Darryl Edwards, founder of the Primal Play methodology and author of Paleo Fitness, talks about some of the research on inactivity, the subtle yet proliferating messages in our environment that warn us that movement might be dangerous (and I also let loose on a mini rant about how kids are indoctrinated into sedentarism), how his acronym PRIMALity spells out a thoughtful take on what our movement programs should address, and what a play-based lifestyle looks like.
Darryl began working in technology in banking. He had a number of health issues and it all pointed to him changing his lifestyle radically or being on medication for the rest of his life.
Exploring that he encountered the ancestral health and paleo approach. Once he changed his lifestyle, he realized he couldn’t’ do the type of work he was doing previously, and made this work his career.
Jeremy Morris did research in the 1950’s on bus drivers and bus conductors (in resources). The drivers were sedentary, and the conductors were very mobile collecting tickets, helping people on the bus, etc. Everything else in their lives was the same except for their occupation. Bus drivers were 3X as likely to have heart disease.
Today physical inactivity research shows that it is the biggest risk factor in premature death- bigger than smoking, diabetes, obesity. Apart from hypertension, everything else is secondary as a cause for premature death.
Is sitting the new smoking? Physical inactivity is more dangerous than smoking, but it’s the fact that were are relying on the chair more than the fact that we are sitting that is the problem. There are cultures all over the world where people are sitting, but they still need to engage their muscles, whereas in a chair you can be slumped and propped up. So sitting in the Western sense- the inactive sense- is the problem.
If you’re in a chair you can almost just freeze in that position and just have your fingers moving along the keyboard and can get really comfortable with this static position. In the Western world we can literally sit in a chair all day.
There are all these almost subliminal messages in our environment that tell us not to move. For example, if you see stairs there will be a sign presented telling you to not take the stairs if you’re carrying bags, or that the lift is around the corner, etc. We are being fed signals that movement is dangerous. That because it is work, it is actually dangerous.
Now that Darryl is looking around he’s seeing it everywhere. In the airport for example, as soon as he gets off the plane he sees the gate with a travel aide, walking sidewalk that will take you 20-30 meters. People should be stretching their legs, but they can’t wait to interact with an electronic device to move them from A to B.
You don’t need to go to the gym, you can just start interacting with your environment.
Darryl spent a lot of time trying to get fit, and then to stay fit. There is always this element of the hard work you need to do to make that happen. It suits a certain type of person, but a lot of people really struggle with that paradigm. Darryl says he falls into that category. He loves the benefits of exercise, but he really dislikes getting there.
A lot of the options for exercising are just not that enticing. Or if they are made to be playful, they are somewhat sanitized and become about not breaking a sweat, etc. When you do need to challenge yourself.
What does a play based lifestyle look like? It is the antithesis of my [Darryl’s] previous life. Everything was hard work. In terms of having fun movement, an approach to life that is more playful, that’s overlooked as being trivial and frivolous.
I want instant gratification- a purity of movement that is inherently enjoyable.
Find what you enjoy doing and ensure you are getting the benefit of that movement. It’s not so much what you do as your mindset. Kids have that recipe inherently. They don’t need to be taught how to play- they know how to play.
They either get taught to not play, or they get distracted by the iPad. If that’s what they are being taught as a way to keep themselves occupied, that’s what they will see as their way to be playful.
Darryl is teaching a lot of kids now how to play again. Recess is being cut, playtime is being cut. And when you do get kids into an unsupervised play they don’t know what to do. They get messages that they can’t climb trees because they might get hurt, and their playgrounds need to be so safe.
I talk about the looks I get when I take my son out to play outdoors.
Some parent’s are so concerned about eliminating all risk, that it becomes meaningless. They need to be able to explore their capabilities. to be able to risk assess.
I mention that we are teaching them safety when we have them get in their own bodies, they learn their own boundaries.
There are more kids who injure themselves falling out of bed who end up in A and E (the ER) than there are kids falling out of trees, as opposed to 20 to 30 years ago. Kids can’t even fall out of bed now, because they don’t even know how to fall.
I talk about volunteering at my son’s school and the librarian kept telling them to “sit safely” and that meant not to squirm at all, as if that is not safe. The punishment if they couldn’t was that they would have to stand. So I took my son aside and let him know that having the chair taken away was a reward.
PRIMALity is the acronym Darryl uses to define his approach:
P is for play-based movement.
The R is movement that should be regenerative. A lot of movement practices we follow tend to be quite destructive, and are making us prone to injury. It should be promoting youthfulness.
I is for instinctive movement. A lot of those movements we have completely lost touch with: climbing, crawling, etc. We can lose those abilities.
M is for mindfulness when it comes to movement. It’s about a meditation, you have to get into the zone. If you’re so focused on the moment and time disappears and you are just enjoying what you are doing in the moment- that’s very natural. it’s a return to what we had as a child. As opposed to being focused on the end result, or the workout ending.
A is for adaptation. As omnivores when it comes to food, we should be omnivores with movement too. We are designed to be movement generalists, not movement specialists. We need that diversity and range of movements.
L is life-giving and life-enhancing. It should make you feel alive, and not make you feel as if you want to die!
I is about integration of movement. Rather than thinking about the biceps or triceps, or back, etc, asking how you can get your whole body engaged. And also integration into your day. Instead of being sedentary for most of the day and then having 30 minutes when you exercise, trying to be opportunistic about your movement.
T is for tactical. Or doing whatever you can do to improve where you are.
The Y is what really fascinates me: youthfulness and the vitality that comes from moving. What I realize I really want tform movement is to be independent for as long as possible.
In his Ancestral Health Symposium talk (in resources) he got people up and playing and moving with one another. He also got into another issue of sharing- that we often move alone and don’t spontaneously invite people into a play session.
Even when we champion the group setting, it is really just about he individual who happens to be in a room with X number of others, rather than that group acting as one organism.
What he really enjoys about this is that when we’re working together as a team with playfulness, then you can play a game where it’s just participating that is important. And the closest analogy he can think of is playing tennis. You can play a game and one person wins and one loses, but if you instead don’t make it a game and you turn it into the longest volley ever with no rules and the only goal is to see how much you can keep it going, it’s a totally different experience.
I talk about my introvert nature and watching the AHS talk and seeing the level of delight that people were experiencing in playing with another person spontaneously.
Darryl wants to level the playing field, where everyone is at the same place with one another. In the park recently he saw a boxer and a chihuahua and the chihuahua was barking ahead of time, and then they started to play fight. The boxer was holding back enough to get the play effect, and the chihuahua was going 100% to hold his own, and then they finished and just went on their way. They were not an even match, but when playing they were equal partners. It’s something an animal instinctively creates, children can do that too, but as adults we put ourselves in categories that focus on our differences in abilities.
The challenge for me is to put a couch potato and an elite athlete together and have them both feel like they got into it.
Darryl is currently observing people playing. He is trying to let go of the idea that the only way he can achieve anything is through hard work. Slowly but surely his life is becoming more about play.
He is watching this show Got to Dance and the levels of creativity- there are some that are very skilled and have great technique, and there are others who turn that skill level into something extraordinary. I want to put in dance, martial arts- whatever I can to make it fun. Like the slow motion fighting! (watch the AHS video!) As a child you would build those layers of creativity naturally. Let’s play fight: now let’s slow it down like a slow motion movie: now let’s add sound effects.
It was amazing to watch everyone doing this at the AHS talk.
It’s easy to choose home play when Darryl created such an excellent video of options. At the end of his talk at the 2014 Ancestral Health Symposium (linked below) he got the whole audience up, partnered, and playing in 3 different ways. See which one you want to choose for home play this week:
1) A version of push hands (if you are familiar with it from martial arts) that is more dynamic and involves more multi-planar movement.
2) Slow motion play fighting (no contact, and it’s in slow motion like you were watching a movie in slow motion). With sound effects…
3) A squat jump high-five with a partner.
So much fun! Check out the video for a visual, try them out, and see what your new favorite is. Better yet, what playful movement creations will you come up with on your own this week?