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Mindfulness

Passion, excitement, and a wee dose of imagination

Passion, excitement, and a wee dose of imagination

Simon Niblock, Therapy for Men, Couples & Families.jpg

What happens to our intimate relationships when we find ourselves in a continuous loop of routine and familiarity?

Many of the couples that I meet and talk to in both social environments and in therapy say that they feel extremely grateful for all that they have. A loving partner, loving children, meaningful careers or enough money to live comfortably. However, some individuals have an inner dialogue that niggles at them. Something's missing in their day to day routine and it's often hard to pinpoint what that might be.

Individuals who are able to express this yearning, describe an unfulfilled expectation or hope. Some are overtly clear that there is a distinct lack of joy or passion in their lives. What on earth creates this conflict? Where does this contradiction of needs (routine & security) and expectations for something new and exciting (novelty) come from? 

Let's explore this idea.

If you can recall when you first met your partner, you were most probably in a haze of desire. Your world may have been tipped upside down. Everything was new and exciting. There was a sense of adventure, and you recognized that here was someone unique in this world. You simply couldn't get enough of each other.

You may have experienced this the first time that you traveled somewhere. The sights, the sensations, everything was brilliantly new. Every fiber in your body was on high alert and you soaked in every new and extraordinary experience. Your mind was stimulated and countless moments were etched into your memory. Eventually, the whirlwind escape came to an end and you boarded your flight home.

Each of these stories describes an instance where we have an exotic or novel experience. Participating and sharing novel experiences has the potential of growing or developing ourselves through new and stimulating experiences. When we create and share new and unique experiences with our partner, it improves our connection with each other. The level of commitment between each other is heightened.

A recent article in the New York Times describes research being conducted on the nature of ‘self-expansion'. According to Dr. Arthur Aron the concept of self-expansion is the desire to grow and change and it is considered critical to boosting a couple's level of commitment towards each other.

Self-expansion within a relationship is defined by seeing your partner as a source of exciting experiences, a support for becoming a better person, or a way to expand your own capabilities. As a result, the bond between a couple is enriched. The desire to participate in novel experience is inherently human. We all experience this desire.

The relationship therapist and acclaimed public speaker, Esther Perel emphasizes that "men and women equally have a need for adventure, for novelty, for mystery, for risk, for danger, for the unknown, for the unexpected, for a surprise, for a journey, for travel.”

In her Ted Talk presentation titled ‘The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship' Esther offers a contemporary and realistic perspective on creating and maintaining a passionate marriage or relationship.

Click banner for Ted Talk: The Secret to Desire in a Long Term Relationship.

Click banner for Ted Talk: The Secret to Desire in a Long Term Relationship.

Esther explains that we all crave adventure and excitement to counterbalance the repetitive routine of our daily life. The irony is that we often place unrealistic expectations on our partner to be the sole provider of excitement throughout our life and that there is tremendous value for the health of our relationships in finding a balance between our need for security and passion.

Balance is created by being aware that life occurs in ebbs and flows and that imagination, playfulness, novelty, curiosity and mystery can create new and exciting experiences for ourselves and our partner.

If you and your partner feel like you're stuck in a rut, or struggle to create meaningful experiences that bring you together, then let's talk. Call me on 512-470-6976 to book an appointment.

Cheers, Simon


Simon Niblock is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapist who is dedicated to helping men, couples and families find peace, direction and meaning within their relationships.

Call Simon on 512-470-6976 to book an appointment today.

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A Town Called Resilience - Part One

A Town Called Resilience - Part One

It was a day like any other day for the seaside township called Resilience. It was an idyllic, sunny, late spring day. Kids went to class, adults busied themselves at work and friends caught up for coffee and chatted. Fishing boats navigated their way through the tricky harbor heads in search of their daily catch and slow heavy freight trains trundled past the outskirts of town with loads of coal. All while the little island volcano forty kilometers off-shore puffed away as it reliably did. Not much was different about this particular day.

What was unique about the seaside township of Resilience was that it sat right on top of a tectonic fault line that ran right through the countryside. In actual fact, the main high street where all the folks comfortably sitting in cafés enjoyed their mid-afternoon lattes and scones was build right on top. It wasn’t a secret. Everyone who lived there, knew it existed right beneath their feet, that it traveled passed the public library, alongside the town hall, through the movie theater and pretty much everything else. It was just part of the landscape, part of the agreement of living in this picturesque, quaint seaside township. That was until 3.15PM.

At first it started with a few distant rumbles, followed closely by a couple of sharp jolts. Windows rattled and coffee cups toppled. Then a pause. People looked up from what they were doing to confirm with a friend that it wasn’t simply a big truck that had rumbled past. Then it hit. The ground shook with such an incredible force that it had folks scrambling for cover. Items fell from shelves, furniture toppled and people dived under tables and stood between doorframes to protect themselves. No sooner had people caught their breath, then another wave of rumbles came, immediately followed by a series of jolts that threw people to the ground.

By the time the third earthquake had passed, many people who had earlier been peacefully going about their day, found themselves surrounded by debris and chaos. Buildings had collapsed, windows were shattered, and cracks big enough to drive a truck through had appeared in the ground. Water pipes had burst, spot fires flared up and tsunami sirens blared away. People were disorientated and shocked. The world had literary been thrown up in the air and landed with an almighty crash. Then, as evening started to set in, it started to rain. A heavy rain that continued for three consecutive days that mixed in with the dust and rubble.

Resilience dug deep to pick itself up from the mess. Neighbors pitched in to offer beds and meals for those less fortunate. Friends gathered to clean up the debris. Businesses pitched in to offer their services for free and grocery stores gave perishable food away to those in need and car park BBQ’s sprung up everywhere. Despite the overwhelming chaos, the community of Resilience willingly rallied to support each other. People rolled up their sleeves and got stuck into the muck. As a result, they quickly developed a strong sense of resolve while even managing to crack the odd joke to keep things light when it got tough.

Despite numerous aftershocks over the proceeding weeks, the township of Resilience eventually recovered. For many it was a catastrophe beyond anything that they had ever encountered. A simple loud noise would make someone jump and they would relive their experience. It left people feeling vulnerable and traumatized. Nevertheless, over time, lives and homes were eventually rebuilt. They grew as a community while adjusting to the uncertainty of another earthquake occurring again without warning. Even though many had experienced loss, grief and misfortune, the township of Resilience found the spirit to recover. This was their seaside home and they wanted to remain true to their namesake.

The Mastery of Emotion: Fear

The Mastery of Emotion: Fear

A sudden loud noise that makes us jump, a swift movement in the corner of your eye that raises the hair on the back of our neck, or a moment of sheer dread when our heart rises into our throat and our stomach plummets. The universal experience of fear that serves a very distinct purpose: our basic survival. Yet the irony of this emotion is that we are often only aware of its presence after we have returned to a state of calm and reflect on our experience. We all experience fear, however, are we truly aware of its varying forms, states, and intensities? What does the emotion of fear mean to our sense of safety or personal well-being, and what can we do to manage fear that may seem unfounded and when it doesn’t serve us?

WHAT IS FEAR?

Fear is described as an intuitive and instinctive emotion that leads to adaptive physiological, cognitive and behavioral responses to either a real or perceived threat. Animal behaviorists (ethologists) define fear as a motivational state aroused by specific stimuli that give rise to defensive behavior or escape. Across human evolution, fear has allowed us to survive in the most adverse of conditions; for example, a wooly mammoth charging towards us, or a natural disaster such as flood waters or an earthquake. We can experience fear in a wide variety of intensities including trepidation, nervousness, anxiety, dread, desperation, panic, horror and terror.

Fear can also occur as either innate (natural) or learned (constructed). The fear of falling and the fear of loud noises are viewed as the only innate or natural fears that we are actually born with. We observe babies automatically reacting to the potential of either of these scenarios from the second they are born. In comparison, learned fear is established and reinforced throughout our childhood development as a result of relational, environmental and cultural influences. For example, we are not born with an innate fear of spiders or sharks. This fear occurs because we are taught to respond as a result of the association between a potential threat or cue (a spider) and a fear outcome (being bit and risk of falling ill). Depending on what and how we learn, a potential threat can be very real, anticipated or sometimes even imagined.

WHAT PURPOSE DOES FEAR SERVE?

Fear serves as both physical and psychological information for us to determine an appropriate survival response. In other words, it is the psychobiological reaction to a given threat, that occurs automatically. This information has the ability to activate our body to respond even before we are cognitively aware of what’s occurring. It allows us to perceive a potential threat, regardless of whether we are aware or even familiar with the circumstance, by connecting our innate or learnt associations as a conductor on how to respond. For example, if we find ourselves in an unfamiliar setting or environment, we might experience trepidation or even nervousness, resulting in us proceeding cautiously or with hyper-vigilance.

HOW TO WE EXPERIENCE FEAR?

How we experience fear is directly related to the nature of a threat. The nature of fear is a complex beast, often referred to as either real fear (an actual threat to physical harm) or psychological fear. Real fear triggers a series of physiological, neurological and psychological responses that result in the classic fight, freeze or flight behaviors. Psychological fear incorporates elements far more involved that our basic instincts. As described, we are conditioned to prepare for a fear outcome, which in some situations leads to the act of anticipation. The tricky part is, anticipation does not denote the existence of a real threat. This is when we describe the terms of rational or appropriate and irrational or inappropriate fear. It is a subjective expectation of an experience that may or may not occur, however, we are constantly initiating a fear response, there is an increased possibility of chronic physical, neurological and psychological problems.

According to contemporary theory; there are five tenants of fear:

  1. Fear of extinction: also referred to as the fear of death, annihilation or of ceasing to exist. The idea of no longer existing or being provokes an existential anxiety for most individuals. Some may experience this fear when faced with heights, or expansive spaces or other cues that stir feelings of our mortality.
  2. Fear of injury or mutilation: defined by the fear of losing any part of our precious bodily structure; the thought of having our body’s boundaries invaded, or of losing the integrity of any organ, body part, or natural function.
  3. Fear of loss of autonomy: the fear of being immobilized, paralyzed, restricted, enveloped, overwhelmed, entrapped, imprisoned, smothered, or otherwise controlled by circumstances beyond our control. In physical form, it’s commonly known as claustrophobia, but it also extends to our social interactions and relationships in the form of losing one’s self.
  4. Fear of separation or aloneness: this relates to an association of abandonment, rejection, and loss of connectedness with others; of becoming a non-person, someone who is wanted, respected, or valued by anyone else. Anyone who has experienced being shunned or rejected by a group or tribe may experience a significant, adverse psychological reaction.
  5. Fear of ego-death: a fancy way to describe humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the self; the fear of the shattering or disintegration of one’s constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness.

WHAT HAPPENS TO US WHEN WE BECOME FEARFUL?

Similar to the various physiological, neurological and psychological responses experienced when we experience anger, our brain triggers the all too familiar fight or flight response. When we experience fear, two key parts of our brain are activated. The first part to fire up is the ‘amygdala’. The amygdala is the neurological center or sensory system for coordinating behavioral, autonomic and endocrine (hormone) responses to external stimuli (visual, sound and smell cues). Within milliseconds of the amygdala activating, the following physiological actions occur:

  • Increase of heart rate and blood pressure;
  • Pupils dilate to increase sight and input of light;
  • Blood is redirected to major muscle groups;
  • Blood-glucose level increases;
  • Muscles tense, adrenaline and glucose level increase;
  • Lungs increase oxygen intake;
  • Non-essential systems (digestion and immune system) shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions;

Another key player is the higher cortical center of the brain. This part references cue and memory. It will reference our experiences and knowledge of a potential threat and potentially override the amygdala, allowing us to control our sense of fear.

HOW CAN WE MANAGE FEAR?

While we are no longer likely to be threatened by that beastly wooly mammoth, experiencing fear is a normal human emotional response. However, when we experience prolonged real or perceived fear it can become extremely debilitating. Because we typically recognize fear after the fact, managing fear can be difficult. How we care for ourselves, after the experience is imperative. According to DuPont, Dupont, & DuPont (1998), there are a number of options to help reduce the impact of a fear experience. The objective is to condition ourselves to identify and quantify a fear trigger or cue to reducing its impact. Here are some suggestions;

It doesn't matter why you're scared. Knowing why you've developed a particular fear doesn't do much to help you overcome it, and it delays your progress in areas that will actually help you become less afraid. Stop trying to figure it out.

  1. Learn about the thing you fear. Uncertainty is a huge component of fear: Developing an understanding of what you're afraid of goes a long way toward erasing that fear.
  2. Train. If there's something you're afraid to try because it seems scary or difficult, start small and work in steps. Slowly building familiarity with a scary subject makes it more manageable.
  3. Find someone who is not afraid. If there's something you're afraid of, find someone who is not afraid of that thing and spend time with that person. Take them along when you try to conquer your fear.
  4. Talk about it – more than once. Sharing your fears out loud can reduce the scale of the experience.
  5. Play mind games with yourself. If you're afraid of speaking in front of groups, it's probably because you think the audience is going to judge you. Try imagining the audience members naked, being the only clothed person in the room puts you in the position of judgment.
  6. Reduce reflecting on the grand scheme. Reflect on small, successive steps. If you're afraid of heights, don't think about being on the fortieth floor of a building. Just think about getting your foot in the lobby.
  7. Seek help. Fear is not a simple emotion. If you're having trouble overcoming your fear on your own, find a professional to help you. There are lots of professional treatment options available and it’s possible to overcome fears with the guidance of someone with training and experience.

Fear is the most primary of human emotions. It has served to protect us since the dawn of time and it can be both incredibly intense and profound. We often experience fear in a plethora of emotional experiences, such as fear of isolation, shame, guilt, embarrassment, etc. When we explore and acknowledge our fears, it is possible to reduce the impact that it can create. Fear can occur as either real or rational, or perceived or irrational.

We all experience fear in some capacity or form, almost daily. Regardless of what type of fear you may experience or struggle with, there is a wide range of practical strategies to lessen its impact. Fear serves a purpose, however, not at the expense of your mental and physical well-being and your relationships.

If you would like to learn more about the experience of fear or if you recognize that it adversely impacts your life then call me on 512-470-6976 to start a conversation.

Cheers, Simon

Simon Niblock, MA is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping men, couples and families find peace, direction, and meaning in their relationships. Click on the button below to book a consultation.

References

Image courtesy of Stefan Rheone (2016) on Flicker

Albrecht, K (2012) The (Only) 5 Fears We All Share. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brainsnacks/201203/the-only-5-fears-we-all-share

DuPont, Caroline M., DuPont, Robert L., DuPont Spencer, Elizabeth. "The Anxious Brain." The Anxiety Cure: An Eight-Step Program for Getting Well. Wiley, 1998. ISBN 0471247014.

Gibson, E. J., & Walk, R. D. (1960). The visual cliff. Scientific American, 202, 67–
71

Kounang, N (2015), What is the science behind fear? http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/29/health/science-of-fear/

Sarhan, A (2013) Fear & Greed Intro and eight practical tips to deal with fear. http://www.globalmacroresearch.com/tag/fear-greed-intro-8-practical-tips-to-deal-with-fear/

Steimer, T. (2002). The biology of fear and anxiety-related behaviors. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 4(3), 231–249. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181681/

My Unconquerable Soul {Invictus}

My Unconquerable Soul {Invictus}

It is a universal law, that irrespective of who we are, we will all experience travesty and triumph.

It is essential to appreciate that no matter the circumstance, we are each charged with the responsibility for our own lives. While this entrustment may seem difficult, albeit impossible at times, the responsibility for our destiny resides entirely with us.

This poem written by William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) an English Poet, is an inspiring description of the importance of remaining the master of our own destiny, regardless of the pains and perils that life can throw at us.

Henley states that we are inevitably responsible for our own happiness, our own path. He wrote this poem at the age of seventeen, while recovering from a leg amputation. Invictus in Latin means unconquered.

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstances

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeoning of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

Simon Niblock is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping men, couples and families find peace, direction and meaning within their relationships.

Image by Ian D. Keating

Call Simon on 512-470-6976 or book an appointment below:

Keep Calm and Have a Cuppa Tea, Love.

Keep Calm and Have a Cuppa Tea, Love.

Image by Mike Nkiec on  Flickr

Image by Mike Nkiec on Flickr

Keep Calm and Have a Cuppa Tea, Love.

English breakfast, Irish breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Assam, Ceylon, Green tea, Oolong, Masala Chai, Rooibos. If you’re a purveyor of tea, you understand that the range of this distinctly unique beverage is endless. You will also appreciate that having a cup of tea, also known as a ‘cuppa’ to those with English heritage, is more than having a hot drink. 

It’s almost magical. Let me explain…

I can recall seeing my grandmother make a pot of tea even as young as five or six years of age. Tea was a staple in our house – more so than coffee. For those who have had the pleasure of drinking tea as part of their daily routine, you can appreciate the relaxing, calming effect that tea produces. We didn’t have the fancy stuff like we do today. This was strong black tea, with plenty of full cream milk and a few good spoonful’s of sugar to sweeten things up. There is something about tea that instantly transports me back to memories of family and friends sitting around the kitchen table.

The other amazing thing about tea is that the moment that the first sip is consumed, the chaos that may have been encircling our world at the time, appears to magically ebb away. Tea for some unknown reason makes things feel better. Many people will describe that during moments of personal or family difficulty, it would not be out of place for someone to put the kettle on, or boil the jug to make a pot of tea. Life’s challenges were a wee bit easier to cope with once a good, strong, hot cuppa tea was shared. If a plate of biscuits (cookies) were offered, you knew that it was a special moment.

I’ve been fascinated about this experience, as I know many other people who describe the similar soothing, grounding, calming effects of drinking tea. I’ve often wondered if this experience is all just my imagination or whether there’s any real medicinal value from drinking this amber liquid? Intriguingly, there’s actually been a fair bit of research behind this phenomenon - yes, someone’s actually done research on this subject.

According to researchers (tea nerds), tea is known to reduce anxiety levels, increase positivity, induce relaxation and encourage interpersonal connections with others. Evidently, tea offers true psychopharmacological benefits due to an amino acid called Theatine. Theatine has an affect on our alpha brain waves which induces a calmer, clearer and relaxed state of mind. Groovy stuff.

On the other hand, I’ve wondered whether the stress reduction effects of tea are simply due to the social nature of sharing a cup? Again, research describes that the act of making and sharing a cup of tea for someone promote real social attachments. Part of this may explain why I think tea made by someone else always tastes better than if I made it myself. This is why I love to make tea for my wife each morning. A bit of love goes in every cup. 

Evidently, sharing a cup of tea with someone can create feelings of companionship and affection. The ritual associated with tea making is deeply rooted in many cultures. It offers immediate comfort and social connection for many. It promotes feelings and behaviors that lead to secure interpersonal connections, particularly the emotions associated with trustworthiness. There’s a feeling of genuine connection when friends and family sit around the table to share a ‘cuppa’.

So, the next time that you feel that the world is about to crumble down on you, call a friend over and put on the kettle. Life will be ok.

Arohanui, Simon

Simon Niblock is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping couples and their families find peace, direction and meaning within their relationships. 

Contact Simon on 512-470-6976 to start a conversation.

CLICK HERE TO CONNECT

References:

Cross, M.C., & M.R. (DATE). The social psychological effects of tea consumption on stress. Retrieved from www.teaemergency.com.

Andrew, S., Gibson, E., Vuononvirta, R., Williams, E., Hamer, M., Rycroft, J., Erusalimsky, J., Wardle, J. (2007). The effects of tea on psychophysiological stress responsivity and post-stress recovery: a randomised double-blind trial. Psychopharmacology, Vol.190(1), pp.91-91.

What is Masculinity? Curiosity, A Man’s Mind and His Body.

What is Masculinity? Curiosity, A Man’s Mind and His Body.

Image by   kimdokhac  on Flickr

Image by  kimdokhac on Flickr

What is Masculinity? Curiosity, A Man's Mind and His Body.

"The continued exploration of real men, real yoga, an inquiry into what it means to be a man through the lens of yoga, ancestry and expectation.”Yes, sadly this is the last post in the series inspired by the men’s yoga group that I have participated in for the past eight weeks. This week, our class starts with a discussion about the importance of remaining curious throughout our lives. From my own experience, this theme is extremely relevant as it forms the foundation of how I practice as a couples and family therapist. So, I’m really not surprised that I find myself listening to a similar message conveyed in this yoga practice.

Mark, our yoga guru invites us to continue our journey into what it means to be a man, by remaining curious in all aspects of our lives. He mentioned that through the practice of yoga or meditative inspired exercise we create a bridge between our mind and our body and that it’s important to try to listen to both parts of ourselves. When we take time to scan our bodies in yoga, we acknowledge parts of our bodies that might be feeling tight or sore. This acknowledgement allows us to respect and respond accordingly.

The same goes for our mind. When we recognize that the monkey chatter is too loud or all consuming, we need to take the time to quiet things down. It’s vital that men regularly take a few moments to create a valley or space between these thoughts, otherwise they begin to consume us. We need to actively pursue ways to find positive channels to wash away the cobwebs and recharge ourselves, otherwise we are of no use to ourselves or to those who matter to us most.

As I may have described in one of my earlier entries in this series, the men in this group are as diverse as you could possibly imagine. Each joined the group with a vast array of experiences, thoughts, expectations, hopes and dreams. The amazing thing about this program, was each man was acknowledged and respected regardless of who he was or where he came from. There was no judgment at all and each man shaped what they wanted to put into their practice and what they wanted out of it. Many of us learnt a few things about ourselves, by connecting and learning from others.

The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when contemplating the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of the mystery every day. The important thing is not to stop questioning; never lose a holy curiosity. Albert Einstein. 

Throughout the past eight weeks, we’ve explored a wide range of themes that relate to the crazy contemporary world that men find themselves living in these days. Themes such as vulnerability and the strength that it takes to connect and be open to new experiences. I’ve learned the importance of being able to place aside our egos to connect with others and the role of non-judgment and forgiveness. We’ve explored the influence of ancestry and sense that mortality can have on us and what it takes to rewrite our personal narrative so that we can live authentically and create a legacy that benefits generations to come. When I look back on all the topics that we’ve dived into, I realize that this has been much more than a simple exercise program.

However, I do have to say the exercise has been amazing. I recall starting this program complaining about lower back pain. I’m so happy to say that after all this bending and flexing, I feel incredible. It’s a rare day that I feel stiff as much as I used to. Even if I hadn’t experienced the Zen-like serenity after each class and the chilled state that sometimes continues for days, I would have to say that it’s been worth it just to be able to strut about with a little bit more flexibility. Trust me, as you get a little older, being able to maintain your strut is bloody important.

In this final class, I leave feeling honored to have been a part of it. It’s humbling to learn that my mental and physical needs have changed as I have matured. I’m no longer the indestructible twenty-five year- old that I recall and my needs and expectations have clearly changed. I accept that without any issues now. I also leave this evening having made a few new friends and a greater appreciation for experiences of others and acknowledgment that it’s important, no, actually it’s vital to stay curious and continue the exploration throughout our life.

On a final note, I would like to offer Mark Herron, Co-owner & Yogi @ Sukha Yoga an enormous thank you for the inspiration for this series on masculinity. As an advocate for men’s health and incorporating yoga as part of their daily practice, Mark hosts these programs on a regular basis and has created an amazing local Austin community promoting both physical and mental well-being. Visit the Sukha website on www.sukhayogaaustin.com for upcoming events.

Arohanui, Simon

Simon Niblock is an Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping couples and their families find peace, direction and meaning within their relationships. 

Contact Simon on 512-470-6976 to start a conversation.

CLICK HERE TO CONNECT

What is Masculinity? Rewiring Our Narrative.

Image by Fabio Penna on  Flickr

Image by Fabio Penna on Flickr

WHAT IS MASCULINITY? WEEK 3

"The continued exploration of real men, real yoga, an inquiry into what it means to be a man through the lens of yoga, ancestry and expectation.”

This is my third week of the men’s yoga group. This evening we slowly and sluggishly stumble into the room. Outside, it’s been raining for days and the air is intensely humid. We find our spots in the room and acknowledge the familiar faces around us as we mentally prepare ourselves for the hour ahead. The room is quiet this evening. A few jokes are cracked that help ease the silence and to remind us of why we’re here. It’s nice to be able to chill for a few moments, away from the busy day before we immerse ourselves into an array of twists and turns.

Mark, our yoga guru enters the room and immediately recognizes the mood and challenges the silence. A few more laughs are raised. There’s a few new faces in the group tonight, some are just passing through and want to share the experience. Our session starts by an open invitation to reflect on our day, the busy-ness of our daily life. We're asked to imagine that the noisy monkey chatter of our thoughts are the tips of mountain tops. (Ok, I'll go with it). Our intention this evening is to create a space, essentially a valley, between these thoughts for the purpose of evolving an experience of calmness and quiet reflection. This is true mindfulness in its prime. No wonder I feel so damn ‘Zen’ after each practice.

The theme of this evenings practice includes the social and generational narrative of what it’s like to be a man in today’s world. We’re asked to think about the narrative that we grew up with, about how a man should think, act and project himself onto others. Mark highlights that many of us carry such narratives from one generation to the next, without being aware of this ever-changing dynamic. We are challenged to think for a moment about this cycle and the fact that these stories are played continuously in our brains every day. Yet, it’s very possible to rewire this thinking. We only need to create a small amount of space to germinate new ways of thinking and being. It’s not easy, but it is possible.

"We seldom realize, for example, that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society". Alan Watts.

We start our practice and within ten minutes the room feels like a sauna (did I say it was humid today?). It’s damn hot. I’m pacing myself so I don’t over do it. I recognize there are parts of me that are being twisted and stretched and the ‘discomfort’ feels good. I’m aware of the various signals which my body conveys and I’m equally conscious about what suits my needs at that moment. Actually, that’s a pretty good lesson to to abide by in general really.

We’re invited to focus on our breathing. Mine is clearly heavy as I realize that I’m panting like a dog. We’re told to slow the breathing down to match the movement of each yoga pose. Though yoga has been practiced for centuries, there’s science to match it. Managing our breathing allows us to regulate our autonomic nervous system. By creating a balance between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems (our ‘flight or fight’ response), we are able to slow ourselves down and create ‘breathing space’ in our mind. That is the essence of practicing mental self-care.

In my conversations with men outside the therapy room, many of them describe that they are uncomfortable with asking for help and relying on others for support, especially when it comes to their health. This is often represented in many avoiding the doctor like the plague (even if they had the plague). Equally, many would never seek help from a mental health professional. They would sooner prefer to fall off the ‘white horse’ in a blubbering heap than to admit they have a problem.

However, there is a change in this narrative. More men are initiating services or exploring ways to take care of themselves better. In this room there is significant evidence that some men understand that it’s possible to change, while evolving their ideas of what it’s meant to be strong, while maintaining their dignity and respect for themselves. In this room, authenticity is the key message.

We conclude the session by simply lying on the floor and I’m feeling pretty chuffed that I’ve survived. In this moment of pure, stationary bliss, we are introduced to an audio of Allan Watts, the famous British philosopher. With our eyes closed in this Zen space, we listen to the message that we are all innately addicted to our thoughts. From the moment that we learn to think, the monkey-chatter starts and rarely subsides. This is why activities such as yoga, meditation or similar practices are so important as a form of self-care. When we create a brief moment to calm the mind, we acquire a sense of restoration that makes us feel incredibly calm and reenergized.

Similar to previous evenings, some of the blokes from class meet up afterwards to have a bite and a beer (yes, so much for my self restricted intake – but boy, I earned this one). Over our burgers and salads, we discuss a random array of matters, including work, exercise, current pains and ailments, what brought us to this town and the class we just experienced. The conversations not too deep and meaningful, but it’s just nice to be in the presence of other guys who want to try something new to stretch themselves. No pun intended.

Thanks again to Mark Herron, Co-owner & Yogi and the amazing team @ Sukha Yoga for the inspiration for this weeks post. www.sukhayogaaustin.com.

~ Simon Niblock

Simon Niblock is Austin TX based, Marriage and Family Therapy Associate who is dedicated to helping couples and their families find peace, direction and meaning within their relationships.