Take a moment, and breath in your surroundings....
Let the sand and water form around your feet, grounding you...
And let your mind and body wander together.
There are few greater ways to explore your environment than exploring your body’s form and the way it reacts to your day-to-day habitat. Developed in the heart of the Pacoa River in the Panamanian Jungle, Lizard-Monkey is an exploratory active movement style, developed by some of the more, shall we say, “primal” of the interns at Kalu Yala. It is a calisthenics routine that incorporates every muscle of the body in a fluid dance that propels the body across challenging terrain on all four limbs. Although your first thought may be a little closer to South Park’s mythical “Man-Bear-Pig”, the Lizard-Monkey is very real. And very hard. It focuses around a singular goal: climb. As carefully, intent fully, and intelligently as possible.
It began with a simple question: “how far does that stream go?” Referencing the small tributary to the Pacora river, tucked behind a giant bolder at the edge of the playa, where Kalu Yalans bathe, wash clothes, and take time away from their insanely productive schedules to have some fun.
With the humidity, dense forest vegetation, mossy roots, rushing water and jagged rocks, there’s no shortage of hazards. As the sun just begins to creep over the mountain range that cradles Kalu Yala’s valley home, Cahill Shpall (20) prepares for his ascent up the Tributario de Pacora.
“I think that, in order to achieve a positive experience from this exercise, you must do more than just stretch before.” As his tattooed 6”3 frame expands and contracts into various Hatha poses, he keeps his eyes closed. “This is to connect myself with the earth, and to open my eyes. Not the waking eyes, but these,” he gestures to various chakra points surrounding pineal gland at the center of his temples. “Too often, people get caught up with what their waking eyes show them, and they’re unable to truly connect with the natural elements of their environment” Cahill reminds me, and does a long dive into the river, crawling along the bottom as he approaches the hidden alcove that will be his route up the mountain.
The Lizard-Monkey style is a physical amalgamation of what Cahill has observed through his experiences with calisthenics training regimes and what he has observed in the animal kingdom. The primary objective is to travel up your chosen path, on all fours, constantly changing emphasis on leading muscles, using your core for balance, and being cautiously aware of your environment.
“This isn’t something you just go out and do.” It takes a lot of time on dry land to understand the way your body moves and responds before you’re able to take it into harsher elements. This is as true of the wannabe Lizard-Monkey, as it is the snowboarder, swimmer, climber or tri-athlete: in order to be a competent participant, you must first master the basics.
As Cahill begins his barefoot ascent, he carefully selects each rock that will be his foot and handholds. He listens for the sounds of birds, allowing the jungle’s natural rhythm to bring his physical body that much closer to the running water and slick rock he passes over. As he climbs a widely spaced set of boulders that create a mini-waterfall, Cahill backtracks to repeat the movement with the opposite arm and leg combo. This practice is most commonly known as unilateral training, or training one side of the body independently and then copying the movement on the other side to develop balance and individual strength.
In person, this collage of movement looks like the love child of a bear crawl, crab walk, and Hatha yoga. It shouldn’t make sense: a large University of Oregon Duck, on his hands and knees and feet, climbing through the rainforest, stopping to silently and effortlessly connect with the trees and the rocks, but it does. In recent years, there has been more and more research pointing to various types of workouts creating a truly Zen state. After practicing Lizard monkey three days a week, for the past two weeks, I too am starting to pause, reach out for a tree root, and listen to the calm of the water. There are very few things we cannot receive from nature, and, as Cahill puts it, “too often, we just don’t take the time to ask for them properly.”