As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, the fitness business is one of the world’s biggest snake oil markets. Count all the ways that promise to make you better: Devices, superfoods, miracle fitness and diet programs, and enlightened fitness gurus abound.
Meanwhile, the stuff that actually works has been known since the dawn of human civilization.
Back in the day I didn’t pay much attention to “fitness.” I’ve always been “a body in motion,” and fortunate that I could pretty much show up for whatever activity and do fine. That changed in 1996 when I was in a near-fatal auto accident while driving home from a Mt. Rainier climb. My recovery has been a work in progress ever since, and as a result of traumatic brain injury and multiple invasive surgeries, I’m constantly working to re-wire and re-train lost and damaged neuromusculature.
One example of the neuromuscular damage was that my belly was sliced open in order to repair ruptured intestines (sadly, the reconfigured intestines still occasionally demand more surgery.) The nerves that crossed the abdominal midline were cut, and they have never re-connected. As a result I’ve literally lost touch with that part of my body. For years I couldn’t control my body enough to do sit ups, and I accommodated that loss by moving differently which in turn put my body out of balance. My “core” became relatively weak, and among other things I developed excruciating back-related pains.
In the early 2000s, after I started to feel recovered from the accident, I began working with PTs and trainers to reconnect with my body and regain some sense of athleticism. Here in the Seattle area I’ve worked with Beth Lyndon, David Richter, Neal Goldberg, and Todd Herriott. These folks have helped me (re)learn how to move and maintain a muscularly balanced body. These days I do “strength and conditioning” movements 3-5 days per week. I’m not doing anything new or revolutionary, just moving my body in a variety of ways. It works.
While my personal fitness history is rather extreme, the reality is that we all have neuromuscular limitations. Professional athletes constantly work on developing increased mastery of their bodies and minds. If you only do a limited set of movements the body will get out of balance, which inevitably leads to injury. Mixing things up helps keeps the body in balance, is the best way to avoid injury, and is essential for optimal performance.
Recently, apparently due to a change in Facebook feed algorithm, I started seeing posts from someone not on my friends list–a trainer in the Eugene, OR area named Skye Nacel. I was immediately drawn to what he was doing with his clients: Playing in the woods or along the seashore, and incorporating seemingly random found objects like logs and sticks to do movements. I initiated contact and we discovered a shared passion for getting *everyone* to move in ways that are fun, mentally challenging, and functional.
Coincidentally, a few years ago, I started doing something similar by myself along Lake Washington Blvd: I jog a total of ~5Ks, stop every half mile or so, and do 3-5 minutes of movements at each interval using whatever obstacles happen to be around.
47-year old Skye grew up on a small organic farm in New Hampshire and spent most of his youth working outside, which is a theme that has persisted in his life ever since. He’s an enthusiastic evangelist for working in the trades. No surprise, as a kid he wasn’t into traditional sports beyond baseball, but eventually discovered mountain biking in the early 1990s. As his interest and expertise in fitness progressed, friends asked for his help putting together training programs. That worked turned into a gig as a fitness director of a brand-name gym. He ultimately decided he didn’t like the industrial approach of the big gym scene, and struck out on his own. With physical labor as a basis for his income (“I figured I was getting paid to work out!”), he also led climbing, biking, and paddling adventures, and hosted public access TV and radio fitness shows.
The name of his current project is Mocean365. The term “mocean” (pronounced “motion”) is inspired by the fluid movements in the ocean, and the “365” refers to working towards a state of perpetual motion. During our conversation Skye emphasized that he thinks that our sedentary lifestyles is a state of disease. His mission is to help combat our static lifestyles in a fun, adventurous way.
“Mocean365 focuses on coaching, guiding, and inspiring others to live a life full of dynamic movement and adventure, increase skills, and be prepared for whatever may come our way. Try new challenges, get outside into the thick of it, have fun, help others, spread that ripple..until you create waves of mocean!” We provide challenges for everyone, no one is excluded, and everyone is expected and encouraged to participate. Our awesome students have included such a wide array of people from all walks of life, and they all have brought and bring their challenges with them: Broken bodies, or with ailments that doctors have told them to just pack it up and stop moving.
Skye adapts the Mocean365 sessions to the participants’ needs, skills, and limitations. He works with clients in physical therapy clinics, fitness studios, and outdoors; the sessions may be one-on-one, solo, or groups, and he also does workshops and special events.
“We often explore underlying themes. For example we recently worked on “relationship,” specifically with objects that we use like the steel mace and even with mountain bikes. During a recent mountain bike session with an engaged couple, we started off the bike and spent time exploring the pivot points of the bike, on only the front tire, only the back, turning the bike as low to the ground as possible…all off the bike. The object was to get a real feel for and develop a connection with…a rapport…with the bike. Having a kinesthetic understanding is crucial for moving forward. Often people are just told to do something by a coach with an object they know nothing about. We explore as much as possible and as appropriate.”
“In a perfect world all Mocean365 sessions would be outside as often as possible and use natural terrain features. We don’t just do ‘inside stuff outside.’ We use challenging terrain when appropriate.”
“Our approach is to train the brain. We do a lot of work with challenging movement patterns, rhythms, beats even, and complex throwing and catching moves. Some people have said ‘it’s like going to ninja school,’ which it really isn’t as I am no ninja, but I really try and pull as much potential out of EVERYONE especially my regulars. I have worked with lots of people who are 60+, with the goal of doing our best to stave off cognitive aging and staying sharp, alert, and aware for as long as we can.”
Although the “unconventional” movements he posts on social media (and we agreed that what look like unconventional movements, are in the context of human history, quite conventional) caught my attention, he also incorporates more familiar strength and conditioning techniques. Since Skye works as a laborer when not guiding Mocean365 sessions, the sessions with advanced students are strongly influenced by his physical labor experiences.
“One big influence is the world of strength and functional training. Sometimes we just go hard and keep it simple. Heavy presses, pulls, squats (though rarely with barbells), pullups, sled pushes, med ball work, shadow boxing, and box jumps. The sessions include a hearty mix of dynamic and non-linear moves, and focus on powerful, diaphragmatic breathing and smooth pacing, even when doing speed work. No slop, no mindlessness.”
“For new folks, sessions involve less complexity, as we are assessing where they are at, and work more on skill development and safety. We start by working on foundational patterns to see where everyone is at. If a participant doesn’t feel safe, from a neuroscience approach, fear and pain will limit them. We have to be mindful of that relationship. Adaptation is an overlying theme. We throw and catch a lot. We use the floor, and we are barefoot as much as possible. We crawl and we play and we use indoor fitness equipment beyond its intended design. I encourage people to do whatever they can to challenge themselves and get out of their comfort zones.”
“Another way Mocean365 sessions are different from a typical gym session is that as much as possible we do partner moves and drills. The variability of adding another person(s) is truly hard to replicate. Involving other people also means fun, smiles, and roars of laughter.”
With a background as a personal trainer who has spent years developing his observational skills, Skye says he excels at personalizing Mocean365 sessions.
“I emphasize fundamentals, starting or building a solid base, and then progressing. Progressions and regressions are vital when building a session for a group with wide variety of backgrounds. I feel that groundwork, breathing, and awareness development help to bring everyone into their bodies. Since awareness is a foundation of our approach, these elements are vital for everyone we work with regardless of their fitness level, experience, or ability. Everyone, and I mean everyone, must first master and/or hone the fundamentals–breathing, control, awareness and attention–to the point that they are in their body and within their surroundings the entire session.”
“When we work with high-level athletes we find their gaps and explore their weaknesses. Advanced students are sometimes asked to teach and share with others a move or drill, which means they are learning it twice, and they are sharing and spreading that ripple!
“For folks who are injured or disconnected from their bodies we start with where they are at right now. That discovery process often comes with childlike wonder! We worked with a 65-year-old who spent the last 50 years mostly disconnected from their body, but is now forming a new relationship. We are right there to guide them. The average Mocean365 mover is certainly not an elite athlete which is good, because I am not either. Most usually have a mixed background and say that standard gyms don’t work for them. They are looking for something beyond a gym workout, which aligns with how we are about providing experiences.”
“Deep down I believe strongly that everyone can benefit from a coach or mentor. But I also believe so strongly in people and their intuition and abilities and I often say, ‘I want you to fire me as soon as possible and be your own coach.’ My focus is on helping people do it themselves and every session I give people stuff to try on their own. Mocean365 is also life coaching for lack of a better term. Some personal sessions we might just need to talk, and my goal is to be a listener and be there for my clients. Hugs, and maybe some tears. It’s not just about some crushing workout. It is a process, and it is ongoing.”
Skye attributes his positive enthusiasm for life to his partner, Megan Walsh. “She is the best partner in the world. Megan really helps make it all make sense and we are partners in every way. She is a kick ass coach, RN charge nurse, athlete, you name it, she rocks!”
Megan operates Rootswise, which focuses on nutrition guidance and functional health coaching. She has been studying the Mocean365 philosophy for over 10 years, assists Mocean365 as a movement coach, and also runs her own classes.
Check out this film clip from “Trailmates” by Owen Schatz, which shows Megan and Skye’s idyllic mountain-biking lifestyle based from a 250-square-foot off-the-grid cabin in rural Oregon.
“Let’s keep it real!”
“We can set up a phone call, or if you are local to Eugene, Oregon we can arrange to meet and discuss whether Mocean365 is the right fit. I don’t laud Mocean365 as the be-all end-all for everyone by any means. No guru BS here or ‘my system is better than anyone else.’ I wake up every single day of my life wanting to follow my own dreams and help others do the same.”