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February 17, 2011

Searching For Eden

All things considered, I’m kind of surprised that I didn’t hear about something like this a lot sooner.

Last month Outside Magazine profiled Erwan Le Corre (linked after post), founder and principal instructor of MovNat, a fitness program that espouses our need to get back in touch with our primitive nature. Instead of sculpting our beach bodies by running ourselves dizzy at the track or contorting ourselves into various workout machines at the health club, we should build strength and fitness the way cavemen did: climbing trees to get fruit and nuts, lifting and rolling rocks together to build shelter, running through the forest and swimming in the sea to stalk prey, and grappling in hand-to-hand combat to establish our tribal dominance.

Erwin Le Corre; photo from Outside Magazine

It’s certainly a compelling concept - especially to the growing legions of barefoot aficionados, as Le Corre fully endorses running unshod, just as our ancestors did 1 million years before Nikes were invented. And the notion of getting back to basics by simplifying our lives will always be a noble one in the age of gadget-and-information overload. The comprehensive lifestyle adjustment that MovNat teaches – going to sleep when the sun goes down, getting regular exposure to nature, avoiding the processed foods and creature comforts that have come to define us as a society – offers plenty of health benefits that would be advantageous to pretty much anybody who tries it.

What really hooked me, though, was the promotional video that’s featured on the MovNat website (and embedded below), showing Le Corre doing some almost unbelievable physical feats – including some highly challenging and high-intensity barefoot running - in nothing more than a pair of shorts. It’s visually stunning and athletically impressive, and if you’re like me, it makes you want to get outside and use the whole world as your playground.

If you do happen to be like me in that regard, and if you have a healthy amount of time and money at your disposal (in which case you're not as much like me as you think), Le Corre conducts primitive boot camps where you sleep in the woods, follow a strict Paleo diet, and receive coaching in this sort of “caveman parkour.” But while I’m completely envious of LeCorre’s talents and training regimen (except for the part where he’s rolling around with another buff sweaty guy in the sand – I’d prefer to skip that particular lesson), you probably won’t be seeing me at a MovNat camp anytime in the future.

I truly appreciate the back to basics movement - especially how its ramifications have impacted my own favorite activity – but it also occurs to me that such hardcore countercultural fervor does more to tap into and exploit our deep-seated human longings than it does to offer practical solutions to the slings and arrows of our modern-day existence. One of my readers, who happens to be a religious studies PhD, has a very insightful take on this: he uses the barefoot running movement (as well as organic food and microbreweries) to symbolize our spiritual efforts to return to the Garden of Eden and experience what the world was like before everything got screwed up. It's an outward manifestation of our inherent desire to draw closer to our creator and find greater meaning in our everyday lives. His brief post makes for a pretty fascinating read; you should definitely check it out.

More tangibly, I’ve never been convinced that modern luxuries are such a bad thing. I’m completely willing to let my inner adventurer run wild all day and all night on rugged mountain trails during an ultra, but I also like a warm shower and comfortable mattress once it’s over. And while there’s certainly a romantic notion to eschewing the technological advances that have collectively dehumanized us, you’d be hard pressed to make an argument that society would be better off without things like mosquito nets or flush toilets or antibiotics – or for that matter, even cell phones or the Internet. Even if the primitive approaches to diet, activity, and human interaction were sustainable in modern times - and I'd argue that they aren't - that's not nearly reason enough to make me actually enjoy them.

I suppose that makes me a lousy caveman in light of the whole MovNat philosophy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t admire and appreciate the feats that Le Corre is able to accomplish. I’ll probably even incorporate bits of his dogma into some of my workouts – I’d certainly rather climb rocks or trees than lift weights in a gym – while I’m running in moccasins and otherwise channeling my inner Tarahumara. In the final analysis, however, I prefer to enjoy the best of both worlds: exploring a distant Garden of Eden every time I disappear into the trails, but happily returning to modern nirvana as soon as I’m finished.

Outside Magazine profile: Erwin Le Corre

MovNat - Erwan Le Corre, "The Workout the World Forgot" (click to play):

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dave 2/17/11, 10:22 PM  

MovNat is very cool. Nice post. There are some good podcasts out there with Erwin as well...

wayne 2/18/11, 5:42 AM  

Great post, Donald. Erwin is indeed an impressive athlete! That being said, I think your philosophical analysis that we're all just chasing Eden in one form or another is spot on. It is pretty much the undercurrent of every "natural" revolution. Oh wait, if it is natural, is it revolutionary? Can't decide if it is graciousness or a bit of taunting that allows us to peer back into Eden, around the angel with the flaming sword.

RD Jim 2/18/11, 7:30 AM  

That was a pretty interesting video. If I could do that sort of thing all day (with shoes) I'd love to. Maybe even get paid for it. I can see that keeping me in serious good shape.

Jesse 2/18/11, 10:09 AM  

I think you missed part of the point. Erwan doesn't live in the woods under a rock. After getting a good workout in the woods above my house I too return to my nice warm house for a hot shower (making sure to scrub the soles of my barefeet).

there's less of a dichotomy here than you seem to want there to be.

That said, I love the analysis that we're trying to get a glimpse of what the world was like before modern times "ruined everything."

Anonymous,  2/18/11, 10:42 AM  

You've once again, challenged us (devotees of the best blog in Monterey County, if not the universe) to think and act. It is our nature to want comfort and connection, and sometimes those two conflict. Part of comfort is mental, not just physical, and we pursue it through understand and rationalizing our world to make it simpler. That's the point when we invent reasons to explain it all in ways we can accept. I could go on, but you know where this would go . . .
Richard A.

Andy 2/18/11, 5:53 PM  

You just saw this!? Man, when I watched it for the first time I wanted to quit my job and move to wherever in Brazil to become his disciple.

I think the Garden of Eden is a fine metaphor, but I think the whole movement is about seeing ourselves not just as metaphysical minds, but as humans and as animals, and embracing what we see -- so we begin to approach life with a primal vigor that shows us that being happy and healthy and being comfortable are different things.

But that doesn't mean you don't get to blog. Even Erwin runs in vibrams occasionally!

D-A-D-D-Y,  2/18/11, 6:52 PM  

The "caveman parkour" description is classic. This is very interesting and will help to keep me working with my VFFs, but I am not going to start sleeping on the floor, or on the deck!


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