/pop with almost any sort of rotational movement, and have since I was 14 or 15). But until recently, swimming was not available to me as an option because of where I lived. I love swimming and now that it is available, plan to start it as a part of adding to my movements in general, but my question for you is this, as I know you enjoy swimming as well; (It’s true. I love water) are there any movements/alignments while swimming that someone should seek or avoid to improve or avoid shoulder pain? Which would definitely include chest tensions..and the whole rest of the body!”


So Megan, typically I’d be answering this from a person-centric point of view. So its like:  watch your rib thrust in the water, vary your strokes so that a single bout of swimming can move more of you. I’m a wild water swimmer. My preference. But if I’m in a swimming pool my favorite way to be moving through that pool is just repetitive deep diving. Actually throwing things and not moving along the surface of the water but really trying to get myself down low and back up again. Sometimes I’ll bind my feet, like pretend like I’m a mermaid. So I have all kinds of playful ways that I engage in pool swimming for example. But Ihi has made me want to pause here and suggest something here to you – to everyone.  What makes swimming? Especially wild swimming (which is in natural bodies of water). What makes it possible or not? Is it the safety of the water, what we share the water with, how we’ve treated the water in the past, how maybe there is no water now, in the areas we in which we live? How does our lifelong relationship to water and everything really, affect how each of our shoulders end up moving through water – in a pool for example – during a bout of swimming? What does the capacity of our shoulders say about our historical relationship to water – moving through it or moving to get it? And what does the current state our shoulders say about our current relationship and knowledge of water? I’m just gonna leave that out there.

I’m going to thank Ihi and also the podcast sponsors for this last answer, which is really just a tunnel to a pile of questions that we can continue to consider. So Soft Star, MyMayu, Unshoes, Earthrunner, and Venn Design. Thank you for sponsoring the question. You can find more about them in our show notes. Peace out everyone.




VOICEOVER: This has been Move Your DNA with Katy Bowman, a podcast about movement. Hopefully you find the general information in this podcast informative and helpful, but it is not intended to replace medical advice and should not be used as such.


Music fade.


Are you still interested in learning more on this?

Are You Ready to Move?

Find products and instruction to get you started right now.

right pointing arrow visit the store left pointing arrow