If you’ve cracked into your copy of Movement Matters: Essays on Movement Science, Movement Ecology, and the Nature of Movement by Katy Bowman, you’ve had the pleasure of encountering Ben Pobjoy, who wrote the foreword for the book. Ben has only been on our radar for a little while, but we’ve become fast friends, forged through movement. You can learn more about Ben and his inspiring story here. Meanwhile, we had a chance to catch up with him recently. Here’s how that went…
You’ve written before about how you encountered Katy Bowman’s work. What was it about her message that resonated with you?
Katy unexpectedly landed on my radar when she appeared as a guest on a podcast. What’s peculiar about the resonance, is that it had as much to do with her message as it did the medium I first experienced her message through. Katy and her message are obviously brilliant, but it was the dialectical form of the podcast’s discussion that figuratively hammered her message into me. This podcast wasn’t just Katy opining about biomechanics into a microphone from a scripted speech, it was Katy participating in a well-rounded, long-form conversation where she was occasionally challenged by the host, and every time she was, she responded humanly and often humorously with even more evidence, insights or analogies that made her argument more compelling. In addition, she just had this fun and inspired timbre as well as what appeared to be a bright mind that was as imaginative and innovative as it was analytical and methodological. By the end of the podcast, I was just convinced. More so, I was awakened and inspired to move. I heard the podcast on January 14th 2015, began walking on January 18th, and have since logged over 10,000km in walks over the last 21 months. The short of it is, I caught the Bowman bug!
Why did it resonate at that time in particular, do you think?
I first heard Katy’s message on the tail-end of a decade of decline; where my ascending professional success had erroneously ushered in a seriously unhealthy degree of personal sedentarism. It wasn’t just that I was immobile and felt lazy, it was that my immobility was so bad that it was making me sick…and I was only in my early thirties! I knew I had a problem— one that was worsening— but I didn’t know how to solve it. I had tried to get fit with conventional forms of exercise but such either left me injured or the results were so slow to experience that I gave up. But, when I heard Katy speak about immobility as a disease of captivity, her articulation of ‘casts’, her ‘orca collapsed dorsal fin’ analogy as well as her scientific meets anthropological discussion of humans as primates / constantly moving hunter-gatherers, I was ENLIGHTENED! For me, it led to a profound paradigm shift where I saw the shortcomings of ‘exercise’ (especially within a larger lifestyle that’s sedentary) in stark contrast to the holistic value of a lifestyle rich in varied movement. It all just clicked, and the necessity of movement just clearly came into focus for me.
What kinds of thoughts did you begin having as you began to move more?
Initially, I felt a range of thoughts, and sometimes conflicting ones. Intellectually, I was convinced; I knew I had to move— Katy and her books thoroughly convinced me of such. However, I started walking in the dead of winter— up in Canada— and it was real tough out of the gates. I was severely out of shape, so it was physically demanding to trudge through the deep snow, deal with the subzero cold and endure brutal winds (that seemed to pass through any outerwear I wore). So, the first few months were hard. I’d heard Katy mention that 25% of our muscles exist below our ankles, and I understood this, but when I’d trudge the uneven snow or jerkily slip on ice, I didn’t realize every one of those muscles would ache at the end of the day, ha ha! However, I eventually improved my acclimatization and conditioning and moving became enjoyable. At first, it was stress busting; walking to and from work provided amazing ‘decompression time’ between my professional life and home life. Then, when spring and summer came around, moving outside just became awesome— especially as I developed the stamina to walk for a couple hours at a time. I just loved walking around outside, just being an observer to the weird and wonderful things the world has to offer.
At what point did you realize you needed or wanted to do some kind of social good along with your movement?
I work in advertising, and while it’s fast-paced and demanding, one upside is that I’m dispatched all over North America to make commercials. So, I do a lot of work travel, and beyond that, I’m fortunate to have the means to do a lot of personal travel around the world. Whether I was on work trips or personal ones, I’d walk, and I’d walk anywhere; from the nice parts of cities to the troubled parts. The more I travelled, the more I saw recurring patterns. While every city is different, every city is the same; poverty disproportionately affects women and children— and in Canada— our First Nations peoples. Witnessing this frequently, it just started to fuck with me on a deep level. There I was, this white successful dude— who’d been given every opportunity in life— that could now afford to voyeuristically drop into all these places. And, when I got there, I’d use my free time to work on my own self-improvement via walking. I just reached this point where I would look in the mirror from time to time and be like, “Man, if you don’t start moving beyond yourself and pitching in for the greater good, you’re a legit asshole of a human being!” Thereafter, I was out in Vancouver quite a bunch for work and I’d walk through East Hastings Street, which is this notorious street that’s riddled with homelessness and substance abuse. It’s a literal hell, one of the biggest failures of the Canadian state, and I just thought to myself, “This is completely unacceptable, and due to my apathy, I’m partially to blame.” So, I transitioned my physical movement into social movement thereafter and began distributing sandwiches to hungry people on the streets. It’s something I could do at home, it’s something I could do in hotel rooms, and I made it my mission throughout 2015. I recognize it’s a very small gesture that doesn’t change the system, but I’ve seen the small, temporary relief it provides to people so it has some worth on a micro level.
What can you say about the response with which your sandwich-delivering efforts were met?
In the fall of 2015, when it began to get cold in Canada, I wrote a post on Facebook about what I was doing. It wasn’t to boast or be self-righteous, it was just a plea to my friends— many of whom are these turkeys (myself included) with expensive road bikes or designer running outfits— to consider pitching in (with food, water or warm clothes) on their physical activities outdoors because I knew they could afford it, and because people on the streets needed it especially as it was getting colder. We’re all these poser wannabe athletes and I was like, “Hey, let’s cut the shit, and be honest- we CAN and SHOULD be doing something.” Much to my surprise, the post went viral— like really viral, people shared it around the world. Many were jazzed on the concept of converting their physical movement into social movement. The response was a little overwhelming because I was flooded with inquiries and media coverage, I did a national health campaign with one of the biggest brands in Canada, I was asked to be on podcasts and to do talks in front of powerful people in my hometown. The whole time I was like, “Man, I’m just this regular dude doing this D.I.Y thing in my spare time…I don’t really know what else to say?” I didn’t aspire to be the face of anything, and I’ve kept things at bay by saying, “No” to a lot of requests to ensure I don’t become one. If anything, I just want people to know that small actions can have big reverberations. So, practice kindness and move beyond yourself.
What changed in you and in your life, because of that?
Nothing and everything! Sometimes I get recognized as ‘sandwich guy’ around Toronto, and the one material gain I received from it all, was a barista giving me a free banana once when I ordered a coffee one morning, ha ha. I could’ve cashed in on it- public speaker agencies were reaching out to me to sign me as a speaker— but I turned it all down, just not my vibe or intention. Even the health campaign I did for a big brand, I didn’t ask for a fee, instead, a donation of $25,000 was made to an organization that promotes physical literacy to young people in Canada…which is rad! Throughout it all, it just taught me how powerful one’s small actions can be. I’ve had about 65 million other realizations about privilege and purpose and becoming a better ally to marginalized groups on my walks that— if I were to share them— they’d be so longwinded I’d crash the internet! But, if I’m being completely honest though, the most life changing outcome of all the walking and sandwiches— beyond the move to better health— is that I met the woman of my dreams on a walk of sorts. It’s literally the most insane and romantic story ever!
You’ve begun taking on longer and longer walks, and aiming for larger and larger social impacts. What happens to you while you are walking? During your recent walk from Toronto to Buffalo, for instance, what happened inside you?
Yes, I got into endurance walks while simultaneously trying to think of new ways to retrofit my physical movement in ways that will deliver the most value to people who need help. In September 2016, I decided to do a continuous 125km walk from Toronto to Buffalo for Sprott House, the first transitional housing program of its kind for LGBTQ2SA youth in Canada. It’s based in my hometown, and was a no-brainer because I’m trying to become a better ally to marginalized groups. The walk was both easier and harder than I imagined it would be. We estimated it would take 25 continuous hours and I did in just under 20 hours…averaging 08:54 a kilometre. In these types of walks, what happens inside of me, is that I just get into a flow state for hours at a time, and I can blaze a quick pace. I align my breathing with my heartbeat as well as my stride, and I just become this movement machine. It’s like I tune out, I’m not even thinking, I’m just moving and flowing. It’s an incredible thing. However, during the walk, my body did start to break down. I reached a point where I couldn’t retain all the water I was drinking. I had to keep peeing…and I feel bad because I peed all over this last town I walked through! Sorry small town whose name I won’t type! But, luckily this happened right near the very end of my walk. Originally, I set out to raise $2,500 for Sprott House and I ended up raising over $27,000…so when the going got tough, I thought about all the donors who pitched in, and that gave me the strength to finish the walk.
What would you say to someone who’s not sure their movement really does matter?
You matter, your movement matters, and how you move matters; not just for you, but for others as well. Unrestrained movement— to me conceptually— is the definition of freedom. So, in a way, how we choose OR refuse to move, is an expression of either freedom or captivity / oppression. And, I do not mean this in a way that pertains to ablism / disablism, I mean this in terms of the cause-and-affect of movement, intention and action. In capitalistic societies, if you’re outsourcing your movement (from growing one’s own food to transportation itself), the slack is forcibly picked up by people likely being paid unfit wages in questionable conditions or by machines that burn fossil fuels and pollute. And, if the aforementioned isn’t compelling, I’ll end with a personal examples of why movement matters; it helped me lose 100lbs and reconnect with my body, movement was meditative and enabled me to put myself in check, movement helped me feed people in my community as well as around the world, converting my movement into a platform for fundraising helped me raise over $50,000 for two important causes in 2016, and movement brought me into the orbit of an amazing partner I hope to spend the rest of my life with!