“245 unread messages” my Blackberry tolled. I had turned the dreaded workhorse on after a week, dreading its weary proclamations. How I had cherished the days without glaring at its tiny, but unforgiving screen. My camping backpack laid heavily on my shoulders- a double bagged bolus of sulphur-reeking Vibrams and muddy bathing suits. I suspected getting the smell out of the Vibrams would require elaborate chemical warfare. My arms and legs were covered with gashs, nicks, tears, welts, and oddly shaped bruises. Flecks of mud clung stubbornly to my nails.
What the hell had I been doing?
I had that exact thought on Tuesday, after arriving in West Virginia for a Movnat Reawakening workshop with Erwan Le Corre. After a morning of swinging in branches, lifting heavy logs, and jumping across planks, Erwan had told us we would run to Summerville lake- a “mere” 2.5 miles. The woods looked pleasant and inviting; the path a mild compression of soft soil. But that was just the beginning- soon the pleasant woodlands turned into what seemed like an untamed jungle. Vibrams stubbed on slippery rocks, legs were menaced by nettles and poison-ivy, and at several points the group was pursued by angry hornets. I questioned my choice of Vibrams (why oh why did I not buy KSOs to spare myself the lumps of dead leaves embedded in my now-soggy shoes?), Erwan's grasp of American measurements (could this really be two and a half miles?), and my own presence at the seminar. My back ached and my legs throbbed with intense stinging pain. Erwan sprinted ahead, sporting muscles in places I didn't know existed. What sort of brutal Tropical Thunder-like boot camp had I inadvertently subjected myself to?
Soon, feet and legs smarting with various wounds, we reached the white rocks surrounding Summerville. Simmering in the late afternoon heat, I quickly disrobed and dove in, expecting a bracing coldness- but I was pleasantly surprised by the lake's generous warmth. I soon forgot my disdain for the Metric system and any muscle pain as I swam like a small dolphin among the rocks and branches lining the lake. I was like a child again- a selkie meant for the water. I couldn't help but remember my childhood in Georgia, playing Sharks and Minnows at the Meadowgrove pool. I would dive deep beneath the water, holding my breath as I butterfly-kicked away from the "sharks." But I didn't particularly care about winning- being a predator was probably more fun anyway.
Suddenly I remembered why I was here- I was reawakening the kid I had killed. The young girl from Georgia with skinny colt legs who had too much time on her hands because she finished her homeschooling workbooks early. She rolled across the mossy knolls in her backyard, swinging herself into dogwood and maple trees, jumping across the muddy creek, feeling the warm sun draw freckles upon her bare shoulders. I killed her. I sat her upon a chair and made her pale and wan, her arms atrophy, her mood grow short-tempered as she stared for hours and hours upon a glowing rectangular screen.
The paleo diet had fixed so much of the problems that plagued me, but it was so easy for me to dismiss exercise. After all- in New York I felt I got enough exercise jumping across disgusting fetid street-puddles (god forbid my expensive Vigrams touch those…) and carrying loads of meat from the inconveniently-located grocery stores that are a feature of city life. I had lost weight without really focusing much on exercise…going outside for 15 minutes for lunch was enough…right?
It says a lot that I viewed exercise as a mere means to an end.
I had met Erwan in New York City, not long after moving there and falling into a cycle of eating paleo, but not really living paleo. John Durant, the other organizer of Eating Paleo in NYC had attended one of his fitness seminars in Mexico and had hosted Erwan on several visits to New York. While they pounded the pavement shirtless and barefoot early on the morning on what was certainly the coldest and most miserable day of the winter. My alarm clock rang, but I looked at the blizzard out the window and pressed snooze. A few weeks later they effortlessly glimmered shirtless and muscular against the glare of the snow in several full-page spreads in Nordic magazines. For these men, exercise was not about weight, but about being human.
During that winter I experienced a realization that the life I was living, despite my immaculate paleo diet, was simply incompatible with being a human being. The silent sepulchral commute, the dreary isolation of my work, the fatigue that assaulted me as I climbed the stairs to my closet-like apartment. No amount of wild salmon and pampered grass-fed beef could make up for this life.
There is an ample body of evidence that it was not just what our ancestors ate, but how they lived that accounted for their lack of “diseases of civilization.” There is certainly just as much evidence that an antisocial stressful life is as bad as a ladle full of high-fructose corn syrup.
I wanted to not just eat like a human now, but live like one. As I swung my leg up upon a rough branch, struggling mightily to push myself up, the pressure on the back of the delicate skin behind my knee reminded me of a dogwood I had climbed as a child. I remembered how it scratched me sharply, but how happy I was to clear the ground and dangle my feet merrily high above my mother's bright pink azalea flowers. It was easy then, I thought, as I dropped to the ground in failure.
I would wander about the neighborhood for hours, probably illegally trespassing in the yards of several dozen neighbors and coming home with my legs as beat up as they were now.
Rocks, logs, sticks, stones, water were now imprinted into my skin. Strangely, it didn't hurt. I was too busy being social and eating amazing paleo meals with Erwan, our other coach Vic, our chef Allie, and the other awesome participants. It was actually a fairly diverse group- men and women spanning decades. Despite this being Erwan's lower level workshop, most of us were in fairly decent shape and had at least broken in one pair of Vibrams or other thin-soled shoes. I imagine the week would have been more painful if I were completely unused to using my feet, but even so, my poor little toes were cramped from the workouts we did. Doing trails in a manicured park doesn't really prepare your feet for dashing through thousands of tiny pebbles and scrambling up boulders. I was very impressed with the vertical performance of my shoes. Vibrams are a no-go on a commercial rock climbing wall unless you enjoy putting all your weight on one toe…but here they provided the perfect amount of traction even right out of water.
All the meals were classically paleo- without salt, coffee, or dairy, which are holdouts for me. It was good to go a week without them- it definitely made me reconsider dairy and helped me finally kick out coffee. My stomach felt better and my energy level was not impacted. However, some participants who had never done paleo before reported feeling fatigued.
It's funny because a few months ago I wrote about my indoor container garden once. I didn't write about it again because let's just say some plants didn't do so well. I transplanted the survivors to outdoor containers and now some of my plants are ginormous. Just like fertilizer and windows were no substitute for the sun upon their leaves, vitamin D supplements and lamps are no substitute for the sun upon my shoulders. I feel like I'm opening a whole new chapter in my journey towards a happy, healthy…and humane life. Movnat was a great stepping stone and I definitely recommend checking Erwan's workshops out!
Exercise isn’t a way to “get in shape” or get Vitamin D. Moving is about being a human animal...