See if this sounds familiar: you get a crummy night’s sleep; you’re tired so you skip your “workout;” your work suffers; you binge on social media; you beat yourself up because you binged on social media and you missed your workout and have accomplished nothing; you load up on caffeine; because you haven’t moved or worked and are now jacked up on caffeine you have another crummy night’s sleep. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Welcome to my life of the past five years. The year we put our house on the market and began our move to Gloucester, sleep left me. With it went productivity, exercise, social interaction and happiness. This is not a post about a new sleeping pill or mattress, it’s about the biomechanist who has shaken up my entire way of being in the world, and as a result has made me a better artist.
Her name is Katy Bowman, and because of her I am typing this on the floor sitting cross-legged on a cushion. I first heard her interviewed on the ReWild Yourself podcast, and although I found her ideas interesting, they weren’t the usual drop everything and turn your world upside down strategies that I love to weird out my family with (raw veganism, 92-day juice fast, sleeping in a hammock, eating only meat, ayahuasca with a shaman in the jungle, ETC). Her ideas sounded pretty pedestrian: walking, squatting, hanging, or as she puts it, nutritious movement (yawn). But as I was listening to her while drawing at my stand-up (points for that) drawing table, I found myself squatting to move the picture on my laptop, balancing on one foot at a time, and looking out the window to rest my eyes. What was this witchcraft??
I continued to search for the perfect herbal sleep remedy or pillow, but in the meantime I ordered her book, Move Your DNA, from the library. I perused her blog and peeked at her Instagram. That’s when I came across the video tour of her FURNITURE-FREE house. Now here was something I could sink my teeth into.
My family were genuinely worried that I might start selling the furniture while they were out for the day, so I kept it simple and just stopped using the furniture. I sat on the rug, pulled out my long-neglected yoga bolster, sat on the grass outside (what?!) and moved homeschooling to the floor.
Next boring idea to incorporate: walking. I’m a fan of walking, but it never seemed really worth the time-investment. When I dug a little deeper I found out that Katy’s idea of walking was a little more radical (perfect), and yet natural. Walk a lot, every day. Walk to do your stuff. Leave your car in the driveway as much as humanly possible. Carry stuff while you walk (groceries, books, a kid). So I started asking myself, “Could I walk there?” before I climbed into the car. I started walking the dogs separately (hell of a lot easier since they have two different speeds) and instantly doubled my walking time.
Soon I made the bold decision to WALK out my neighborhood of East Gloucester and let my feet take me to downtown Gloucester or to the grocery store, to an art show, to a community clean-up. And I did it barefoot. I learned to carry water and a phone, because suffering from dehydration two miles from my house was embarrassing and and required a rescue from my husband.
Third step: sleeping on the floor without a pillow. I’m a whole hog kind of gal so I threw a wool blanket down on a rug, topped it with a quilt and called it a bed. The bruised hips only lasted a few days and it took me a couple of weeks to wean myself off the pillow, but somehow I was waking refreshed each morning from my hard little nest on the floor and ready to take my long walk with Popo at 6 am.
(Important Disclaimer: Katy would not endorse kicking off your shoes and walking for miles and throwing away your pillow overnight. There are gradual stages to all of these changes which she explains in her books).
So you’d think the exciting part of this would be sleep and stamina and new muscles and healthy joints, right? No! I mean, all that happened too, but here was the real surprise–life opened up to me in a whole new brilliant way. Here are things I’ve noticed on my walks:
- architecture is wild and wonderful and houses are full of smells and sounds and colors that you will never notice driving by
- when you drive by a house you see bushes and trees, but when you walk by you see the zinnia lovers, the sunflower lovers, the rose experts, you see a “Trading Shelf” and every kind of berry and nut and rose hip and the birds who love them
- walking humans are so much nicer than driving humans. Walkers say good morning without fail, they smile and they might even tell you your dog looks like Benji (they do this everyday). In comparison, I nearly get run off the road by a pickup truck on a daily basis
- on the subject of humans, I have neighbors who seem happy to catch up with this former hermit
My favorite example came from walking to a pond I had never walked to before, just to see if I could, and when I got there, the only other individual present was a solitary swan. A SWAN was quietly feeding just yards from me on this beautiful glassy pond with views of the ocean beyond, that I had never bothered to walk to.
So how has all of this affected my art? Well, because I sleep at night I have time to get up early and walk; because of that I’m energized to get in two hours of drawing before we start school; because I’m running into artists around this art colony where I live I can chat with them, hear about events, and can take the time to look in gallery windows for inspiration. And because I’m stronger, more energized, and more social, I’m happier and have more to give to my craft.
So thank you, Katy, for teaching me that movement is as fundamental as food, water, community and sleep to the human experience, and you don’t need money, a FitBit or a gym membership to change your life.