The Limitations of the Playground and the Boundaries where Exercise Lives

The Limitations of the Playground and the Boundaries where Exercise Lives

This is a reflection by coach Shie Boon about pre-school children’s behaviour after years of reading, observation and experimentation. He now leads the Bambini program in MOVE Academy Singapore.

Boundaries where movement can be free within limits the potential of movement benefits all other times and places external of those boundaries.

Why do playgrounds exist? And gyms? It seems the natural human desire to allocate and organise for specific tasks is in play, something like a house where rooms have different functions.

Is one able to play and retrieve the benefits of moving one’s body if not for the boundaries that socially allow such activities to occur?

I imagine the vast landscapes of Earth, where no gym or playground exists. Yet there are rocks and logs to carry and lift, slopes and mountains to climb, tree branches to hang and balance on, pebbles to throw, water to touch, plants to reach for. And no one really to tell you what to do and what not to.

The battle between the ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ yet again begins. To only enter the state of freely moving at socially expected places for doing so, makes one like a robot that sticks to its instructions for majority of the daily functions. After all, most of us only ‘go to the gym’ once or twice a week. Worse still, when this instructional sheet becomes widely accepted, we start to think it is normal to feel rigid.

I’d like to think that my teachings of parkour to seniors enable them to break-free of the boundaries and perceptions of movement expression. They play like children, catching, climbing, moving about the urban environment as a child naturally would without instruction, all under the hood of a class. This allowance is freedom, and I hope the immense benefits of doing so garners the courage within them to maintain it independently outside of class.

There is a joy, a great joy, in breaking free, physically and mentally, of the very suffocating and restrictive boundaries of the modern world.

To scream, shake your bum, wiggle and roll on the floor, do stupid facial expressions and move like the petrol station balloon man is looked upon as immensely weird, immature or even outright insane.

What has the world become? If we do these stuff as children, what makes us think that repeating them is anything bad as an adult?

Children move about randomly, explore the environment, make funny faces and behave as if the floor’s their best friend. They do all these because it is the body’s instincts to help them develop their senses correctly, learn boundaries with others, and become stronger physically.

Henry David Thoreau moves to think accurately. An island group of hunters and fishermen did not allow their children to crawl, fearing that they would turn bestial. They and their children were unable to pick up certain foot movements taught by the visiting anthropologist Margaret Mead over the course of 20 years. Natural movement expressions aid maturity, connects with other elements of coordination, and helps with mental clarity.

We are a consciousness in a physical body. Our consciousness and bodily sensations are so deeply connected that when we are nervous, we tense up, get butterflies in our stomach, and begin to perspire with a rising heartbeat. Similarly, adhering to social norms of being hardworking, matured and serious, adults may restrict themselves from looking relaxed in front of their colleagues. The silent verbal battle of ‘Why can’t I just move around freely’ is quelled within, and the result is a subconscious feeling of unfairness, manifesting in the truly weird behavior of pent up anger, mental distractions, or just, the acceptance and embodiment of passiveness.

Why are children seen as super-energetic? Why can’t adults be so? I believe it’s more of a cultural norm than purely a physical difference. At the typical office work environment, when someone moves even a little out of the usual walking, sitting, writing and typing norms, it is seen as foreign and probably frowned upon. ‘Move in a gym! Not at work!’, is a nationwide story that is repeated to the next generation when parents begin to discipline their child from moving unpresentably in front of other adults. Even the work uniform is tight and restricts movement. When did we become so immovable? Can one be hardworking and relaxed at the same time?

The gym doesn’t provide that much relief. Much of your movement is instructed and directed. Freely expressing your movements are not generally encouraged. Walking into a gym, or a yoga studio, you are free, but only to a certain degree. Do anything outside of the curriculum and you get the same stares. You are free to only do what is expected of you. Pressure to look the best in a range of limited movements is high. Of what are we doing for social acceptance, and what for the genuine good sensations of movement?

It seems that our very function of organising is our very limitation. We might as well be better off not putting a name to things? But obviously that’s not the solution. The reminder that there’s always more to learn, and that diversity is the key to nature’s thriving is what might allow us to see beyond our tendencies.

What if, there was no perfect time and place to exercise? What if, exercise was never a thing? What if, we would have the same joy and expressions of movement as our children do, for a whole lifetime? What would life be like then?

What if, exercise wasn’t just about specific things to do, but a check-in on how you feel? Emotions are something rarely spoken about in the realm of exercise, not to mention general education. What if you allow yourself the opportunity to explore how you felt at a particular moment, and what of your body you would be inspired to move and how do those movements make you feel? Planning is normal, but so is change.

Getting to know Art du Déplacement (Parkour) was the main stimulus for me to not just recognise that my fundamental human instincts for exploration, diversity and independent expression is not abnormal, but also to begin developing it with full embrace. Yet this beautiful discipline can also fall short in the aforementioned ways. It isn’t so much about which discipline is better, but the mentality, the perspective of ourselves, of each other, the environment and of life that I am trying to address.