Hazel Sillver discovers there’s a ‘Green Gym’ on all our doorsteps – and what’s more, it’s the one we were always meant to use to stay fit and healthy.
In a fitness industry driven by competition and aesthetics, Erwan Le Corre is a beacon of light. His school of natural movement celebrates Nature – both within us and around us.
As millions of feet pound millions of treadmills in air-conditioned gyms the world over, one man in the wilds of New Mexico is quietly starting a natural fitness revolution.
Le Corre is a 40-year-old French athlete who believes that human beings cannot be happy unless they move and that this movement must not only be completely natural but must take place in the natural environment.
He wants to reawaken what he calls our ‘True Nature’. And his school of physical education, MovNat, was set up to show people how to move with healthy posture, just as an animal or a child does. The programme also urges participants to immerse themselves in greenery, whether it be the silent wilds of a remote mountain or the busy hub of an urban park.
To watch Le Corre himself moving over the landscape – always barefoot – is to glimpse our species (Homo sapiens) in its glorious natural form: supremely athletic and really interacting in a physical way with Nature. He lifts rocks, clambers up trees and covers the terrain at pace, all the time retaining good posture. It is a picture of total freedom.
Le Corre prefers the word ‘movement’ to the word ‘exercise’. “Moving in Nature is not a health campaign,” he says. “It’s an instinctive physical, mental and spiritual drive.” With a smile, he asks: “What is the best fitness regime for a tiger?” In other words, he is not selling anything new here; there’s no flashy science, no workout gimmick. Instead, the idea of moving in Nature simply reflects how we are meant to ‘get fit’. It is, he says, “an expression of who we truly are”. And in a world that more usually celebrates fitness only as a route to looking good, staying slim and – as the London Olympics approach – winning and conquering, this attitude of Le Corre’s is a breath of fresh air.
He was brought up in the leafy outskirts of Paris by a father who believed we should have contact with Nature and grow strong within it: “Having his children moving in Nature and toughening up physically and mentally in the process was an educational priority for him,” says Le Corre, “as important as learning to read and write.”
When he was a teenager, Le Corre excelled in sports such as karate, but none of it felt quite right. He became cross when he didn’t win. This all changed when, at the age of 19, he joined a group practising a form of street running called Combat Vital. Under cover of darkness they would scale the bridges of Paris, swim in the Seine, run barefoot through the streets and jump over the rooftops like cats.
He went on to partake in sports such as Olympic weightlifting, long-distance triathlon and jiu-jitsu, before stumbling across a dusty copy of Méthode naturelle when he was 33. This is a manual written in 1912 that illustrates how humans can hone natural motion skills to strengthen and avoid injury.
It matched everything Le Corre had been taught as a child and as a street runner. He decided to create a modern school based upon it. It would be a system of re-education, freeing the body via its true dexterity, in its natural environment and without competitive motive. In 2008 MovNat was born.
Le Corre is now based in the United States, but his instructors travel all over the world. Pupils (of varying abilities and ages) are shown how their bodies are supposed to move. For example, in order to rest, land or pick something up, natural movers will squat – the position enables relaxation and good posture during motion, which prevents injury. Toddlers squat, but after years of sitting and bending over, adults forget.
Such postures are then used to move through the wild. Whereas once he used Paris as his obstacle course, Le Corre now free runs in Nature, bear crawling (moving on all fours) over rocks, jumping streams, scaling trees, lifting logs and swimming in deep blue river pools. This is his outdoor gym and a glorious rejection of the regular air-conditioned gyms, which block out the natural environment and promote the use of machines that are, he says, actually bad for the body.
Unhelpful gym equipment is just one part of what Le Corre likes to call ‘the zoo’ (after Desmond Morris labelled cities ‘human zoos’). “We have domesticated ourselves,” he says, “and live divorced from the Nature within us and around us, trading freedom for false comforts.”
Le Corre defines his hell as being stuck somewhere he couldn’t move his body, without fresh air and sunlight, such as an office cubicle. His bliss is deep-sea diving and he describes the ocean as a natural cathedral.
Other natural movement schools, such as Wildfitness and Exuberant Animal, are joining Le Corre in his quest to satisfy the howl for the wild that lies latent in human limbs. His ultimate vision is to establish MovNat as a physical education model in schools. He wants children to be shown what his father taught him all those years ago – to move as the animals they are, freely, with joy, flexibility and strength, and to do it outdoors, in Nature, where we are all meant to be.
For more information about Erwan Le Corre’s work visit www.movnat.com
MovNat Trainer Certification Workshop in London, UK, October 5th to 7th 2012: The MovNat Trainer Certification Workshop is aimed at those with a passion to share natural human movement and improve the health and well-being of others. The 3 day workshop is designed to provide participants with both an introduction to MovNat as well as all of the necessary teaching tools and fundamental movement principles to become a MovNat Trainer and successfully teach MovNat to any and all, regardless of their entry level of fitness, age and gender.
For more information: www.MovNat.com