monkey swinging tree adult play

Why We Should All Move like Monkeys…and 5 Steps to Get YOU There!

Sometimes life hands you lemons, and sometimes, it hands you…a trip to Hawaii. Or to the island of Lanai, to be more specific.

I’ve been cruising around Hawaii’s smallest publicly-accessible island for the past week, and the other morning, after scrambling my way up and down the island’s rock-strewn Fisherman’s Trail (hands and feet required!) and watching surfers balance their way from wave break to shore, I had an epiphany:

We are meant to move like monkeys.

We are meant to leap, to balance, to use all of our appendages in glorious, multidimensional locomotion through a myriad of environs. And we’re meant to do this all of the time!

Now, to be clear, Hawaii has never been home to indigenous primates. But it is home to a plethora of natural features that necessitate a not-insignificant amount of agility to traverse.

But the thing is, who lives in such an environment nowadays? In the western world, not very many of us!

For most of us, our days do not involve scrambling over rocky trails, scaling tree trunks, or fording waterways. Even though we evolved from such a lifestyle, most of us are now constrained to walking from our beds to our baths, stepping from our doorways to our automobiles, and sitting, sitting, SITTING.

This is not good for our psyches, it’s not good for our physiology, and it’s definitely not good for cultivating our inherent badassery. The phrase “Use it or lose it” is a truism with good reason!

It is difficult to claim Badass Status when you can’t lift your carry-on into the overhead compartment, squat on the ground to play with a toddler, or balance on a chair to retrieve grandma’s gravy boat from the top shelf for Thanksgiving dinner.

So how do we fix this? How do we reclaim our inherent human agility in a natural, easy way without devoting hours to the gym, punctuated by huge stretches of sedentism? Simple!

Let’s make a commitment to return to our ancestral movement patterns during our daily lives.

And here, for your immediate adoption, are five easy ways to do this:

female gymnast contortionist repetitive stress sedentary standing desk

You don’t have to be quite this extreme…unless you really want to.

1. Shift positions frequently

Don’t just sit in one place for hours on end…or even for a single hour! Instead, reposition every couple of minutes—seriously! This is a case where fidgeting is good.



women walking female friendship

You can even use the buddy system!

2. Walk as much as you can

Not just for exercise. Walk over to your colleague’s desk instead of sending an email. Walk to the mailbox instead of driving. Got a heavy package to mail? Even better! Carry that sucker with you as you hoof it to the UPS store. Make it fun by pretending you’re a human from 50,000 years ago, hauling a rock from the quarry to the site of your new stone hut. (Wearing a fur loincloth is optional…but if you do, I totally want to see pictures!)

empty apartment living room furniture

Ninja-level austerity for the furniture-adverse

3. Avoid using furniture as much as is practical

When was the last time you sat on a hard surface and had zero back support? Maybe at a summer picnic or a lawn concert? Did your back ache? Were your legs cramping? That’s not natural! But those aches and pains are a sign that your natural support structures are atrophied (or super tight) and need rebuilding/stretching asap!

And if that’s not enough to convince you, chew on this: sitting in a chair shortens your calf muscles even more than does wearing high heels!! And sitting in a chair while wearing heels?? Oi vey! And you wonder why your back hurts….

So how can you adopt this furniture-lite lifestyle and not seem like a freak? Well I, too, live in the modern era, and I know it’s practically impossible to avoid desk chairs, airplane seats, etc. But I also know we’re clever and can figure out ways to deal with these modern inconveniences so that their nefarious effects are minimized.

For example: get an adjustable desk that can be moved from floor height (where you can sit lotus-style) to standing level. Buy an exercise ball that you sometimes use for sitting. At home, sit, squat, and stand on the floor to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones. When traveling by public transit, book an aisle seat so you can get up frequently during the trip. See where I’m going with this? Use your noggin and figure out ways to minimize butt-in-cushy-seat time.

man climbing banyan tree adult play


4. Climb that tree!

Or that garden wall. Or that curb railing. When you see a topographic feature, remember what you were like as a kid when you wanted to climb everything…and then act on it! When you first try it, you will probably be, um, humbled. It’s amazing how our bodies atrophy when we don’t use certain muscles (use it or lose it, remember?). But when called into action, those tissues respond pretty rapidly, so hang in there! The payoff is most definitely worth it.

Feeling self-conscious about public climbing attempts? Then join a rock gym! I am absolutely addicted to my local indoor climbing wall. It is indescribably satisfying to scale 60 feet of verticality using nothing but your own strength and sense of balance. Sign up for a trial session near you and give it a go!

ultimate frisbee adult play

Could be play. Could also be self-defense. 😮

5. Play, play, play!

This is related to item #4, but with a twist. Playing is not just about moving your body, but about having FUN. Play combines physical dexterity with emotional and spiritual exuberance…which are far too lacking in most of our adult lives. Humans are holistic creatures: mind, body, and spirit. If one part of our triangle is lacking, the whole structure suffers.

I spend a lot of time hiking, and I’ve seen everything from birds to squirrels obviously playing just for the fun of it. Seems logical that humans have such a built-in need, too. Indulge yourself. Kathleen’s orders. 🙂

* * * * *

One parting thought: the natural world is not smooth, flat, and planar. There is a stochasticity to our environment that is not emulated in our domestic lives, and that disconnect—both from a physical and a psychological standpoint—is jarring to the point of dysfunction. A true badass is comfortable and capable in all environs. So as part of your journey, start with the foundation of your body and move like a monkey. The rest of your badassery will surely follow.

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