Further, the concept of a functional body goes beyond the “big-picture movements,” like squats or crawling.
For example, our feet contain fully one quarter of the total number of bones in our bodies, with intricate muscle systems surrounding them to support dynamic movement. Yet we typically enclose those muscles and bones in tight, non-flexible shoes once we’re old enough to toddle, then we walk for the vast majority of our lives only on flat, level surfaces, bemoaning the rare occurrence when we’re forced to walk on anything that isn’t perfectly even.
Then, one day, we find that it actually hurts to walk on uneven surfaces. We chalk it up to old age, completely overlooking that we actively sought the flat, level and cushioned our whole lives. We fail to recognize that our feet muscles (and the entire muscle chain that arises from them, going from the soles of our feet, all the way up to the top of our head and above the eyebrows) have simply forgotten, due to disuse, how to handle uneven surfaces.
These muscles were—and very likely still are—capable of walking on uneven surfaces. They’ve just lost the functionality. A functionality that could be regularly worked and reminded of itself in the natural world, where smooth textures and flat surfaces are rare occurrences, regularly posing new challenges not only to the muscles and bones of the feet and ankles, but the entire chain of muscles above them, as well.
When I go for walks in my neighborhood, or am at the park or another natural setting, it’s not uncommon for people to stare at the weirdo who’s intentionally walking alongside the sidewalk on the grass in her minimalist shoes, or who’s balancing on a fallen log, or walking up and down steep hills, or carrying around a large, irregularly-shaped rock using different arm positions.
The variability, the different muscular and functional challenges posed by irregularly-shaped “equipment” and wild environments, can’t be easily replicated in a man-made environment like a gym, so I seek out natural spaces to move in as often as I can. I believe that we as humans are evolved to move in the natural world, and that when we don’t, the long-term effects can be disastrous. We need movement nutrients to keep our bodies healthy and functional, and wild spaces offer a superior opportunity for giving our bodies a more complete “movement multivitamin.”
Something else happens when you move your body through the natural world
You begin to notice things, not only in your body as you test it with different loads and movements in untamed spaces, but in the spaces themselves.
You better understand the devastating effects of the litter from single-use materials when you walk by a Whataburger cup slowly decomposing into hundreds of tiny Styrofoam pieces in a bed of bluebonnets, or see water bottles overflowing out of a trash can at the park.
You begin to question why you don’t hear more birds or insects, then start to advocate for greater biodiversity in your area, to reintroduce life into your surroundings.
Places you normally race by in your car without a thought suddenly become like old friends, because you’ve traipsed through them and feel as if you know the secrets of their spaces intimately.
“That’s the grove with the huge pecan tree in the middle.”
“That vacant lot has a tiny spring hidden in the back.”
“Muscadine grapes grow in that thicket close to that sidewalk.”
“I wonder if that duck nest I found near that pond is still there?”
Once you know wild spaces, even if they appear uninteresting at first glance, you feel nourished by your special knowledge of their hidden diversity and secret intrigues. This knowledge of a wild space can give us a sense of place, of grounding, of home. And just as we would fight for our friends or our home, we will also fight for wild spaces once we feel we know them. And what better way to get to know a space and advocate for its health and wildness, than to move in it?