“Community is the most important thing. I used to think individual experience was the most important but I’m coming around to community…. I just love this planet we live on and the beauty of all the living things.”
:: Simon Thakur
Simon Thakur is a very interesting man. I met him on a Natural movement camp in Australia. We wrestled, and he taught me a sliver of what he knows. I could see that beneath the humble and hairy exterior was vast depths of knowledge and experience.
As he explained movement patterns for us to try, he referred to evolutionary biology, Yoga, Pilates, Feldenkrais, Qigong, Capoeira, Chinese Japanese and Russian martial arts, dance, Movnat, Parkour, animal mimicry, indigenous cultures, neuroscience, Taoism gymnastics…. and more.
I was fascinated by a man who quite clearly walked the talk and had spent his life in the humble and curiosity fuelled quest to understand what it is to be a human being with a body and mind.
For Simon, exploring movement using his body is a deep inner journey: “I feel in my body more at home on the earth… all I have to do is look and sense my own body to know how completely at home I am here.”
In this wide ranging 80 minute conversation we cover many topics that will give you a fascinating (and alternative) perspective on peak performance (not that Simon used the words “peak performance”:
- What Simon learned from his many teachers
- The reality of being a Buddhist monk. “I was 18, and it was just really cool. I had the robes and everything.”
- Weird experiences while on deep meditations
- Time, self and space distortions and other mystical experiences, and how neuroscience explains such things
- “More Chicken legs!”- The practice his Chinese teacher told him was the key to improving everything, mind and body
- Re-wilding, how the philosophy is very different to survival
- Flow states and capoeira
- A particular technique of meditation as a gateway to flow states
- Stories of Psychic powers vs. the rigour of Neuroscience
- Why he studies evolutionary biology
- How reality is subjective
- The power of the stories we tell
Rather than try and explain, I’ll ask you to read the below excerpt before listening in to the interview so you have a foundation of awareness about who Simon is, and what inspires him. I have taken this from his website which I urge you to go check out.
“Ancestral Movement is my project, my “big idea” that has come from more than twenty years of practice and research across a wide range of fields. I have studied the natural sciences since I was in high school and through university – covering the basics of physics and mathematics and going deeper into chemistry, biology, physiology and anatomy (including a year of weekly cadaver studies), exercise science, nutrition, biochemistry, molecular cell biology and molecular genetics, immunology, and neuroscience, as well as psychology, anthropology, archaeology, sociology, history and religious studies.
I have studied and worked as a physical rehabilitation practitioner for over a decade, starting with Chinese medicine (focusing on Tuina), Shiatsu and traditional Thai massage, then moving into remedial massage, myotherapy (an attempt in Australia to re-create a “hands on” style of physical therapy for pain problems somewhat similar to physio) and rehabilitative exercise, and eventually getting a degree in “Health and Rehabilitation Science”.
During all of this time I have also been learning and practicing predominantly Eastern traditions of martial arts and mind-body transformation. I was obsessed with Yoga and martial arts as a child and read everything I could find in the public library (back in Dunedin, New Zealand, where I grew up).
I did some Judo as a kid, some boxing and kickboxing as a teenager, then went on a year-long student exchange to Thailand when I was 17, knowing only that I wanted to practice Muay Thai and learn about Buddhism and meditation. I ended up living with my Muay Thai teacher, and ordained as a monk during my the end of my time there at the age of 18, staying for a wonderful month at Wat Tong Pai near Chumphon in south Thailand, and a beautiful couple of weeks at Suan Mokh forest retreat centre near Surat Thani. I was introduced to Buddhism through the works of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, whose incredible 550 page translation and commentary on the Buddha’s Anapanasati Sutta (discourse on mindfulness based in the in- and out-breaths) is still my most treasured meditation manual, which I return to every year for further study.
Since then I have studied Japanese Jujitsu, Capoeira, Chinese internal martial arts and Qigong, Yoga and Yoga therapy, Feldenkrais, Butoh, Contact Improvisation, Pilates, Kit Laughlin’s Stretch Therapy and Monkey Gym, parkour, smatterings of Russian Systema and Mixed Martial Arts, and more recently Brazilian Jujitsu, freestyle wrestling, and Filipino Eskrima (also called Kali, or Arnis). I have lived for close to ten years in Asia – in Thailand, India, Japan, China and Taiwan – and six months in Brazil, studying and learning from the best people I could find, always trying to get as close as I could to the source of the arts and traditions that I found most interesting.
I have been a professional movement teacher since 2003, teaching Capoeira Angola, Yoga, Qigong, and for the last few years “natural movement”, which was the term I decided to use to describe the distillation of all of my studies into an open system of free exploratory movement training based on sound principles of anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, neuroscience and evolutionary biology, creating new movements and games or methods while maintaining respect for the original traditions from which many of these ideas are drawn. Since I started openly talking about ancestral movement and teaching natural movement, I have been meeting and learning from a growing network of people who practice “bushcraft”, “wilderness” or “survival” skills, or “rewilding”. There are many people out there who have the same sense that these ancient skills which have been almost completely lost from many of our cultures are actually of immense value, for helping us through the current historical period and the immediate future of climate change and potentially massive ecological collapse, and also for simply better understanding our past and our place in the living world.
I have not worked as a “therapist” now for several years. I find movement practice to be far more satisfying and far more beneficial, so I teach movement and meditation classes and run workshops and retreats which are accessible to people of all fitness levels. Everyone, absolutely everyon
e who comes has some sort of physical or psycho-social ailment that they want to improve – injuries, sickness, weakness, stiffness, shyness, sadness, or whatever. The point is simply that whatever our current condition might be, we can all change – gradually, over time – through applying the right kinds of stimulus to our bodies and to our minds. We work to change the physical structures of our bodies, and we work to change our brains, our perception, and our whole minds, using the same combination of movement, awareness, attention, breath, posture, relaxation, diet, education, and time in nature.
I have finally come to understand that community is the most important factor in human health and happiness, so now my work is more focused on building stronger communities based around fun healthy movement, joyful embodiment, ancestral skills and deeper connection to nature.”
Interesting Links to Simon Thakur’s Work
- Body Maps- Changing Bodies in our Heads
- His first ever post on Ancestral Movement
- The Ancestral Movement Youtube channel
- A video of one of Simon’s Quarterly retreats
A Quote I wanted to share from Simon’s website, which says a lot about him (I mean, who spends a summer following a lizard around a forest! Simon does.):
“I spent days one summer quietly following a monitor lizard around in the forest, feeling clearly for the first time that the undulating spine and alternating contralateral-diagonal stepping patterns in it’s crawling pattern were the same as those in my walking and swimming, and that this made perfect sense since my ancestors were lizards. Not just a head with its eyes and ears and mouth and nose, a neck and a spine, but hips and shoulders, elbows and knees, wrists and ankles, fingers and toes. Most of the fundamental patterns of my own body structure were present in that lizard, which, to me, meant that I was in many fundamental ways still a lizard.”