A version of this was published and syndicated nationally through Natural Awakenings. There is a huge difference between the text below, which includes a critique of masculinity and what was published. Like most things here I would write it differently today, but feel there is some merit given the ongoing need to grow self awareness and compassion. 23.
“Real Men” Don’t Do Yoga
An example of Active Compassion written for Men
We come from different places and all of us have different paths to fulfill here. We need to acknowledge our differences, let them be, and find some common ground. This common ground gives us space for the exploration requisite to heal ourselves and to help heal the world around us. Many believe we are at a pivotal point in history. With out getting too into details (details tend to muck up common ground) we need to do something about the roles that are considered acceptable for Men in our culture.
There is a huge discrepancy between the portrayals of “Real Men” in the media and the men that many of us would like to be and that the world really needs right now. This discrepancy keeps us from engaging in, and gives us the opportunity to avoid, practices that inspire health, well being, and active compassion because they don’t fit acceptable roles. In order to change this we must change ourselves and support and encourage one another.
No matter where we are in our lives, there are some practices we can take up to eliminate the manipulative concept of “Real Men” altogether. As a Yoga Instructor and Massage Therapist, I participate in the emergent compassion connected to such undertakings. Therein lies something quite valuable, compassion itself is hardwired into particular actions and activities.
Simply put, it is a formula that we all can appreciate, if we use the tools available to us, we will change. The majority of us are not going to receive overnight enlightenment, but we might feel better, breathe more deeply, and possibly even experience rare states of being, like contentment, empathy and even peace.
Once we realize that through action we can create change in ourselves, we can then postulate the role we can play in changing the world around us. On some levels that may seem quite obvious, but if it is obvious why are we as a culture in general, and men in particular, so seemingly deficient in not only compassion, but health?
We are all aware of the fast pace that the world around us is traveling at, but not everyone is aware that we can choose to participate or not. In cultures focused on agriculture, Men are connected to the natural world through their work, their labor. The assembly line and cubicle have lessened our awareness of the cycle of life to the point where, in order to redefine our selves it is necessary to pursue and experiment with actions that will facilitate our reconnection. “Real Men” can be obliterated in the process.
Three tools with benefits that can come quickly are Yoga, Massage and Diet. Many may perceive these approaches as easily accessible because once you begin using them they become quite natural. But it takes great courage to walk into your first yoga class. Here’s a guide to inform and inspire your journey.
Yoga is dynamic. It means many things to many people as it has had centuries to evolve, shift and change while traveling across regions and continents. In our Western setting yoga, until very recently, was perceived as a women’s health activity. The “yoga boom” changed the demographics a great deal, but no matter if you’re waking into a room full of women or not, there are many things to be mindful of your first time out.
- You should consult your Doctor before making changes to your exercise routine
- Each yoga session is a little culture unto itself. Yoga is full of traditions, adaptations and social norms co-created by the students, the instructor and the space. At first you may not be able to see some of the more subtle aspects of this, so seek out and be open to instruction.
- Ask around or search for local classes. Visit the website or the studio to get a schedule. Many studios post guidelines for classes that will help you to get acclimated.
- Arrive early to class to get settled in and meet the teacher. It is a great honor to share yoga with someone for the first time.
- Some people take yoga very seriously because that is what they want yoga to be, others practice with a sense of lightness and ease. Visit different studios, “try out” many instructors and traditions, so that you can find a yoga that fits you. Always be mindful that what fits one day may not fit the next.
- Be gentle with yourself. Even if we are active, many of us quickly realize that yoga gets into muscles we rarely use. This, in addition to the common “no pain, no gain” mindset and our cultural association of yoga with gracefulness and ease give us a good reason to approach a new yoga class mindfully.
- Remember that even though it is sacred, it is only yoga.
Human contact is essential to our development and well being, yet touching is a challenge for many. Respect is key in this. But Men can do something much more to reframe and reclaim touch, we can become more aware of how special and sacred it is. No matter whom we touch or how we touch them, it is always an intimate experience.
- If you’ve never had one, schedule a professional massage. Massage is both a therapeutic modality and an Art form. Though we can’t just pick up the anatomy, physiology and technique required to provide a therapeutic massage, we can demystify touch and experience the health benefits first hand.
- Cost being a factor these days, consider contacting a local massage school. Many schools have student clinics where massage is offered to the public at a discounted rate. Some of the best massages of my life have been from students.
- Share this article with your partner, family or friends and open up a discussion about the health benefits of touch and massage. Consider the potential that this could have in reframing touch in your life.
- If you have a partner, ask them if they would be interested in exchanging non-sexual touch. It’s important to express this and keep to it, as it will provide space for both of you to experience the benefits without pressure or expectations that are often bundled up with sex. Many find that drawing this line with touch improves many aspects of their relationships, including sex.
- Whether you have a partner, family member or friend you can share touch with or not, touch yourself! Self-massage is a great way to experience the benefits. While many of us may massage our palms or shoulders when they are in pain, give yourself the opportunity to sit and explore the nooks and crannies of your palm and arm.
- Finally, when you are practicing touch, listen to your partner and listen for your reactions. Keep the lines of communication open and always share what feels good in addition to things that don’t work. Be flexible and remember that this is sacred.
Food is another powerful tool that is extremely loaded in our culture. Food is actually one of the most frequently defined aspects of “Real Men.” They don’t eat this or they do eat that. The fact, that we all seem to forget all the time, is that “we are what we eat.” To kick the concept of “Real Men” we need to radically change our diets, eliminate the crap we have a tendency to eat because it is so easy, and try new things. For many, this is the toughest tool to get a handle on. These thoughts may help along the way.
- Changing our food intake is not something to be taken lightly. Consulting your physician is recommended.
- Increase your intake of whole foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and nuts)
- Don’t fall for the “Protein Myth.” Eating whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and dark leafy greens, like spinach will provide you with all the protein your body needs.
- Diversify your shopping habits. Many of us get into a rut when buying food. Rather than getting your food from one store, visit your local Farmer’s Market for your fruits and vegetables.
- Try it RAW! Increasing the amount of raw vegetables and fruits that we eat will increase our overall health. We encourage eating at least 50% of every meal raw. Thankfully salad bars are easy to find, just be mindful of the dressings. Find a recipe to make your own dressing using healthy oils like olive or sesame.
- Find a local healthy food meet-up group to meet others who are making similar changes. Having a support system in place and a resource for new ideas and recipes is invaluable in this work.
- Like Yoga and Touch, we can do ourselves a great service if we look at the preparation, eating and sharing of food as sacred. Putting something in our mouths can be viewed as one of the most intimate acts.
Download the pdf: NA 0610 RealMenDon’tDoYoga