“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion”
The Earth Board was conceptualised by Ryan Christie, a coach and trainer, based in Geneva, Switzerland. A modern manifestation of the Shena board, it is a small wooden board hoisted on two legs. In Ancient Persia, the board was used to train warriors. Tried, tested, and forged by centuries of use by top athletes, using the board remains a wonderful way to build upper body strength and improve range of motion.
From film “Dance with Gravity”
Crafted by a Master
Ryan Christie utilizes the board as a catalyst for physical connection and to encourage reconnecting with our tactile senses. As he mentions on his website some of Mother Earth’s greatest treasures can be found in the simplest tools. This one is easy to use, portable and offers endless training opportunities. The Earth Board offers an increased range and depth of total body movements.
“Every piece of earth needs a way to grip it. There are more ways to branch than any cedar pencil will ever find. A thing can travel everywhere, just by holding still.”
Richard Powers, The Overstory
Ryan’s father, Chuck Christie, is the master woodcarver behind the Earth Board, crafting each one by hand. As David George Haskell says in The Songs of Trees, “In carved wood, the inner qualities of trees meet the outer design of artists.”
In Fewer, Better Things- The Hidden Wisdom of Objects, Glenn Adamson talks about wood being an unforgiving medium and that carvers know what it is to work on the edge. As Adamson eloquently writes, “The true territory of craft is a happy middle ground, lying somewhere between risk and certainty.”
Each piece is unique in it’s own way. While using the board, it’s easy to enjoy it’s surface, meditate on its origins and consider the genius of its design. We are in, what Adamson terms, ‘the contact zone.’ It is an eloquent repository of human intelligence in it’s own way, holding memories of the forest, the wood it was carved from, and is as Haskell describes it in The Songs of Trees,“life as embodied network.”
We collaborated with Ryan to make a short concept film about the board that honoured its ancient Persian roots. Through this origin story, we pay tribute to Persian tradition and history, embellished with music, poetry, and rhythm. Dance with Gravity is the result of this collaboration and features some wonderful artists and colleagues in Kerala, India.
Dance, when you’re broken open
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off
Dance in the middle of fighting
Dance in your blood
Dance, when you’re perfectly free
Ancient Persia has given the world many things that have endured the passage of time. From refrigerators to chess — there’s so much that we have all absorbed from its history.
Modern wrestling in Iran has its roots in centuries-old practices. Varzesh Bastani (ancient sport) or Varzesh Pahlavani (sport of heroes) refers to the ancient Iranian form of athletics. It was originally created to train warriors and includes a mix of calisthenics, martial arts, strength training, ethics, spirituality, art, literature, and music.
Varzesh Bastani was practiced in the Zurkhaneh or ‘House of Strength’. One of the tools used by these warriors was the Shena board, it’s simplicity was only surpassed by it’s utility. The Shena board was an essential part of their training regimen. It helped warriors build strength and stability, helping them hone their skills and remain battle ready. Before they partook in their exercise regimens, a lyrical poem was sung, often accompanied by a Zarb, a drum that was played during the exercises in the Zurkhaneh.
The roots of the Zurkhaneh lie in the epic the Shahnameh or ‘Book of Kings’. Written by Ferdowsi, this epic weaves the tales of mythical heroes meant to inspire and educate.
“The houses that are the dwelling of today will sink beneath shower and sunshine to decay but storm and rain shall never mar the palace that I have built with my poetry”
Ferdowsi, Excerpt from the British Library
Some of these legends such as the Earth Mother, Rustum, Sohrab and Gordāfarīd make an appearance in Dance with Gravity.
Rustum, son of Zāl and Rudaba, is a larger-than-life figure in the Shahnameh. A legendary warrior, his exploits are an intrinsic part of Persian mythology. Born into a long line of warriors, Rustum was known for killing a maddened elephant with one blow of his mace as a young child. Undoubtedly one of the biggest tragedies of the epic is when Rustum mistakenly kills his son, Sohrab, on the battlefield. Two great warriors whose misfortune resonates through the story.
Sohrab, son of Rustum and Tahmina, was another renowned warrior. When he was conceived, his father gave Tahmina two tokens to give to the child. If she gave birth to a girl, she was to braid a jewel into her hair. If Tahmina had a son, she was to give him an amulet to be worn on his arm. Unfortunately, when Rustum and Sohrab wrestled for dominance on the battlefield, neither knew each other’s identity. Rustum bitterly regretted his son’s death but could not save him.
Gordāfarīd is often cited as a symbol of wisdom and courage in Persian culture. A warrior in her own right, she was incensed when she learned that her leader had allowed himself to be captured. Dressing herself in knight’s armour, she donned a Rumi helmet and rode out to battle. Fierce as a lioness, her roar of rage at the ranks of the enemy has become legend.
The presence of the Earth Mother is the thread that weaves through the tale, and permeates the air, the tree, the forest, mountain and river — the very essence of life and myth.
The film also features art inspired by Persian mythology, which was rich with symbolic, moral, and spiritual significance. Elements of mysticism were predominant in literary works and mythical animals and birds featured heavily. They often used Chinoiserie motifs in Persian paintings with mythical and mystical elements like peonies, trees with knotted trunks, dead branches, stylised rocks, scalloped patterns, and whirls of moving water with surf and long-winding clouds.
Interwoven with myth, music and movement, Dance with Gravity showcases the history and heritage of the Earth board. Unchanged from its original form, there’s much we can learn about endurance from it. There’s a spark of magic in the most pragmatic of tools and though the Earth board itself is deceptively simple, it is worth remembering that it was fashioned from trees, and was once used to train warriors and legends. Legacies that we can embrace when we use it in our own conversations with gravity.
“Newtonian spheres trade rings through the void. Earth and Moon hoop the Sun, setting the earthly rhythms of day and night. Moon circles a spinning Earth, each tracing an arc in the other’s sky. The spheres would fling themselves apart were it not for threads of gravity that interconnect all mass, whether that mass be a star, a moony dust mote, or a drop of ocean.”
David George Haskell, The Songs of Trees
Watch the film “Dance with Gravity” here.