Digging for Energy: How Play Feeds the Body and Soul (and where I potentially make a fool of myself)


I uncovered a hidden source of energy recently. Though now suspect that it had been there all along, lurking in the shadows as I was (metaphorically!). The problem was I never was able to harness the energy before because I was too shy and afraid of embarrassment. I was suppressing any urges to do it and get down when opportunities presented themselves.

Nope, I’m not being euphemistic here, just intentionally vague. All I’m talking about is dancin’, so get yer head out of the gutter, that’s my home not yours…unless you’re one of them 4chan folk, in which case, it’s all yours.

Ahem. So, back to that whole energy source deal - Parkour and playing around outside in general have always been a consistent font of irrepressible energy for me. A good training session always leaves me buzzing and upbeat, especially if I tried something new or conquered a tough obstacle. The feeling is addictive, which could explain why I’m always scanning for more opportunities to move and play (or I’m just obsessed, your call).

Problem is, sometimes life gets in the way and it becomes difficult to move outside every day. Dance though can be done anywhere. Ever since I let the beat infect me it’s been near impossible **not **to dance every day. Yes yes, there will be video, I promise, but let’s rewind first, because getting to this point was a complete, and rather illustrative, accident.

Chaos! Lost habits and drained vitality

In the years and months before I left Chapel Hill it was easy to get some movement in on most days. I could take a quick jaunt into the woods behind my house, screw around in the backyard, or get a bit of practice in before teaching classes. Even on days when I did not have had time for a proper, dedicated, training session I had little excuse to not do something since I was surrounded by good options.

Once I left - starting with a road trip to help my brother move to San Diego - all my usual movement opportunities disappeared. I felt as though I had less time and opportunity to move around, and all my established habits went right out the window. The amount of time I spent training and playing gradually declined over the next several months, with my energy levels and enthusiasm following suit. The drain became super evident in Switzerland. With all the manual labor involved in volunteering on farms I was moving around a ton every day; something was missing though. None of that daily movement was making me feel more alive, not like my own training and play did.

I didn’t just need movement; I needed movement that brought me to life.

That isn’t to say I faded away completely. I would find great opportunities to move from time to time. Playing around with climb-ups and hefting rocks during breaks from work at a chalet surrounded by stunning views of the Swiss Alps remains hard to beat. The problem was that those occasions were awesome but sparse, so the vitality boost I got from them would fade before the next opportunity presented itself.

Sure, I noticed the steady decline in excitement and energy I had, but I didn’t do much to try and fix it. There’s an observation that we are only willing to make big changes once the situation becomes unbearable; it was absolutely true for me in this case. It was only when I was feeling lonely and filled with sadness after my breakup that I sought out ways to revitalize myself and claw out of that emotional pit.

Two things helped me more than anything to climb back up: immersing myself in nature and exploration/play through movement. I spent most of time during those weeks quietly wandering the forest, finding a nice spot, then pausing to reflect for a while - sometimes at the edge of the lake, sometimes on some fallen tree. If, during my wanderings, an interesting obstacle caught my eye I’d stop and play with, on, and around it before continuing my meandering. The play in particular did an amazing job of pulling me up that I promised myself to get some playful movement in every day. Taking inspiration from Danielle LaPorte, whose book I was reading, I dubbed the habit “feeding the soul fire.”

None of the above how or why I’ve become a dancing fool since then. A good beat wouldn’t yank me to my feet as it does now. Sometimes discoveries can come from the most unexpected sources and people.

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” -Plato

All this talk about dancing, it’s all Sébastien Foucan’s fault. Well, kinda, I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, it happened during a Parkour class after all.

I found out Foucan taught classes in London, so grabbed the chance to learn from him. I’m a lucky bastard and somehow I was the only one in the class, so it turned into a one-on-one session. It was Fall, so the theme of the classes was on flow and smooth movement. As part of that, Foucan had me do an improvised ground flow (like this old video, but without the imagined box), something I had done before, but to music. How you do it is simple. Put on some music and just let yourself move with the music. The only real rules are to stay (mostly) on all fours and to not overthink it. I was in love with the idea of combining music and improvised movement the moment he showed it to me.

Once I returned to the U.S. I put the new idea into practice during my breaks from writing. For a while it was all some chaotic jumble of crawling, rolling, and other practical movements thrown together. Bad idea with fast paced songs, zipping around on all fours for 5+ minutes was exhausting. Fun, but I didn’t want to be a complete sweaty mess every single day. Still, after just a week of doing this I got the irresistible urge to move when a good song started playing. I looked up some (standing) breakdancing steps and started practicing them on some days to avoid burning myself out.

After a few days repetitive practice turned into improvised dance and this started happening (did I keep you waiting? Soo not sorry ;) ):

I was hooked and found myself relying on dancing every day to keep the “feeding the soul fire” habit going strong during the three months I spent in D.C. Dance has consistently left me feeling charged, even when I spend as little as five minutes dancing, that (for me) it’s now integral for feeling awesome day to day. This is just the beginning, expect to see much more as I experiment on my own and take plenty of classes to continue improving (I began with a few Modern classes while in DC).

Perhaps dance or music doesn’t seize you the way it does for me. Even if not, I know that there is some kind of movement that will consistently light you up and brighten even your lowest day. How do you discover what yours might be? Taking classes in dance, martial arts, Parkour, or other movement arts can give you some ideas and directions to pursue. Try Foucan’s game (before and after you learn new skills) and let music pull your body into motion. The beauty of having no one right answer for everyone is that you’re free to choose anything that drives you to move. Free choose a style or even combine what you like into your own unique brand of movement, à la Bruce Lee. As Ido Portal would say, you’re a human first, a mover second, and only a specialist after those two.

Bonus challenge: Remember that picture at the top? There _might _ be a video it came from, and no, those aren’t my grandpa’s clothes. However, for fun, let’s do silly and borderline embarrassing things together. Make your own video dancing to Thrift Shop (as long as you’d like). With enough submissions I’ll piece them all together to make something a little more epic than just me prancing around whilst donning a fedora. ;) (If Youtube will let me, anyhow)

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