EVERYWHERE you look these days, a growing number of people are rejecting the trappings of modern society and going back to basics.
Some want to “get off the grid” by producing their own food, harvesting rainwater and generating electricity, while others take health and fitness cues from hunter-gatherers, eating the “paleo diet” and jogging in bare feet.
The idea is that since the dawn of civilisation, humans have been slowly losing impressive physical abilities, developed through evolution.
Inevitably, the science behind such trends is twisted for commercial reasons, but it’s fair to say most Canberrans are adapted to a far more sedentary existence than the short, action-packed life of a hunter-gatherer.
Riding this postmodern wave are two local “natural fitness” gurus, Simon Thakur and Craig Mallett, who run classes several times a week.
“It’s quite a big concept,” says Simon. “It’s not so much about fitness, although fitness is a by-product. It’s more about exploring the body in its relationship to the environment, making everything three-dimensional and fluid… [and] using all of the movement skills available to us.”
Natural or “ancestral” fitness aims to limber up every body part through real-world actions such as running, jumping, climbing, crawling, moving quietly, lifting and carrying objects or negotiating obstacles.
“This is really something you don’t see a lot of the population doing these days, but more so in the rural population,” says Craig. “Most people say they wouldn’t use these skills in modern life and to an extent they’re right, but put yourself in an emergency situation and all these skills become useful – look at the tsunami in Thailand, there were people saving themselves by climbing trees, by crawling, jumping over things and running flat out.”
Craig recalls working at a gym where, among people running and riding to nowhere on treadmills and exercise bikes, he was the odd one out for practising his “weird monkey stuff”.
“As soon as children can stand they’re told not to crawl anymore; as soon as children reach a certain age they’re not supposed to go around climbing trees any more, and that’s just social conditioning,” he says.
“If we can re-engage with all of those kinds of movement, we go way outside of this very, very narrow range that is considered acceptable movement for an adult.”
The romantic idea of a prehistoric human as the pinnacle of strength and vitality is perhaps a fallacy, but as Simon points out, that’s irrelevant since it’s just an ideal to strive for, which feels good for those who dream of getting out of the rat race.
“There’s this notion of the person fully embedded in their local region and their landscape, knowing all the animals and plants, knowing how the animals move, knowing the sounds that they make, able to hunt and forage and use the senses, and a lot of us simply want more of that because it feels really good,” he says.
“With all this stuff, what we’re trying to do is wake the whole body back up, every little bit of it, and through that feel more alive, more human. It’s about using the feet, the spine, the hands, the fingers, the shoulders, the hips – literally, every part.”
Craig says a lot of people are too single-minded about the virtues of our ancestors and reject too much of modernity.
“I think we’re better off striving for some sort of balance between ancient and modern, and I think that balance can be struck, it’s just a difficult thing to get an entire society to do.”
For more information on classes with Simon and Craig, go to the Facebook group “Natural Movement Canberra”.