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  • Writer's pictureSharon Bryce

Nutritious Movement

Updated: Aug 25, 2019

One principle I have learnt in organizing my home is to create daily opportunities for nutritious movement. I picked this idea up from Katy Bowman . Katy was interviewed on the Slow Home Podcast . A former personal trainer, she noticed that by the tender age of 30, she and many of her dedicated students were suffering chronic lower back pain and tight achy hips - supposedly “fit” people living in “old feeling” bodies that were sounding alarm bells in the form of pain and illness. Studying bio-mechanics at university helped Katy work out why and develop a lifestyle that has her feeling young again. I find her work is fascinating and inspirational. I admire the way she walks to the beat of her own drum and lives what she teaches. To me she makes a lot of sense and I am gradually incorporating some of her ideas into my life. The first thing I did was change my bed but to explain why, lets look at what “nutritious movement” means.

Katy argues that we need to get out of the mindset that 30 - 60 minutes of exercise a day is a healthy lifestyle. 60 minutes of exercise does not counteract 1380 other daily minutes spent in sedentary activity. She argues that the specific movements we feed our bodies are as vital to our health as the specific foods we eat. The old, stiff feeling we get is fueled not just by a lack of regular movement but by a lack of nutritious movement. 

Nutritious movements include all the bends and squishes our cells demand in order to function optimally. Our bodies have developed to be able to move in many functional ways rather than the limited, repetitive movements we do in daily life or in our exercise and weight classes. She advocates nourishing the body throughout the day with whole body movements that used to be key to survival: carrying, squatting, climbing, sitting on the ground and getting up. These kinds of movements are like oil to our joints - remobilising them and strengthening the attached muscles and brain. I would argue that yoga is wonderful too, because it is always changing, including different forms of bending forwards and back, twisting, up and down and balancing - all of which continually challenge muscles and brain to work together in new ways. Yoga involves whole body movements as we move through the flow. It’s value is not just in the poses, but in the getting from one to another - with strength and grace.

I lived for 8 years in Arnhem Land with traditional Aboriginal people - 8 years stretched out over a period of about 20 years. From this vantage point I had the interesting privilege of observing the slow shift of the community from a traditional hunter/gatherer lifestyle to a western lifestyle. When we first arrived in Arnhem Land some people were still living in amazing traditional sapling and bark double-storied bush shelters. I went hunting and fishing. Digging for yams and bush dye. Collecting pandanus leaves for baskets and mats. Wielding an axe to collect bush honey. Climbing trees for bush plum. It was a very active lifestyle. The women were willowy slim, strong, fit and flexible. No-one had an exercise program. Their fitness was built into their lifestyle. Everybody slept, sat, ate, cooked and worked on the ground. All day long, in the course of their everyday work they were getting up and down plus lots of other whole body purposeful, productive behaviours. It amazed me that women in their 80’s could sit cross-legged on the ground and get up and down effortlessly without using their hands while I as a young woman struggled. Of course this is all changing as a western more sedentary lifestyle is adopted. 

The same has been noticed in the so-called blue zones of the world where people live extraordinarily long lives with happy, healthy bodies, hearts and minds . Just imagine if we could jettison the exercise routine for meaningful activities that achieve something other than just getting fit. Now that would free up some time, slow down and simplify our lives. Food for thought.

We often suffer from tight hamstrings and calves because we sit for long periods and wear high heels. These muscles become permanently shortened. Our hips won’t extend properly which limits how much the large muscles of our bottom work when we walk. We get stiff feet because we wear shoes a lot. Shoulders become stiff and less mobile from lack of use. Slouching shortens upper chest and neck muscles. The upper back muscles get exhausted and sore from the strain. Young people develop a tech neck by their late twenties with the start of a hump - an abnormal curvature of the upper spine - once only seen in the elderly (the “dowager’s hump) with chin sliding forwards shifting the natural centre of gravity of the body and setting them up for a lifetime of musculoskeletal problems, pain, headaches and poor balance that will increase their risk of falls and fractures as they age.

Few of us have the opportunity or desire today to devote a large part of our day to exercise. But we are capable of moving and re-positioning our bodies in small but powerful ways throughout the day. I often sit on the floor on a cushion and work with my laptop on a small coffee table mindful of my posture to keep my spine dignified and erect, shoulders down and back, neck long and in line with the rest of my spine. My daily yoga practice is very efficient at helping to reverse tech neck. I hang out my washing rather than use a dryer. Walk barefoot. Use steps rather than elevators. My husband walks to work. We can play with the kids - use swings and monkey bars, climb trees and rocks, kick balls, swing a bat and dance around the house. Walk to the local shop for supplies and carry them home. Go bush-walking over uneven terrain.

Which all brings me back to my bed. This year I traded my old bed for a slim mattress topper that we have placed on a mat on the floor. This one small move has introduced more natural activity into my life. I have noticed myself getting up and down with more ease and strength. I lie down to sleep, get up to go to the toilet or to get my eye mask or to answer the phone. You get the idea. Up and down. Up and down. I often teach yoga to private students who are getting back into fitness and notice that they have lost the ability to get up and down from ground level. But it can be recovered. Watch TV sitting on the floor with legs crossed. Place often used kitchen utensils in an inconvenient place so you have to bend down or reach up. Get creative. 

The surprising result of sleeping on the floor has been a huge improvement in the quality of my sleep. Seriously. It offers good support with just the right amount of cushioning for me as a confirmed side sleeper. I struggled to find a mattress that felt comfortable throughout the night. Eventually my hypermobile hips and shoulders would slide out of alignment and I would experience a pulling kind of ache that was just enough to wake me up over and over again. Arghhh! Thankfully that is all in the past now. It is easily folded back to create a lovely space for ease of cleaning or a yoga mat. I even do yoga on it sometimes. On hot sunny days I hang it outside over the verandah railing to sun, sterilize and air. We have dispensed with a top sheet and just sleep under a linen-covered doona which makes the bed fast to make in the morning.

Natural latex mattress toppers are good for the environment . Just make sure you air a floor mattress or place it on a low slatted bed base because they can sweat and go mouldy underneath. Add the obligatory leafy plant like the monstera above and invite nature inside, clean the air and enjoy a simple, calm nocturnal oasis. We also have cheap eco cane blinds that easily unhook to clean. Light to carry, I hang them on the clothes line once a year and hose them down. These IKEA curtains are a cheap, natural hardy linen that are machine-washable.

Now for the adult kids to fly the nest and I can bequeath them my living room furniture and introduce cushions and a low table a la Japanese style and I will be able introduce yet more nutritious movement to my day.

Katy Bowman takes it all a big step further. She has almost eliminated furniture from her house . Cheap, environmental, and easy to clean saving time. Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea but it can challenge our concept of how much we need to live a happy, comfortable life. Many Aboriginal people I lived with had very little and yet were happy which begs the question: are our belongings helping or strangling us?

Retired US Navy Admiral Seal, William H McCraven found the simple task of making his bed each morning to be one of the most powerful lessons he learned during his time as a Navy Seal. For him it was a daily reminder that little things matter. I agree. It gives me a small buzz of satisfaction, creates order from chaos and sets the tone for my day - “I can accomplish things.” It encourages me to take on another task, and another...until that one small task of setting my bed in order has morphed into many others that have the potential to change my life and who knows - maybe even the world! And if I have a lousy least I come home to my neat bedroom sanctuary. It is one way to self-care and part of a clean-as-you-go philosophy that ensures mess does not stockpile into epic proportions that might overwhelm me. Now I just have to convince my still-at-home adult kids! - sigh - well, baby steps...

What ways can you think of to introduce nutritious movement into your day? Next week I talk about lessons I learned organizing my kitchen.

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