Siebenlinden: Sport is Fun!

Fitness and Games for a Healthy and Happy Lifestyle in Ecovillages.

In this article, Arturs Polis is interviewing Nadine Koch, in order to explore the importance of a physically active lifestyle in the ecovillage context, drawing from the experience of Sieben Linden and her experience with community living.

Nadine (30) is a fitness trainer, certified nutritionist and a role-model of active lifestyle in Sieben Linden. Nadine moved (with a back-pack and bicycle!) to the ecovillage in 2010, after finishing interior-design and ecological architecture studies in Munich. The first year she spent sleeping outdoors until she built her own trailer. Today, she is collecting wild herbs and working for the rapidly expanding raw vegan food supplier Raw Living.

The interview was done in the cozy community room of Sieben Linden, that is always open for villagers to come together for meetings, or any other activities. The closet in the corner is stuffed with yoga mats, weights, and even a boxing bag, thus signifying the spirit of community while providing a perfect setting for the conversation.

Arturs: We can often see you jogging in the forest around Sieben Linden community, or exercising in the community room. What other sports are you practicing?
Nadine: I love hiking in mountains during the holidays, and biking as a mean of transportation and sports activity. Living in Munich, I was practicing windsurfing, doing in-line skating daily, since it is much easier to take skates in the public transportation and shops compared to a bicycle. I was cycling a lot then, going to my job every day (40 km a day for one year).
Here in Sieben Linden, I do more jogging (Nadine does barefoot jogging three times a week in summer), trampoline jumping and – in winter –Ski gymnastics, which is a compilation of skiing exercises; but from the sidelines it looks like running around the room with techno-music.

A: Why so many? And why are you so keen on moving, jumping, and running in the first place?
N: Sport is fun! It is also a way to stimulate one's awareness of the body, and the surrounding environment. The more you feel the nature in your body, the more aware and connected you get, as well as resilient. I do sports for my brain and soul, too. As a result I have not become ill for a longer period, and have no injuries while doing sports.

A: You are coming from a city background with lots of opportunities to engage in sophisticated fitness activities – do you miss them?
N: There were definitely great opportunities in the city, like the Dojo - Japanese martial arts centers - that I found to be very cool. Or night skating in the streets of Munich. Unfortunately, the gravel roads just do not allow people to skate in Sieben Linden. However, I would never like to go jogging in a city: sports is good in a combination with fresh air!

A: So then – where are the healthiest people – in city or in Sieben Linden?
N: Maybe our age group is healthier than the German average, but maybe there are some sick people in ecovillages, too, because they are the ones who are not happy with the mainstream world, have gotten sick of it (literally), and haven't found the help or a cure, which can be one of the reasons why they have come to the ecovillage.

A: And then they come to the ecovillage to live a balanced lifestyle, be nurtured with healthy food...
N: ...for me there is sometimes a problem with the food from the community kitchen. Sometimes there are too many sweeteners and fats in the dishes served in community meals, and not enough fresh, raw food. Meanwhile, many people in ecovillages have modern sitting jobs, while others work hard in the garden, construction sites, or the forest. All these groups may experience back-related problems. Some recovery trainings might be good for them.

A: It should be quite easy to improve the food and provide trainings. What else could be done in Sieben Linden to support the healthy lifestyle?
N: I need to say that the infrastructure is not so good in Sieben Linden - especially for the youth. A skating place with a good floor, a training trail in the forest (Trim-dich-Pfad), or a sports hall could be built, and it does not have to be very expensive - just to give a shelter, wind-protection and some minimal heating in winter, so that people can be more free to access the equipment at all times (currently the community room has to be booked for this purpose).
This would allow people to practice more aggressive sports such as fighting. I think that there are many people in ecovillages who could teach sports, but, because of the infrastructure, they tend to go outside to give classes. Once there was a kick boxing class weekly in Sieben Linden, and it attracted people also from outside, so this can also give an opportunity to connect with people from outside the ecovillage. The annual volleyball match tradition on the 1st of May, between Sieben Linden and the neighboring village, is a good example of how sports make connections by bringing people together.

A: You are mentioning aggressive sports and competition. My impression is that ecovillage inhabitants are often sensitive when it comes to aggression or competition. Isn't it something that should be abolished if we want to make the world a better, more peaceful and harmonious place?
N: Sport is often connected to games and matches where many emotions are invited and allowed. People go through feelings like hope, happiness, sadness, and anger. If you go through them once a week, you get relieved, washed out. You can suffer and celebrate together with others.
Our daily life is often too adult-like. We are great thinkers, always focused, but we are not good feelers. Our inner child is not free enough. The collective experience of victory and loss, shouting and cheering is what could make the community, too. Once we organised the so called Landscape game in Sieben Linden. The task was to spread fire-wood over the many fire-wood shelters in the village. As I remember, we had 3 groups: wood-workers, robbers and police. In the first half an hour of the game a big, chaotic fight erupted which manifestated all emotions from the daily lives in a catharsis. It was also really hard physical work.

A: But the games could be collaborative instead of competitive.
N: I think that the traditional games are okay with the right awareness, supervision and reflection afterwards. However, there are many possibilities to design collective games. But this is a design challenge. There should be more games with meaning and physical work involved at the same time. For example, they can be harvesting games, where teams are rolling straw-bale rolls of the field. We would save some litres of petrol in the same time. Or maybe 20 people can stand in a row and pull out trees out of a forest instead of a horse.

A: How about all these people who prefer doing sports alone? How do individual sports contribute to the wellbeing, or feeling, of the community?
N: I can tell from my experience that individual sports make me more balanced, so that in community I can be more empathic and able to separate my feelings from discussions, leaving the aggression behind. People need easy accessible possibilities to let out their emotions. Walking on a slackline, for example, has so much to do with a normal life. Similarly to meditation, it teaches focus.

A: Can we try to make individual sport more meaningful as well?
N: Yes - let's make human powered machines! Like, pedal powered washing-machines. Or the fitness studio with devices that produce electricity. Perhaps then people would become more aware of how valuable is light and electricity. Even weight lifting can be designed more sensitively with water-lifting, for example. I would love it if we created such a fitness studio. We definitely need more crazy engineers!

A: What else can we do in terms of ecovillage design to support a healthy lifestyle? Despite all the good intentions and design, I have noticed a quite contradictory tendencies in many ecovillages - e.g. the number of people who are smoking.
N: Sieben Linden might be a good example of such a design failure - the smokers corner is located in the side of the courtyard opening a beautiful view over the central plaza. Moreover, it is extremely cozy and nice, thus inviting people to meet, sit down and smoke. There is an on-going discussion about making the smokers corner less attractive.

A: Sometimes I am wondering - do I need to have a long list of high-intensity free-time hobbies to call my lifestyle truly healthy?
N: One should live more intuitively and connected to one's body – then you will know how much, and which kind of, exercise is needed. Doing sports must be fun and one should not force oneself too hard – only then we increase our chances to live longer in this way than without sports. It is also important not to forget about psychological health, because people often tend to abuse the active, healthy lifestyle by suppressing or hiding from their psychological problems.
I believe that in some cases even smoking (as little as possible, of course) can be justified, if stopping smoking would dramatically increase the level of stress. Your thoughts are connected to your body – you should live healthy and think healthy, too.

A: ...so this way you never step over the energy limits of your body either?
N: I believe that there are two types of energy in one's life. The recoverable energy level fluctuates in a day-to-day cycle. But the Non-Recoverable energy level gets less during the life. One should be in alignment with one´s inner calling and flow in order to maintain the non-recoverable energy at a high level. For me, it means that I can work on an exciting project overnight and feel myself physically exhausted, but emotionally charged. That can be quite tough for the body, but relaxing for the soul – since the final energetic balance is positive, the body will recover quickly. Physically, unhealthy aspects should be limited as much as possible, though.

A: So, how intuitively and respectfully connected to your body are you living?
N: I do not go jogging in the rain, to keep my hair dry because my long hair need a long time to dry without a hairdryer. And I stop barefoot jogging when the earth gets cold. It is somehow important to me to maintain some level of comfort so as not to lose the motivation, because I want to keep doing sports also in winter time.
I think that sickness is one of the ways for communicating with my body. If I get a cold it is like a signal to me that I have done something unhealthy to my body before. Maybe it is a thing that has seemed healthy to my mind, but actually caused too much stress to my body. In Germany, they say that the cold comes 7 days, stays 7 days and leaves 7 days. For me, this process takes hours instead of weeks, which might be a sign of balance. If you are well balanced, you still can get ill, but you get over it quickly. It is good to get a feedback from your body sometimes, even in such a loud voice.

A: I would like to finish our interview with a few suggestions that you could give to those who are considering increasing the level of their physical activities, or thinking of starting a new, sport-related hobby.
N: Try! And use the permaculture principle - look what is possible in your area and would fit you and your body. Remember that it has to be fun to be sustainable! On the other hand, there should be somebody - maybe even inside of you yourself - to kick your ass, because the so called happiness hormones, endorphines, come around half an hour later. People should try to remember what movements they liked in their childhood, or which sports they wanted to try but never did because of their age, gender, etc. (ballet for boys, kickboxing for girls, etc). One can check the courses and activities provided by the local school for adult learning. It is also a good way how to try different things without making a strong commitment from the very beginning.

A: ...and how not to lose the initial enthusiasm?
N: Sometimes a high price for classes can motivate. It is important to be kind to yourself. Some people like to do sports only on holidays - that is also fine. Or just try to do something simple at the beginning like going shopping by bike. And now we return to the community aspect again - you will be more motivated if there is a group of people that will be waiting for you in the mornings or afternoons - try to meet regularly with your friends to do some sports together.

There is so much more to be shared from the experience of Sieben Linden. Let us know if you are interested to hear more about this topic.
If you have questions or if you would like to read about sports and fitness more in future, do not hesitate to contact us on: [email protected]

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07.01.2015