We are human animals and it is vital we slow down and reconnect with the wild ~ a personal sharing from MFML teacher Dan Peppiatt
I am certain that so much of our stress in the modern world is down to the fact that we are living in an environment that is totally alien to us. The world around us might have changed and moved on very fast but inherently we haven’t caught up.
We have the instincts to run from a dangerous animal, or gather tasty plants and berries or even hunt when we are hungry. We know that these situations have specific responses – fight or flight, rest or digest, but what do we do with an email from a grumpy boss or client? How do we react to a bill through the letterbox demanding payment for the water we drink? As human animals we don’t know how to respond to those situations – we can’t run from them or throw a spear at them, so we simply freeze. Over time we embody the stress, tensions, and confusion. We assimilate it into our body until it slowly emerges as illness, sickness or chronic poor mental health.
Nature is FREE
Yes, our natural environment is outdoors. We know that it’s good for us because we feel happy when we are outdoors, listening to birdsong, running rivers, looking at the stars. It costs nothing, it’s free, nobody can charge you for nature.
Of course all of a sudden that has somehow become fashionable, wild swimming, tree climbing, barefoot shoes – all these sorts of activities promoted by influencers, companies, teachers keen to instruct people how to climb a tree, missing the point and monetising the free for those of us who feel we need telling how to climb a tree or dip in a pond. At least it is getting a lot more people outside but is it really empowering?
I’ve Always Embraced the Outdoors
I guess I’ve always just embraced that love of the outdoors. In my early twenties I joined many of the road protests, it was a magical time. I was swinging about in the trees, building, and then sleeping 40 feet above the ground in the branches, my bed blowing about in the wind. Then I followed a degree in environmental science and ecology. I lived in the very north of Scotland in a tiny farm cottage with no heating but a tiny fire. Once it snowed so heavily I had to climb out of the front window to dig the snow away from the front door.
After some time in India we then saved up all of our money for a year and bought a derelict smallholding in rural France, an hour from the nearest town. We lived in the hayloft for six months with the bats flying around our heads at night, the mice and scurrying things in the boards below. We got up when it was light and went to bed when it got dark. Then living on the river in a barge for 6 years, amongst the kingfishers, pike and herons; moving to the edge of Exmoor in Devon and now in our own woodland next to the sea in deepest Cornwall.
Whether Im sailing, surfing, climbing or just wandering in the wilds, I don’t really feel any inclination to be around busyness or people that much anymore – they seem like a bit of a distraction
It’s odd because my family are all from the East end of London and I grew up just a few miles away in Essex. I lived on a main road, with thundering lorries 24 hours a day before the M25 was built. Even then I spent my entire childhood playing in the woodland nearby, an old royal hunting ground on the edge of London. At the age of five or six I must have known every single tree in those woodlands and had climbed most of them (and fallen out of quite a few too)!
I guess some of us just feel very comfortable outdoors. For me it has certainly inspired my approach to life, and very much my approach to all things ‘yoga’.
It has inspired my approach to life and yogaDan Peppiatt
We Have Simply Forgotten
It seems so significant to me that we are human animals. We don’t need to be taught or trained how to do complicated weird movements, breath techniques or anything else, we have simply forgotten how to do those things that we once did so well. We love complicating things though because it appeals to our belief that complex, difficult looking things must be valuable.
It’s ironic because that is the opposite of what Taoism teaches (being probably the most nature centric philosophy or all). The tao teaches that simplicity is most valued, not the complicated. Return to the source.
Where are the Circles in Yoga?
After starting yoga in my teens following a lifetime of martial arts, my questioning of the logic of yoga asana began around its linearity – it’s just so straight and repetitive. The postures, even the breathwork are so linear. Think about how it works, we are practicing on a rectangular mat with straight arms, legs, and backs, folding forwards or folding sideways.
There is certainly value in yoga asana, in particular with forming an understanding of our bodies, learning to listen to them again in the stillness of asana. However, as a healthy and balanced movement practice there is also so much lacking. It’s not as if yoga asana grew as some well balanced, handed down wisdom. Yoga was a hotchpotch of bits added here and there, with no particular thought to balancing the body. The philosophy of Patanjali in his brief mention of asana as being ‘easeful and stable’ is truly wise, but how many people really understand what that means? Where is that balance to be found? How many teachers understand that and share it in that way?
Repeated unnatural movements breed chronic injury and I have seen this over and over again. Where are the circles in yoga? Where is the freedom to just move the feet how we need to? It is certainly becoming more common now, but in the past not so much. In fact when are the feet ever anything but flat on the ground aside from a few toe tucks in plank. What about all the other ranges of movement at the ankle, the sole of the foot, the inversion, the eversion?
Natural Movement is not the Same Everyday
Natural movement is a mix of things, not the same every day. The same breeds injury, stuck patterns of posture and movement, and we even bring those patterns to the yoga mat with us (if you choose to use one). A healthy human animal will be able to express itself through a whole range of movements, on all different levels – at ground levels, squatting or crouching, standing. When we stop using a certain level of movement or a motion, it will slowly vanish from our life, and it is a lot more difficult to get back than it is to just maintain it.
As wild animals we would have walked, stalked, crouched, run, dragged, climbed. Who drags and climbs as part of their day? Those movements like brachiation – swinging – are largely getting lost.
Reconnect with the Wild: Get your Hands Dirty
My number one tip for connecting with the wild is not to breathe in a certain way, or do a certain movement drill, but to get your hands dirty. Not just metaphorically dirty, as in facing the things that you avoid, but also literally dirty. Grow something.
It doesn’t matter how much or little space you have, you don’t need a penny. Use an old tetrapak or plastic food container, punch some holes in the bottom and plant some seeds. You don’t even have to buy the seeds, just collect some sycamore seeds from the ground or an acorn from under an oak tree. To see a mighty oak tree sprouting as a seedling is a magical thing. We have got an oak that our daughter planted as an acorn 16 years ago, it has been in various pots for most of its life and lived with us on a narrow boat roof, in gardens, grandparents – you name it. We finally find ourself living in an oak woodland and it has at last gone in the ground with its family members!
To take responsibility for a growing thing is really magical and empowering. It reminds us of something very primal that we have forgotten, something about our connection to nature, and our ability to nurture as well as destroy nature. We remember how all things are interconnected.
Take your Power Back
I heartily recommend that you take your power back. Start working more with what your instincts tell you that you need, rather than what the next life coach or self help book tells you. No-one knows what you need better than you do, we have just stopped trusting ourselves.
Force yourself to walk in the woods, down a canal, dip in a river or lake if it’s safe to do so (make sure you know a little bit about local currents and tides or ask someone that does – it’s all well and good becoming instantly wild but we have also lost so much of our understanding of the wild, especially the water).
Take a few minutes to listen to the birds, even in the middle of the city, behind the noise of the traffic noise, or in a quiet corner, they will still be there. Nature is surviving in the most unexpected places, the ants under your back door step, the bees on your window box. You don’t have to trek into deepest Alaska – although you might find yourself wanting to!
We have created an entirely artificial environment, everything is to hand, in front of us. We made ourselves comfortable whilst we searched the world for answers to the big questions. Who are we and what are we doing here?
But we got so comfortable that we forgot what the questions were.
If you aren’t careful, it can feel like you’re just existing rather than really living. Remember you’re a human animal and get outdoors!
Dan Peppiatt is unique. He explores natural movement patterns drawing from his other passions including surfing, paddle-boarding, martial arts and climbing. He encourages his students to experiment widely too. Dan draws his inspiration from nature. If you’ve been inspired to plant a seedling, you can share the result in Dan’s open Seedling Selfies group.