After the running test we leave the road and descend a narrow hiking trail. At the end of the trail we arrive at a waterfall that gracefully feeds a narrow river. MovNat Cert III has entered the ‘wild’ and things are about to get serious.

 

A RIVER RUN

Once all the MovNat participants have arrived at the waterfall Erwan instructs us to remove our shirts and shoes. It’s time to move in nature.

In the dappled green light, and without complaint, all participants wade shirt and short-less into an icy cold river where we are given further instructions.

The first task is to move stealthily, at speed, through the riverbed. This is not a leisurely stroll. It’s a test to see how well we navigate the terrain.

After the instructions are given and leading by example, Erwan tears off down the river. At a point downstream he stops and calls back to the group:

“Now MOVE! I will watch you. I will intuit how well you make your way over the terrain and will make a determination if your movement is sufficient. It’s subjective of course, but I know what I’m looking for and I make the standard.”

With that we move.

The skill here is to let the body ‘off the leash’! The body needs room to be able to respond spontaneously to the terrain. There’s no time to think this activity through. If you try and second guess your movement, to wonder if the surface below will support you, you will stumble and move awkwardly. You must intuit the terrain and move with confidence.

It’s a case of letting go and trusting that your body knows, better than you do, what to do.

 

A STEEP DESCENT

After the river dash down into the valley we exit the stream and make a slow steep ascent. Up, up and up. Until we reach a space 15-25 meters above the river. It’s steep. Very steep. Too steep to sit without sliding so I dig my toes into the earth and use a stump as a brake.

Erwan explains that we’re going to attempt a fast (fast as you dare!) inverted crawl descent down the slope towards the river. The ground is covered in leaves which reassures no one. The leaves merely mask rock and fallen branches.

Like bullets from a gun each team member is called to begin their descent. The descent is a wicked drop which swings around a corner to an end point that can’t be seen from the beginning. No one can see beyond the bend and so everyone, each in turn, greets the unexpected on their downhill scramble.

I’m excited and can feel the effects of epinephrine entering my bloodstream.

When I hear the call, “Go!” I take off.

It’s fast, reckless and dangerous but sooo much fun! I move with as much pace as I dare. Which felt fast! Part way down I realise that there’s a fine line between being in control and completely losing it and I feel as though I’m right on the cusp of a tragic end.

My descent is quick and not without incident. I’ve cut open the middle of my left foot. I’m not sure how bad and right now I’m not going to look. There is more to do.

STEEP ASCENT

From the riverbed we ascend again. Erwan chooses a wickedly steep and muddy hand-foot crawl as the site of the next test.

The test is approximate 10-15meters of an almost vertical climb of rock, mud and exposed tree root. Again Erwan leads the way, testing the test. He’s clearly in complete command of his body which is  inspiring to see. Everyone watches carefully the pathway Erwan chooses.

On this test we’re required to navigate the hill quickly and efficiently. Again, there is no time to think this through and carefully plan a route. The ascent must be fast and naturally dexterous. Each person makes their attempt in single-file because a single dislodged rock could be fatal to the next contender below.

 

HOLD YOUR BREATH: MIND OVER MATTER

After the ascent we walk on through the woods and return to the waterfall. We’ve come full circle. We’re wet, cold, tired and hungry. But just when I think we’re done Erwan announces that he has one more test: to lay face down in the freezing water at the base of the waterfall and hold our breath for 1 minute.

Eh!

Initially I’m not concerned by the test. In fact I’m excited. I’ve been Wim Hof’ing for nearly a year and feel confident about my chances. My confidence was misplaced.

I fail my first attempt at 36 seconds. I try again and reach 15 seconds!

I’m out!

Deflated. Confused. I take my seat on a rock and shiver. Others try. Some succeed and some fail. The group of successful candidates leave the valley and the failed remain behind with Erwan in the stream.

We sit in a huddle and I move in close to the other bodies in an attempt to find warmth and fight off the shivering that is slowly taking over my body.

Erwan sits with us in the water and in a gentle encouraging voice shares his knowledge of when and how to push your limits. His words are warm, motivating and he’s enthusiastic about the success of what will occur on our next, “And last”, attempt:

“Don’t listen to your lungs. They don’t have anything to say. When you are underwater count the seconds. Count to 30. Then start again. Count in 10s. Hold on to your breath and do not give into your mind.”

In a matter of seconds my emotions revolve 180 degrees.

Initially I’m utterly pitiful and angered by my failure. I’m questioning everything and wonder why the heck I’m sitting half naked in a cold river in some modern day Lord Of The Flies initiation rite. Then Erwan’s words starts to penetrate the fog in my mind and in the next moment I feel something shift.

It’s the kind of shift that transforms.

It’s a lesson I’ve learned before: adversity transforms. Discomfort transforms. Taking yourself to a place that makes you uncomfortable, where the gaps in your ability are revealed, is often a surefire way to afford you an opportunity to be better; to grow and realise new potential.

If you want a mantra for being better, try this: “MAKE ME UNCOMFORTABLE.”

Renewed, I kneel down in the frigid water and focus.

I take in several huge breaths and plunge my face and body into the water again. I stretch out my body, let my legs extend and float in the shallow water. I’m fully immersed. It’s cold but I let my body relax and start counting.

In a while I hear the time-keeper above yell “30 seconds” and I’ve only counted 20-something. I’m ahead and experience a boost in confidence.

I start counting to ten. By the second 10-count my lungs are screaming and my rib cage is convulsing in small spasms. I reach for the river-bed floor and grab the biggest stone I can find and pull myself toward it. I commit and say to myself, “I am NOT coming up. F#@k it! I AM NOT COMING UP!”

“1 minute!” Yells the time-keeper.

It’s done!

Having made the time I’m elated and a feeling of euphoria grants me a few extra seconds; more than enough time to make a dignified exit. Slowly I ease my face and shoulders out of the water and kneel on the riverbed.

I turn and smile at my colleagues. My joy is returned to me. I’m no longer cold. And as I kneel in the water contemplating the river, the rush of the waterfall, the soft green of the leafy canopy overhead, I feel in awe of the natural world.

MovNatters make a conscious effort to training bodies to not only deal with the spontaneous but to be open and prepared to learn from nature. To afford nature an opportunity to shape, mold and expand our human capacities.

Today I learned some valuable lessons form a riverbed, an icy waterfall and a muddy slope!

 

OUR EXIT

As we walk out of the valley Erwan stops us and says,

“Be still. Quiet. Look around. Revere the woods. Recognise it as part of us. Be open to it and welcome the notion that there is an intention behind all of it that you can feel and you can be part of.”

We take a moment to let the surrounds swamp our senses and in a short while we exit via the same soft, damp, fecund trail we came in. However, on the exit I’m a different person to the one who walked in. Something in me has shifted.

 

NOT DONE YET

A bus has arrived to take us home but after what has just transpired I’m not done with the woods. Not yet. So I look around and catch Jerome’s eye and ask, “Want to run back?”

Of course it’s a stupid idea. The journey back is entirely uphill and tomorrow is the big Cert III test day, but Jerome flashes me the most mischievous and infections French grin possible and says, “I’m in. Yes!”

Others must have felt the same because it’s a party of 7 that decide to run back to the  accommodation.

It really was a singularly bad idea! Within minutes the ascent is very VERY hard work. We have no water, no food and when we gather at our first ‘T’ junction we realise that none of us are really sure which way to go. Nevertheless the group consults and chooses a direction. Off we go!

To be honest I didn’t care about the exhaustion that was setting in. At this point in the course I’m  beaten up, scratched, cut, bruised, bleeding, stiff and sore, but I felt more alive now than I have for a very long time.

It’s the clean air. It’s the camaraderie. It’s the practice of natural movement and it’s the magnificent landscape that we have had the honour of navigating and the sadness I feel knowing that the course is coming to an end. It’s all of this and more, but ultimately I just wanted more time in these woods and I needed time to think.

THE WAY HOME

We stop to rest and Jermoe asks us to pause. “Stop!” He says, “And listen”.

In silence we sit together and slowly become present to the landscape and to each other. It’s an empathic moment where we have a chance to share the feelings of each other and the mood of the landscape.

The moment reveals to me that while we are singular people, individuals, we become who we are through community: the community of MovNat and our new European Cert III group, the smiles of those who witness our successes and failures, our families and neighborhoods and importantly, the community of all the non-human beings that surround us.

The break is over and we continue on.

WHAT IS MOVNAT?

While walking I scan my dirty, bruised and wounded body and smile inwardly. I tell myself, “These are my MovNat badges of honour.” And a question comes to mind. A question that has come up often among the group over the past three days: “What is MovNat?”

But the question that has seemed so elusive before evaporates on the side of this mountain. After enduring (and surviving) a full day of physical and emotional challenges, I get it!

“Real world practical movement”

I’ve read Erwan’s book so I’ve seen these words before, but now, out here, I feel as though I understand them. In a visceral way I feel as though my body understands the distinctive elements of what MovNat training is about. What makes it unique, special; the intention behind the practice of ‘natural movement’.

All of it comes sharply into focus.*

[*I’ll return to this moment of clarity and understanding about ‘What is MovNat?’ in a single post at the end of this series]

By the time we make it back to the hotel the light is nearly gone. The weather is closing in and it’s very cold. We’ve covered a little over 9kms, or so says the iWatch. Almost all those kilometers were exclusively vertical! We’re tired, sore, unbelievably happy and a warm meal is waiting on the table!

CHICKENS!

It may or may not be true that 7-MovNatters got lost in the Austrian Alps towards the end of Day #3 of the MovNat Cert III course and hitch-hiked home in the back of a poultry van. Again, some say this actually happened. Others will not comment. Some say it’s a fantasy. Those who were there, know. They know.

Damien Norris is the founder and senior whole-body movement and lifestyle coach at The Wilding Project (LINK), Perth Western Australia.

Recently featured in TEDxPerth (LINK), Damien teaches children, young people, adults and seniors how to move and live a full life!

Olympic Fun & Fitness and The Wilding Project like Rewilding is dedicated to a movement rich life. Programs like Gymnastics, GymFIT, FootyEDGE, Parkour, Workplace Athletes, ActiveAgers and more all follow a simple philosophy, “Learn to move well and then never stop.”

Damien Norris