2015 was a big year. Action packed, full of travel, teaching, training, learning, meeting and connecting with amazing people. “Movement” is all of a sudden becoming a thing, around the world and especially on the internet. People are starting to think about movement a bit more deeply, and ideas from neuroscience and evolutionary biology are seeping into everything from medicine and psychology and even marketing, to rehabilitation, sports, fitness and martial arts. All things “paleo” or “primal” are gaining in popularity or at least being talked about more, and it even seems like there is an interest in “ancestral skills” or indigenous knowledge of all sorts growing in popular culture. My work in Ancestral Movement somehow spans all of these fields, so over the last year I have been contacted by all sorts of people interested in what I am doing. I’ll try to review some recent developments in this post, to give an idea as to where things are heading from here.
First, after three incredible years of teaching and training in Canberra, both my co-teacher Craig Mallett and I have moved on. Craig is off to Europe to explore and learn more good things, I am exploring different locations around south-eastern Australia which are a bit more wild than Canberra, but hopefully still not too far away from the larger centres of population. For anyone who is still in Canberra or passing through there and wanting to meet great people or know about good groups to train with, you can still find us on the Natural Movement Canberra facebook group. Anyone who doesn’t already follow Craig’s work, you can find him over at Aware Relaxed Connected.
Our retreats have continued to get better and better, over the last year we ran several (the standard is one per season, approximately every three months), featuring incredible guest teachers Shira Yaziv of Athletic Playground in California, Gina Chick and Lee Trew of Bluegum Bushcraft, Jervis Bay (not-so-coincidentally near where I am living now). We have people regularly attending retreats now from Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle, Byron Bay, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast! And we have covered a huge, huge amount of material, building a strong and nurturing community and a growing relationship to that beautiful place in the process. The last retreat went for ten days instead of the usual five, now that Craig has left we may not be running them quite as frequently, but nine or ten days will be the new normal, although of course people can attend for as few or as many days as they are able. Dates for 2016 will be announced soon on the retreats & workshops, in the meantime you can see some of what we’ve been up to there in the recently uploaded photo gallery.
From retreats, to workshops! Two highly fruitful and auspicious “Ancestral Alchemy” workshops took place in Sydney, where I taught alongside Craig Mallett and Dave Wardman (of Physical Alchemy, hence the name). The three of us have worked closely together for several years now, and we are in near-constant communication over the interwebs, sharing ideas and research. It is always a pleasure to teach together as well. Craig, Dave and I are all friends with, and have to varying extents been students of and mentored by Kit Laughlin, you can find us all participating over on the Stretch Therapy forums, another online community with a very high standard of discussion and content. Craig managed to catch one of my little preliminary spiels, taken just before we got into doing some movement patterns that highlight what we have in common with worms, fish, lizards, amphibians and various other quadrupeds and mammals:
I taught “Body Mapping & Ancestral Movement” workshops at several events around the country in 2015, with weekend workshops in Melbourne and Byron Bay (a link to the Byron event can be seen HERE). These workshops covered the basic neuroscience of body awareness, pain, rehabilitation, movement, meditation, learning, emotion, memory, empathy, and animal mimicry, and a discussion of evolutionary or comparative anatomy, how anatomical structures evolved in relationship with different environments and ecological niches, and how mind-body practices can be (and in many cultures have been) used to foster a greater appreciation of ancestry and ecological awareness.
I presented similar work in a condensed form at the Somara Shamanic Medicine Forum at Starseed Gardens in Byron Bay and at the Wild Mind and Village Continuum gatherings in Victoria.
Somara was a gathering primarily devoted to “plant medicine” and shamanism, and was organised by some good friends of mine who invited me to attend. It was an extremely interesting conference, and I was very glad to be there. It seems like there is a growing movement worldwide attempting to reconnect with indigenous methods of consciousness-alteration, for “healing”, “self awareness”, community integration, or what have you. I think there is certainly something to all of this, given that such practices appear to have been ubiquitous in human cultures all over the world throughout history, so they are undoubtedly a part of us. But, I also think that there is a lot of potential for delusion or straight up fantasy in there as well (which is fine, it’s important to have nice stories to live by), and of course we humans seem to have a natural tendency to form cults of personality around charismatic figures, so…watch out, kids! Nonetheless it was a great gathering of incredibly interesting people, fascinating conversations and amazing research, and I got to push my agenda of getting people back into their bodies as the first step to sensing the world more properly, understanding where we come from and what we’re doing here.
Wild Mind is a gathering of artists, therapists, philosophers, writers, dancers, teachers, activists, anthropologists, and other creative types all working on ways of reconnecting ourselves to the land in which we live. Something along the lines of Deep Ecology or Ecopsychology. It was an excellent, remarkable gathering of people, and it should be happening again in 2016, anyone interested should check out the facebook page linked to above, or the Wild Mind Institute homepage.
The Village Continuum is somewhat similar in philosophy, but based entirely around what used to be the practical skills of living: gardening, foraging, herbalism, basketry, spinning and weaving and felting, hide tanning, leatherwork (making moccasins), woodwork (making traditional longbows and arrows), natural plant dyes, tiny house building, fire making, even mowing the lawns with a scythe. This too is a wonderful gathering, the second year it has run, taking place at Hollyburton Organic Farm in rural Victoria not far from Melbourne, which is also a hub for the local “unschooled” community. It was extremely uplifting to be around a large community of children of all ages who have only been to school for a few years or sometimes not at all, and yet who are growing up healthy, intelligent, learning to read whenever they are ready, and then going on to study science degrees at university or run their own very successful businesses. Their parents too are all exceptional, brave, switched-on loving people, building community around themselves because I guess they worked out that they really couldn’t possibly raise their kids all on their own.
Which brings me to my final topic for this 2015 review: “bushcraft” or “rewilding”. A couple of years ago I started hanging out with a guy called Jake Cassar. Jake lives in Gosford, NSW, where he is a youth worker, activist for local wilderness and indigenous sites, and where he teaches bush tucker and survival skills (he runs the Central Coast Bush Tucker group on facebook, one of the best groups around for identification and uses of Australian plants). We’ve made it a bit of a tradition to spend new years camping together doing bush tucker stuff – two years ago I even got Ido Portal to come along. Jake watches MMA and after he saw the Irish fighter Connor Macgregor win the UFC title recently he sent me a message saying “and I saw your mate training with him on stage!” – and I basically try to catch up with Jake whenever I can. Since I’ve started putting ancestral movement ideas out in public, more and more people have been showing up in my life who have these sorts of ancestral skills, and so finally, after years of looking, my life is filling up with people who really know things that I have always wanted to know, and who are working to help others reconnect to the earth with the old traditional ways.
In 2015, besides starting and finishing the year camping with Jake, and running three bush retreats with Craig and the gang, I’ve been hanging out with a lot of people doing different variations of this rewilding stuff. My partner Janet and I have been working as mentors with Lee Trew and Gina Chick on the amazing Bluegum Bushcraft kids’ camps, five day camps with kids and families, hanging out in the bush exploring and playing and coming back to share stories around the fire at night. We got a visit from Rafe Kelley (of Evolve Move Play), who shared some of his own incredible ancestral movement work in Canberra and Melbourne, and went along to support both Rafe and Jake and some other friends on a “survivor movement camp” in central New South Wales. We also went up north to two workshops with Jon Young of the “Eight Shields” institute in the US, in “The Art of Mentoring: Building Nature Connected Communities” and “Bird Language”, which were totally mind blowing and full of all sorts of interesting and passionate people. Like pretty much everything I’ve mentioned here, these really deserve their own post, so hopefully I’ll get around to writing that one of these days.
I also just finished a bachelor’s degree in Health & Rehabilitation Science, which should hopefully free up some time for me to write and film some more, although whatever free time I might have had may be taken up with the fascinating discussions taking place on the newly created Ancestral Movement Facebook Group! I have become quite jaded about academia recently, while I obviously love learning, I have found the standard of teaching at university to be a bit hit-and-miss, sometimes good but just as often not, and the environment overall to be quite stifling, more about fitting students into already existing professional boxes than about supporting them in their learning or actually encouraging them how to think critically for themselves. I’m still thinking about exciting postgraduate research in cognitive science, evolutionary biology, anthropology or ethology.
So there you go, that was 2015. It seems like we might be reaching a kind of critical mass, where people from all walks of life are becoming interested in movement, evolution, ancestry, food, connection to nature and landscape, and maybe even trying to change the way we live.
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