What Moves You?

How natural movement can aid your mission

“When you are free to move, anything is possible.”

We enter the world with only a body, and no instruction manual. Life’s challenge is to reach more purposeful and meaningful states of being — however we define that purpose and meaning — in one extended act of becoming. We each have to find our unique calling, but every mission is embodied. Our minds can lead the way, but only if the body is willing and able to follow.

It’s worth asking whether you are physically capable of your mission. In my case, I only know two things for certain: 1) I will need to be more fit, and 2) I will get wet. To train for the unexpected — the unknown unknowns — I practice MovNat. MovNat, short for natural movement, is a fitness method that has been refined through centuries of experimentation. It aims to make a whole range human movements more efficient, building skills atop a foundation of strength, mobility, flexibility, and conditioning. Its development has been a discovery process, helped along by many individuals in different times and places, involving a fair amount of speculation about what our bodies can do. MovNat certified trainers are the heirs to this legacy.

I have the dubious honor of being perhaps the world’s least qualified Level III MovNat certified trainer. Through luck and determination, I passed the Level III tests, and am working hard to catch up to my fellow Master trainers in skills like balancing, precision jumps and landings, and climbing so that I can train others to be better adapted to their personal environments and missions. I call my practice a natural method. It’s certainly not the only natural method, but it has helped me become stronger and to feel more alive and confident in piloting my body through my mission.

The Evolution of La Methode Naturelle to MovNat

Erwan LeCorre, the founder of MovNat, had trained parkour extensively when he started to look deeper at the roots of urban acrobatics. Parkour, which is just French for “route,” is known for its death-defying stunts through multi-layered cityscapes, but most of its practitioners would admit that it has little practical applicability — unless you’re a stuntman or are trying to outrun someone. Erwan uncovered a more practical and adaptable system in the writings of Georges Hébert, a naval officer and physical educator who developed time-tested principles as his standard for assessing the fitness of all sailors in the French navy.

Hebert’s “natural method,” or “la methode naturelle,” came out of his experiences traveling to non-technological societies to see how their members retained such impressive physiques and fitness. In these primitive cultures, there was no concept of “exercise” apart from the tasks and labor necessary for survival, but the people had more vitality than even the athletes in more “evolved” modern societies.

A natural disaster during the first World War, when Hébert was stationed on the volcanic island of St. Pierre, Martinique, showed him the importance of all-around fitness in times of crisis. When the volcano erupted in 1902, only the strong were of any use in rescuing those trapped or wounded by the ash and debris. His mission from that point forward was to bring the natural athleticism of tribal people to modern men and women, both enlistees and civilians.

Stefano Neis, SCVIEW & Sons Antique Images

His exercises were designed to be done outdoors, often in the cold elements, with varying levels of intensity to breed composure under all circumstances.

It’s obvious why a soldier would need qualities of being cold-blooded and possessing an “even-keel,” but why should the rest of us should develop our movement skills? LeCorre and the growing band of MovNat certified trainers are trying to universalize natural movement, and reconnect people to their nature — not for wartime fitness, but as a way of living everyday life more vitally. In short, it is a way of being more alive.

Why do we want to do this?

In part, because we feel that we’ve become domesticated. We are weak and sick too often. Most of all, however, because we are losing our greatest gift: purposeful embodiment.

MovNat gyms and outdoor training groups are popping up around the world with the motto of “be strong to be useful.”

Find Your Mission

Rescuing people from the rubble of a natural disaster is an extreme scenario. Living in California, however, I’ve been braced since boyhood for the “Big One” — the earthquake that will supposedly devastate the San Francisco Bay Area sometime in the next 50 years. Rather than adopting a fatalistic position, I accept the risk and try to be prepared.

Even if you never experience a natural disaster, the skills acquired through MovNat can make you better at all kinds of mundane tasks, from cleaning your house, to playing on the floor with kids, to getting in and out of a car where the seat is low to the ground.

I’ve found MovNat most beneficial for the parts of my mission that center around boats and the water. I am an aspiring seasteader, meaning I want to harvest a small part of the ocean’s abundance and be less reliant on inherently extractive industries, like factory farming and petroleum mining. As a stepping stone toward aquatic farming villages, I’ve taken to sailing the San Francisco Bay.

Sailing is mentally and physically demanding. It requires quick decisions and a responsiveness to the elements. Especially when single-handing, I’ve had to deal with some tricky situations. The other day I found myself balancing the tiller (steering stick) with my knee — keeping an eye towards looming obstacles, waves, and subtle shifts in wind direction — while re-positioning the outboard motor in its bracket after it came unhinged unexpectedly. I was fast approaching the Berkeley Pier, and had to get the motor re-attached before tacking. If I had panicked, it could have meant a collision, but since I trusted my body to perform under those circumstances, I did one thing at a time and changed course with plenty of time.

On windy days, when the boat heels over so much that the railing is under water, I have to find a comfortable center of gravity and points of support — another skill taught in the MovNat curriculum.

Coming back into the dock, I have to run up to the front of the boat, pull down the headsail, and then jump back down into the cockpit before the boat steers off course. This requires balance, a sense of tempo or timing, and a precision jump with a soft landing. All of these tasks can be accomplished by an extra set of hands, but those hands aren’t always available. Even when they are, it’s better to be able to handle more variables so you can enjoy the water with all its refreshing qualities.

Sailing with an even keel, still smiling even after losing my hat. Photo credit: Jeff Taylor

Some sailing movements are far from “natural,” including pulling and coiling various lines, cranking winches in tight circles, turning the boat around in its slip, raising and lower an anchor, and manually pulling the boom across the boat during a jibe. However, these draw on the same embodied confidence that you learn from practicing MovNat in a gym or outdoors.

Finally, the wind, cold air and even colder water on the Bay can be abrasive. Here, it helps to practice Hébert’s recommendation of “cold exposure,” through cold-water swimming and exercising without a shirt in cold weather. These build the resilience (aka “even keel”) that Hébert sought in his soldiers, which is not beyond the reach of anyone seeking higher performance under less than ideal conditions.

Join the Tribe

The full MovNat philosophy is hard to sum up — it has to be experienced, ideally in nature. Every other Saturday, I co-host a meet up at Codornices Park, in Berkeley, where we go over skills, try to progress to more advanced levels, and reconnect to our nature. Each session, I learn as much from the other attendees as I impart from the MovNat curriculum. No one has a monopoly on movement. A natural method has no trademark, and can include any modality that improves the connection between mind and body. Our small group will be meeting this Saturday, and you can find details below:

I’ve adopted Erwan LeCorre’s teaching philosophy, which is “Become a teacher, but always remain a student.” The dialogues between teacher and student mirror the dialogue between the mind and the body — a sacred process that is always unfolding in unexpected ways.

Are you ready for what the future will bring? Come join us to find out, and learn how movement can help you with your mission.


And in case you were wondering where I got the slogan at the beginning of this essay, it was this Toyota ad:

When you are free to move, anything is possible!