May 06, 2020
Survive Lockdown with this Movement Practice from Ibiza’s Hidden Territory
Even under quarantine, a new movement culture in Ibiza, honed in a hell-hole and formerly cloaked amongst the island’s juniper trees, has begun to reach far across the world.
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Movement coach Nick Brewer forged an integrative daily routine to survive one of the deadliest prisons on Earth and he’s offering live classes every day on Instagram to help us all endure the confines of quarantine. (Listen to The Outdoor Journal Podcast episode with Nick on Apple Podcasts).
Why travel to Ibiza for any other reason than its clubland? This small Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea, which was once a safe-haven for political dissidents and later a refuge for the hippie dream, is now known as an international party destination. But beyond the flashing lights of Ibiza’s electronic dance music scene lies a monument to bohemian ideals – a place unscathed by the rampant consumerism that has worn away much of the south’s soul. A new movement paradigm has been growing in this relic of unrestrained creativity.
Project Ibiza is an amalgamation of disciplines and activities, combining art, work, exercise, and play, with the mission to integrate wellness and movement into everyday working life. It’s an unconventional space, to say the least. You won’t find a row of elliptical machines like you would in any other gym, just a spartan open mat with a high bar and some mobility tools, like yoga blocks and batons. A co-working space overlooks the gym and smoothie bar.
Co-Founder Nick Brewer may be 50 years old, but his physique is that of a 25-year-old gymnast. For the past 35 years, after a professional skiing career, Nick has devoted himself to an array of movement paradigms, including yoga, pilates, and gymnastics, with a particular focus on longevity. Nick teaches a daily in-person primal movement class to accommodate movers of all ages and backgrounds, whether that be a former dancer hoping to maintain power and grace, or a new dad hoping to look after his baby without back pain. “Most of the teaching that I do is actually undoing really bad postural patterns of people who’ve been slumped in a chair for 20 or 30 years.” A typical class involves animal locomotion drills with both hands and feet touching the floor, handstand progressions, and flexibility training. Primal movement is ancient, natural, functional, and fundamental – the building blocks of human mobility.
“I’ve trained for 35 years and I’m now 50 and have what I will call longevity in physical movement, so I move much younger than your average 50-year-old would.”
Nick is proof of concept that his cultivated, disciplined approach to healing nagging and even severe injuries is a viable alternative to the more traditional and costly choice to undergo surgery. Against the advice of doctors, he said “No” to the knife and healed his body through mindful movement. “Any high-level athlete is going to put their body through unnecessary and extremely high levels of stress and tension. Myself, I broke my back in three places, I busted up my knees in skiing. And the effects of that didn’t hit me until 15 years later.”
“My ultimate goal and dream is to integrate movement into as many lives as possible.”
Perhaps preserving the hippie ideal to share with everyone in the movement community, Nick shares his multidisciplinary teachings with the world for free – live on Instagram. Throughout our global quarantine, every day at 10 am, you’ll find a shirtless Nick, stretching, squatting, and contorting his body to keep it performing like an elite Cirque du Soleil athlete. A stream of gratitude and adulation scrolls by in the comments section. A cat or two scurries through the frame, jealous for attention. (@nickonhands, 10 am CEST. Each session is watchable for 24 hours).
A PLACE WHERE LIFE HAS NO VALUE
For a reason that would surprise anyone who has met him, Nick is uniquely qualified to guide us all through the isolating challenges of quarantine. You would never guess it from Nick’s serene, equanimous demeanor that in his former life, so to speak, he climbed the ladder from rookie smuggler to cocaine kingpin.
“My time in prison taught me how to train in a confined space.”
Leading up to the ‘92 Olympics, Nick was a team skier for England, living a dream life in the French Alps. While training, he suffered a life-changing injury, breaking his back in three places. In an instant, his ski career was over. With no momentum in his life, Nick plunged into the smuggler’s underground, and in a story straight out of Scarface, he quickly moved higher up on the pecking order. With a potentially deadly stroke of genius, and out of dire necessity, Nick hatched a multi-million dollar plan to smuggle cocaine from South America to Europe, making deals with people who consider murder as just another tool of the trade. Through the extremely risky and reckless operation of smuggling liquid cocaine though wine bottles from a warehouse in the Buenos Aires area, Nick became extremely wealthy almost overnight. He bought a nightclub and lived a playboy lifestyle in Argentina. He was feeling invincible until a group of men wearing balaclavas kidnapped him at gunpoint. Game over. Nick had been caught in a sting operation by the Argentine drug squad. Authorities arrested him in 2004, seizing 171 kilos of cocaine and 10,000 bottles of wine with dissolved drugs inside, valued at about $30 million.
“When I was in prison, my mind was on the moon.”
Nick received a 10-year sentence in Villa Devoto prison. Although the name may sound like a trendy silent retreat in Southern California, Villa Devoto is one of the deadliest places on Earth. It’s a hell hole with unmitigated, unpoliced, gladiator-style brawls. Stabbings and mutilations by machete are commonplace. “I have to say that when I stepped into an Argentine prison, I was petrified. I was living in a Scarface world and I was surrounded by gangsters.” Most inmates get by just by focusing on surviving the day in an animal existence. “I was stuck in a prison cell for six years in South America and had to deal with not only myself in severe isolation but also many other factors which made it pure survival.” Astonishingly, in this unlikely setting, Nick Brewer gained mastery of his body.
Almost accidentally, Nick stumbled upon a book of yoga poses. He studied each one and became competitive with himself as he tried to perfectly match each pose as illustrated. Through three to four hours of daily practice, Nick managed to transform prison into his own personal ashram, his own spiritual retreat. “I had to find peace in a South American prison, and I had to find peace with myself first before I could find peace with the world.”
As a snake sheds its skin, Nick’s movement practice was like molting an old identity. Figuratively speaking, he entered prison in a straight jacket and had to unwind it to become free. Gradually, Nick built up a daily routine to channel away the negative energy, gangs, and violence that was all around him and to feel a sense of freedom within the walls of prison. Eventually, he learned that freedom is a state of mind. Although confined, movement became his way of life.
QUARANTINE MOVEMENT COMMUNITY
“A daily get out of jail free card”
Now, in these extraordinary times of social distancing, Nick’s typical class of 30 students has skyrocketed into as many as 800 people in a day who are noticing the benefits of daily functional movement on their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. People from all over the world are tuning in – South America, North America, Europe, New Zealand, Australia – cultivating a quarantine movement community. For a self-described “analog guy,” who has never been particularly active on social media, the response is a welcome revelation.
“It’s really weird standing there in front of your iPhone doing a class and talking to no-one, but all these tools and protocols that I have from the past are now coming into play… and I’m realizing that there’s a whole world of people out there that can benefit from this stuff.”
Amidst this unprecedented global pandemic, people all over the world are locked down inside their homes, and in some countries like Spain, not even allowed to leave the house to go for a walk. In many respects, quarantine is akin to a prison sentence. Aptly, Nick calls his class a “daily get out of jail free card,” a daily escape from life’s pressures. “If people can get on the mat and do an hour’s worth of movement, combined with maybe some sitting practices and breathwork, then there’s going to be a very profound shift in their psychological makeup.”
Not everyone will be traveling to Ibiza this year, but to have Nick’s sagacious practice and expert knowledge available every day is a vital therapy to sustain us through quarantine. “One of the things that I realized when I did get out of prison is that because these practices had such a profound effect on my life, my ultimate goal and dream was to integrate movement into as many lives as possible.”
HAND BALANCING IS AN ARTFORM
If you view Nick’s training regimen as a performance, the piece de resistance is his handstand. In fact, the handstand has been utilized for fitness and entertainment for more than 2000 years through far-reaching cultures – from the Ancient Greek soldiers to Chinese acrobats to Indian Yogis. “The handstand is the one particular move that has challenged me mentally, physically, and emotionally since I started doing it. And it’s a beautiful journey. It has taught me so much about myself, not only about discipline, but also about patience, about perseverance, about empowerment. It’s given me so much back just from that one single move. It’s probably one of the greatest meditative practices that I’ve ever done.”
“Opening up your body is a journey.”
Handstand training proffers an exhilarating feeling when holding one’s balance for a few seconds at first, which then becomes an addictive sensation as one commits to a journey of unlocking new personal milestones and refining a skill with an unlimited progression. “Anyone who is doing a handstand or one-arm handstand, I will look at that person and know that they have put thousands and thousands of hours into their practice.” But be careful how far down the rabbit hole you go in search of perfection. “The one-arm handstand will ruin your life,” Nick sarcastically cautions.
Nick offers personalized online coaching sessions to guide clients of all levels through the anatomy, alignment, and stability needed to ignite their own handstand practice. For beginners, there may be no better time than quarantine to start. “I can tell you one thing about quarantine and handstand training – there’s absolutely no difference to handstand training if you’re in quarantine or you’re not. All you need is a wall and a bit of floor space and some focus and discipline. So actually quarantine is a really good place to train your handstand because all you’ve got is time.”
To understand the handstand requires quite literally flipping the body upside down from an anatomical perspective – the hands function as feet, the wrists as ankles, the elbows as knees and the shoulders as hips. Nick’s handstand may look motionless, but he is constantly making small micro-corrections to balance his center mass over his base of support. Once a practitioner develops a sturdy enough upper back and shoulder girdle, then you can experiment with different shapes above the hip, like straddle, and diamond, etc. “You retrain the vestibular system, the balance system, the proprioceptors, I mean, there’s so much going on in a handstand, it’s incredible.”
You might think that all of Nick’s clients are former gymnasts and circus performers, but he actually prefers people with little to no experience. “It’s totally okay where you’re at today. Just try and enjoy the process. Opening up your body is a journey and it takes time.”
YOUR JOURNEY TAKES TIME
Nick’s story offers us a new perspective to recognize sudden limiting factors in our lives – like quarantine – as opportunities rather than constraints. His petrifying experience in a dangerous Argentinian prison forged a mindful approach to movement, integrating a combination of flexibility, strength, range of motion, and endurance, with Nick’s passion for inversion training – the handstand. At Project Ibiza, Nick runs a school of Primal Movement, including handstand training. spinal rehabilitation. movement camp, conditioning, and inversions, as well as online coaching. And although the quarantine period has restricted our social interactions by encouraging social distancing, Nick’s daily Instagram Live sessions have expanded the movement community, opening connections through technology. Altogether, Nick’s prison experience has helped him to share a relieving message to all of us during this crisis by inspiring people to improve themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually even while isolated in one place.
In this episode of The Outdoor Journal Podcast, Nick discusses how he developed a disciplined movement practice amidst rampant gang violence in prison, how movers of all backgrounds and ages can benefit from his multidisciplinary teachings, and he’ll breakdown his neverending quest for handstand perfection. (Listen to The Outdoor Journal Podcast episode with Nick on Apple Podcasts).
Follow along with Nick at 10 am CEST: @nickonhands
Nick Brewer on Facebook