It’s an intriguing and often beautiful thing to see animals in their natural habitat – to watch their instinctive behaviour, and notice how much of it strikes a chord with us humans, the most sophisticated animal on the planet.

What’s strange is the more sophisticated we become, the more we draw away from many of our own instinctive behaviours which help us function the way we were designed to. How many of us spend our lives static – sitting for huge periods of time at desks, in cars, on couches? Our bodies were made to run, jump, climb, and play far more frequently than we allow ourselves to. Even my ultra domesticated dog and cat still have the urge to live more authentically than a lot of people I know.

“Even my ultra domesticated dog and cat still have the urge to live more authentically than a lot of people I know.”

The way our world works means humans almost devolve physically as we grow up. Small children possess an amazing natural ability to move effectively. They can squat with perfect technique, use their feet in the most amazing ways, and are able to do the most incredible things – like teaching themselves to walk with unconscious technique, perfectly suited to their particular body. But then they start spending more time wearing shoes, sitting at school in badly designed chairs and moving less. Because our bodies adapt so readily, these less than ideal stimuli become what we adapt to.

Maybe the biggest difference between humans and other animals is they know their survival relies on being able to move freely. Ours has become less about movement and more about using and often overusing our minds. Animals which hunt prey know speed, strength, and adequate energy are the difference between life and death. They’re also smart enough to prioritise recovery to help them survive.

Rest has become something a lot of us aren’t able to incorporate into our lives the way we need to. We overstimulate ourselves constantly and struggle to recognise when we’re tired. Acknowledging when we need sleep or taking time to relax are quite often seen as signs of weakness, but sleep deprivation is one of the major contributors to less than ideal performance and mental function. Without adequate sleep, we run the risk of our nervous system relying on adrenaline and not being able to deal with cortisol properly. Those lions on the Serengeti are smart enough not to worry about anyone judging them for napping!

“Acknowledging when we need sleep or taking time to relax are quite often seen as signs of weakness, but sleep deprivation is one of the major contributors to less than ideal performance and mental function.”

Play, or even an attitude of play, can get lost in days full of never ending demands on our time. Making time to move is a lot easier if you enjoy what you’re doing. My dog’s face when she plays is such an illustration of joy – why would we not want to make that a part of our lives? The other beautiful thing is that her joy is infectious. Just watching her have fun makes me happy. Can you watch baby animals play without feeling like the world is a better place?

When animals play, often it’s to master new skills – strategy, technique, efficiency – anything they might need to be more effective in their day to day lives. Humans often shy away from things we’re not good at because our world is so much about being the best and brightest at everything. If you freed yourself from the idea of an outcome and just had fun, who knows what new skills you might allow yourself to master? Or which parts of your brain you might stimulate.

“Humans often shy away from things we’re not good at because our world is so much about being the best and brightest at everything.”

The great news is, we can change any time we want. The reminders are everywhere. But we have to tap back into instinct to do it. Our habitat isn’t an office, our natural state isn’t being still for hours. We thrive when we’re outside, with trees and sky and dirt. Time doing things to replenish yourself is never wasted.

A little bit of animal-style self care is definitely a prescription for a better life.

Emma Honey has been my personal trainer for over 14 years. She has wisdom beyond most people I know and an understanding of the human body which is exemplary. She is the trainer’s trainer. Emma left a successful career in television script editing to spend her time helping people from all walks of life keep their bodies pain free and working the way they were intended to.