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M.O.B.I. Camp at Nine Mountain: A.K.A. My Reintroduction to Physical Play

A week ago I got to participate in a 7-day movement experience. Not a fitness camp or sports camp, or dance seminar or MMA workshop. Instead it was a collective gathering of 30 individuals with multiple movement backgrounds coming together to train, learn, and collaborate on understanding movement and how to push our bodies in a healthy way.

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This event was designed for professional movers – dancers, fighters, clowns, capoeiristas, tree climbers, traceurs, and more. But what I took away from this experience as essentially a non-mover with a 9-5 desk job was just how accessible movement really is for all of us. How it does not have to be a scary, grueling, sweaty, or complicated thing. It does not have to break your body, but instead can heal it. Movement is innately fun and enjoyable for humans, yet somehow we have forgotten that.

This week-long workshop brought together coaches from all movement backgrounds who had all come across the same question: why wasn’t their practice fun anymore? Why did they feel constrained, injured, or simply broken? All of them had gone on different journeys but had all come to the same conclusions of using movement as joy, as exploration, as celebration, as a way to communicate with others and the world.

Out in the hills of western Massachusetts, near the Deer Hill State Reservation, Kelly Bitov, Aaron Cantor, and Jared Williams organized the M.O.B.I. Camp – Movement Orientation and Body Intelligence.

In addition to Aaron Cantor, the coaches there included my husband Rafe Kelley, founder of Evolve Move Play; Shira Yaziv, owner of Athletic Playground; Nuria Bowart, and Tom Weksler. That said, almost everyone there were expert movers, dancers, musicians, and players, with some movement background and area of expertise.

This was truly a bit of an expedition into the unknown for me, not just in the location but what a non-mover like me would and could do.

Single-handing it with two toddlers, car seats in tow, we flew from Seattle, through Boston Logan Airport, and thanks to a generous M.O.B.I. Camp participant carpooling us 2.5 hours west, we arrived in the peaceful quiet of Nine Mountain Retreats.

For seven days we and about 30 other people made food as a community, explored movement as a community, and slept under one roof or nearby in tents.

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We would meet every morning at 8am on the deck and start moving, mostly outside, and basically not stop until bed. There were breaks in between workshops, but there was always some movement challenge or game to try in between class, helping with meals and clean-up, re-filling the water cooler, or in my case chasing the kids around, and chasing or carrying them up and down two flights of stairs.

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The one core element that I noticed about the entire week was how every single teacher, regardless of their background or emphasis, had one underlying criteria to their movement: PLAY!

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Tom Weksler and Mayumu Minakawa having fun in trees.

Each one of them had the same overarching instructions: Explore! Try this! Be open to new experiences! Don’t worry about looking wrong or silly, as long as your intention is real. We are all here doing this single practice together and trying new things together. Exploration is scary but necessary.

All of these teachers shared a similar story of evolution – they had trained deeply in one or two or more systems, and found each lacking, either missing something they craved or disallowing things for seemingly arbitrary reasons or worse breaking down their bodies and feeling worse after doing a movement practice that was supposed to make them feel better.

So often physical training and movement has been focused on goals – lift this much weight, run this fast, point your toes just so. By stripping all of that away – helped in large part by stripping away the gym or classroom and just being outside – people were invited to try new things, explore new paths, and mostly just remember that movement is supposed to be fun and enjoyable and a celebration of what our bodies can do.

For me, someone who is very goal oriented or achievement oriented, it can be hard to let go of that and just be a novice, especially when I am the “only” novice, surrounded by professional movers. There was even a time mid-week where I cried myself to sleep because I caught a glimpse of myself in a video looking totally awkward. BUT, I came back to class the next day, and for the first time I noticed other professional movers looking or feeling awkward in new types of movement they had never tried before. But they did it anyway! So I did it anyway. And we all felt better after the class for moving, for learning, and for getting outside and feeling the fresh air.

I honestly was nervous about having the kids there, as I didn’t want to interrupt the classes with my kids’ screaming and yelling and chasing balls and asking questions about trees. But in some ways their movement practice was just as genuine and valuable as what the coaches were teaching. I also heard feedback from some that having the kids there was also helpful to get out of their usual headspace and remind them to play and not take the whole process so seriously.

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My 3.5-year-old daughter became an honorary member of the group, with lots of adults chatting with her and wanting to dance and play with her. She and her 1.5-year-old brother also benefited from this experience immensely; my daughter only watched a few classes, and participated even less, but just by being around all of these movers and watching the adults play both kids absorbed all of this training and movement and acceptance of physical play like sponges.

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I caught them moving, jumping, dancing, and playing more than even at home; they also tried new tools like using the foam rollers and other apparatus people had brought with them, either copying what the grown-ups did or discovering other uses for them.

For me, the biggest take-away was just being accepting of where I am, not following a “system” or specific “method” but using these and thinking of these as tools. Taking what works and playing with them. Being inspired by the art of the possible, by the coaches and the students. That was the most amazing aspect of the week for me.

I sincerely hope they have another event next year. And I hope that other “non-movers” like me will give themselves a chance to go explore their own movement practices, and frankly to just go out and play and rediscover the joy of moving our bodies, no matter what silly, goofy, or wrong shape it makes.

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