Forgotten Movement Practices

Reading Time: 9 minutes

For the mainstream health and fitness industry, a movement practice generally refers to exercise, which is, as Daniel Lieberman describes in his book Exercised, “voluntary physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive, and undertaken to sustain or improve health and fitness”

Here at Wild Life HQ, exercise is just one small part of the movement jigsaw. We like to look at our movement picture as a whole. Exercising and workout sessions are great, but so is the quality of our daily general movements, our walking, and our resting positions.

white dice on white surface

When we look at what movement truly is, differing loads placed onto tissue and even cells, and their corresponding motion, we can see that movement is occurring on a constant basis. Whether it’s the way our muscles, tendons, ligaments and blood flow are affected by what position we choose to rest in, or the intricate dance of muscles, fluids and gases used during respiration, our bodies are in a constant state of flow one way or another.

We know that in general we need to move more, and for most people this will involve the large obvious movement patterns. But what about the less obvious ones?

What follows are just a few ‘forgotten’ movement patterns that we believe everyone would benefit from including into their movement practice. Why ‘forgotten’? Well these movement practices/patterns would have been a fairly regular occurrence to our ancestors but, as with so much in modern life, we have outsourced much of these movement needs to other means.

Many of these practices will not at first look like movement as we typically know it, but movement they are, and the lack of these practices is having a deleterious effect upon us.

Focal Length

close up photo of person s eye

Humans interacting in a natural environment will be switching focal lengths continually. For our ancestors, focusing on the work close at hand, be that craft or foraging plants, then looking further afield both mid-range and distant, to keep an eye out for predators, changing weather patterns, or simply enjoying the vista, the muscles of the eye were constantly working.

To look at an object close by, the small muscles attached to the lens need to contract. This causes the centre of the lens to thicken, bringing the object into focus. To see things at distance the muscles need to relax and the lens thins.

As with all movement what we are really aiming for is to achieve a full range of motion in the relevant muscles. When we are working with a reduced range we end up with issues.

When we sit in a chair all day we often find that our hip flexors (at the front of our hips) shorten and the extenders (at the back) are unable to engage fully. This leaves us with reduced mobility and potential back pain issues.

Now back to the eyes. Imagine if we lived in a world where we mainly focused on objects less than an arm length away. A world where we focused at this length for huge chunks of the day with little or no chance of lengthening that focal length to the horizon.

It’s sounds an awful lot like our modern age and typical office set up. We spend an ungodly amount of time looking at the phone in our hand or the screen on our desk. Many office spaces utilise the cubicle setup often lacking any kind of window with a view.

It’s like we are living in a 2 dimensional world.

And what are the issues with only having a short focal length?

aerial photo of city with lights during night time

When we lose the ability to change focus from close to far we can end up myopic, or short sighted.

According to the Optometrists Network:

Over the past 20 years, the number of children with myopia has increased significantly.

‘In Asia up to 90 percent of children are now myopic, and in the U.S. the number of children with myopia will increase from 39 million in 2020 to 45 million by 2050.’

Some of the factors contributing to this are:

  • Lack of outdoor play time, reducing the option for looking into the far distance and general focal length alternation
  • Prolonged use of digital devices
  • Prolonged near vision tasks

Higher levels of myopia can lead to higher risk of vision threatening disease.

And another interesting result of constant short focal length is our stress response.

When we are in a fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system) stress response our vision changes. The pupil dilate, the lens position shifts, our vision narrows and focal point becomes fixed, the background then becomes blurry.

This is essentially what is happening when we stare at a screen all day.

When we are in a calm, relaxed, rest and digest (parasympathetic) state, our vision becomes wide angle and the muscles of the lens relax.

And as with our breathing (see my post here) we can actually use our vision to reverse engineer our stress response.

If you are in a fixed, close range focal length it may well trick the brain into thinking you are at threat, thereby triggering a fight or flight stress response. This could well be a contributing factor to the increased sense of anxiety felt by many in this modern age.

The answer?

Work that range of motion. Set many little movement breaks in your day and use some of them for your eyes. Put down the phone, step away from the screen, go outside or find a window and look to the horizon. This will help elicit the calm, parasympathetic nervous system response and make you feel much more chilled. It’s also the perfect way to allow the muscles surrounding the lens to relax.

And one more thing with the eyes. Let’s not forget the muscles that move the eye too. If you are right handed the chances are that you overuse the muscles that draw your eye down and to the right. This is from the sneaky peek at your phone that you undoubtedly do continually throughout the day. So, to remedy this, be sure to direct your gaze up and to the left at intervals throughout the day. Obviously reverse this for lefties.


Both cold and heat exposure have long been used for therapeutic purposes. I have mentioned cold water immersion (here) and my own love of the practice, but have not mentioned it’s counterpart, heat exposure. The reasons why heat exposure is not utilised by me as much is mainly due to practicality. It’s far easier to find a cold plunge than it is a sauna, and with the recent Covid restrictions in place, this was even more the case.

wood light man people

As much as I would love my own sauna, my bank account would not. That said, both cold and heat exposure have a myriad of well documented benefits on the human body and mind alike.

But what has this to do with movement? This is movement on an internal level. Let’s look at cold exposure to start with.

Your lymphatic system is a vast network of vessels that flow throughout your body and act as a cleansing system, clearing out waste, bacteria and microbes from your cells. The lymphatic system does not have a pump like the blood system, and relies on the contraction of the muscular system to move the fluid around. This is yet another reason to move more!

When we immerse ourselves in cold water, the lymphatic vessel contracts forcing the lymphatic system to pump it’s fluid around the body, and at a greater pressure, cleaning out the build up of gubbins and waste. This then triggers the immune system to release more white blood cells to destroy unwanted substances in the fluid, keeping us well and healthy.

Now let’s look at heat exposure. When we are are in a sauna or a hot bath our blood vessels dilate increasing the amount of blood flow and decreasing our blood pressure (be warned, those of you with already low BP!). This exposure to heat and subsequent change in blood vessels causes the heart to work harder, and elevates the heart rate akin to moderate exercise (think vigorous walking). The volume of blood your heart is pumping also increases, especially if in hot water due to the added pressure on the body from the liquid.

When we exit the sauna/bath the vessels slowly contract again, BP rises, and heart rate slows. When we engage in this activity regularly this will increase our ‘vascular compliance’, the circulatory system’s ability to adjust to increase demands and flow.

Some people will combine the two systems of hot and cold therapy in the form of ‘contrast therapy’, switching from hot to cold and back again numerous times. The idea is that it promotes the alternation of vasodilation (blood vessels widening) and vasoconstriction (blood vessels narrowing), creating a pumping action, thereby increasing vascular compliance and aiding the pumping effect of the lymphatic system.

There is not a huge amount of scientific literature yet on the therapy and anyone with existing cardiovascular issues should probably steer clear unless given the go ahead by a doctor. And this is relevant for both hot and cold exposure too. If in doubt, get checked out.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

The way we breathe is rarely considered but affects our health, both physically and mentally, in major ways.

The act of breathing in and out is an obvious movement pattern, but a less than optimal technique can have major effects on our posture and range of motion throughout our bodies.

The main muscle used for breathing is the Diaphragm, situated inside the lower rib cage. During inhalation the diaphragm contracts to allow space in the rib cage for the lungs to inflate. The intercostal muscles between the ribs help to flare the rib cage out creating even more room.

The issue that we have nowadays is that we are not breathing in this optimal way. The diaphragm is hardly used at all and we are reliant on the small intercostal muscles with help from the neck and collar muscles.

Why? One theory is that it’s due to our dominant posture. For many this is the seated position.

Chronic sitting and desk/tech work can leave us with forward and internally rotated shoulders, tightening of the chest muscles, a forward head position (tech neck), shortened hip flexors at the front and weak posterior chain muscles at the back. This will often leave people with an anterior pelvic tilt, think tight hollow curve of the lower back.

In short it leave us with a decidedly unstable structure, back pain and the inability to fully use our diaphragm.

The effect on our breathing system is to rely on the outward and upward flare of our rib cage.

Try it now. Breathe in by lifting your rib cage up and hold the in-breath. The likelihood is you have tilted your pelvis down at the front, hollowing your lower back, and your head will be slightly jutted forward.

This is the very position that is exacerbating the breathing problem in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle, one leading to the other, and before we know it we are a society of misaligned mouth breathers with a whole host of postural issues.

Now try a diaphragmatic breath.

Place one hand on your abdomen, just below the rib cage, and one on your chest. As you breathe in, feel the air being drawn down deep into your belly so that your abdomen pushes your lower hand out. As the breath continues into the lungs you should then feel your rib cage rise slightly. Again, hold the in-breath.

Now cast your attention to your pelvis, lower back and neck. They should all still be beautifully aligned in a strong stacked manner, no excessive forward tilt, no extreme arching.

Not only is this good for the posture, it’s the default way we were intended to breathe, the optimal way of passing the right concentration of gasses to and from our blood and the atmosphere outside ourselves.

This too is movement.

These are just three forgotten movement pattern and practices, once common to all humans, that are easy to introduce to your own daily movement practice. There are many more that we will cover at a later date.

So for now, go forth and look far. Look in every direction imaginable. Get out there and experience a whole host of temperatures. Be comfortable feeling a little uncomfortable. And take a breath. Take a deep one. Fill your belly. Fill your soul.

Better yet, find a cold plunge or a hot tub with a stunning distant view and breathe those beautiful belly breaths to help you deal with the small amount of discomfort the cold or heat brings you.

It’s your right as a human being.

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