The Ocean: Great for novel movement and sensory stimulation   

Anyone with children knows the ocean is by far the greatest entertainment center ever. I watched my 5 year old child play uninterrupted for two and half hours at the water's edge. It was only a foot of water, no toys, balls, or pails, just sand and water. With each undulating wave, his body reacted to the whirling, turning, swirling whirlpool of water around him. He leaped over waves coming three at a time. Then just as suddenly the ocean held back like a taunting tiger. My son sat vigilant attempting to read the water's next move. He leaped onto his stomach, then to his back. Yikes! Big wave! Jump up! In the blink of an eye, back onto his stomach lying in the ebbing water feeling the sensation of the tugging sea at his feet. 

     What is it about the ocean that is so compelling to our bodies? As I observed his activity the allure became clear. Our bodies are starving for novel aberrant input. Put in simple terms, our nervous system thrives when it has unpredictable, challenging, new stimulus. The ocean is the penultimate unpredictable environment in which to play. 

     The continuous altering input of floating, diving, pushing, and pulling bombards his system. His skin felt the rough sand and cool water, his nose smelled the sea air, as his lips tasted the briny water. The stimulus of the natural environment surrounding him amused and satiated his whole sensory nervous system which affords a total body awareness experience. This experience can be integral in creating what some people may know as "embodiment". What exactly is embodiment? I will tackle in another post. 

               This type of stimulation is essential as stated eloquently by Mark Latash "Learning to improve behavior in an ever-changing environment may be viewed as a major requirement for survival in the process of evolution." 

     Unfortunately today we live in a world of homogenous ground cover. You may encounter a cracked curb or two, but in general everything is a manicured, controlled environment. Our bodies no longer traverse the novel stimulus of varied surfaces and surroundings which our bodies yearn for. Its not craving for the monotony of a forced march on a treadmill. It wants the novelty of play, the unknown, to overcome a challenge and find success. This process allows us to gain more confidence in our newfound skills and strength.  

      So I realize we don't all live 5 minutes from a beach, so not an ideal solution. Also there is always an "It depends" on any subject. The “it depends” in this case is, that there are those folks out there who hate the ocean, almost drowned as a kid, can't swim, or abhor salt and sand. Obviously for these guys this exposure to the ocean would be a negative experience and defeats the purpose of interacting positively with your sensory system. Luckily there are all sorts of ways we can try to simulate a stimulating novel environment.

     A simple one we taught at a movement retreat which also brought on lots of laughing. I find that’s always a bonus. You can grab a balloon and if you are by yourself you punch at it trying to throw it to a non-existent partner across the room. The slow movement of the balloon allows you to run to the ball and toss it back to the other side of the room again. You can also try to take two balls and keep punching them into the air trying to keep both balls in the air and not let them drop. Balloons have an unpredictable nature to them you will witness when you play with them, which can be seen in the video below.

     Other ways to get novel input can be done on runs or walks. You can simply move in alternative patterns. Try slowing your movement, try hopping, moving side to side, act like there is lava in the middle of the path, or on the sides of the path that you don't want to touch. Avoid rocks, or only go on rocks. All of these tasks will force change allowing for altered movement patterns. Other options are, give yourself the task of picking up 5 leaves, then 5 pebbles or sticks, whatever objects may be around. This creates a much more dynamic, challenging activity for your body than your routine run. Try all of these and a 2 mile hike/run can end up being an hour long exploration of your body. 

     There are also some gyms( in the SF bay area) that are working on creating classes in movement exploration with adaptable surroundings. These gyms also tend to have parkour classes which is the essence of novel and adaptive movement.  

     Just like my son’s body craves and laps up the novelty of the ever stimulating ocean, your body will appreciate interacting with the environment in a not so predictable fashion. Your daily exercise routine will feel less of a routine and more of an expedition.        

     Enjoy the movement