In connection with Mental Health Week, we’ve asked 6 men how yoga and mindfulness has impacted their life and mental health. Men’s mental health has been pushed under the rug for too long, and these 6 have learned the hard way that it takes a strong man to be soft and listen inwards.
Read their inspiring stories here:
My practice has evolved over the years, as has the way it has affected my mental health. Initially, when I began yoga, I used it as a way to bury emotion. Every day was a way to desensitise and I used philosophy to punish myself and my behaviour. While it did control my emotional state, I was unable to feel anything. My motivation was driven by an austere daily practice and very rigid personal ethics. I was miserable. I was still suicidal. I had neatly fenced myself in with a cloak of mysticism and physical prowess that kept people away.
Through Forrest Yoga, I was encouraged to journal and explore these sensations and rules that I had chained myself down with. By doing this work, I was able to see clearly that I used yoga as a punishment. I was striving for purification and the release of death, playing the long game with little to no attention given to my own wellbeing, health, or personal enjoyment. Facing up to this, I set about making daily changes to my practice. This turned into a practice learned by rote to a practice motivated by my own needs, to get excited by challenges, and to feel a full spectrum of emotions. Every time I journaled, I could write my story, and this eventually became telling my story aloud. Every time it is written, every time it is spoken, it changes in light of new information and more time to explore the nuances. This has brought me a lot of clarity around how I react and how to navigate the maelstrom of emotions while still feeling in control.
Mindfulness’ has had a great impact on my life through the implementation of yoga and martial arts from my early 20’s onwards.
I had not long returned from serving as a Royal Marine in Afghanistan, before joining the Fire Service in my early 20’s. Like many others who have served, I had witnessed a few things that were difficult to comprehend and as men, there is a cultural tendency to lock trauma away in a box and convince ourselves that these experiences will never affect us again. tThe truth is they always do, somehow. Over the following years, I was fortunate to be exposed to a number of practices that would really help to unlock these boxes.
2 years after my first ‘yoga asana’ class, I was attending a teacher training at Samahita Retreat in Thailand. After 3 weeks of Contemplation, Kriyas, Pranayama, Study and daily Asana, I finally came to the realisation that I was storing stuff (sh*t stuff) and a lot of it. I believe this was the first day I unlocked the box and started to deal with past experiences.
Personally, I have found great value in these practices (in their entirety) which have helped me to realise more about our collective existence, the way we think and that “we are not our thoughts or actions”.
Over the years, acceptance, comprehension and understanding have helped me to quieten that constant internal dialogue, building a positive relationship with everything in my past. Of course, there are many other methods that can help, but for me, these are the ones that changed my life for the better.
Over the last few years, I have been very fortunate to share these teachings with others who have been through similar experiences and for that, I am very grateful.
Yoga is an accessible everyday practice to support your mental health. Taking time to attend to your personal wellbeing has huge benefits in dealing with the everyday stresses of life. The beauty of the practice is knowing that nothing is expected and it’s simply an opportunity to step away from chaos and take time to slow down, calm down and prioritise yourself.
Michael James Wong, Founder of Boys of Yoga, and Just Breathe have created an easy everyday meditation app to support your mental health and wellbeing in the real world. Available on both Apple and Android.
My yoga practice, and then subsequently finding my meditation practice, has greatly impacted my overall wellbeing, physically and mentally, in a positive way. They allow me to take a step back and find perspective on the things going on in my life. As someone who loves to move, my physical yoga practice nourishes me, and is one of my preferred methods of finding distraction through focus, taking the time for me; my meditation practice reminds me that this life is a gift to enjoy experimentally, and to find gratitude for all aspects, not just the overtly ‘positive’, and to accept that all things change, so when things are challenging, I know they won’t be that way forever. I endeavour not to strive for the unsustainable ideal of happiness, but to return to a state of contentment through meditation, thus allowing me to appreciate happiness when it comes along.
Yoga has had a greater impact on my mental health than I ever thought possible. I would be the first to tell you that I started practising only for physical reasons, but the mental aspect is what hooked me and kept me coming back.
Looking back at my life before yoga, I feel like I was angry a lot of the time, stressed, at war with myself as a result of ego and a preconceived idea of Masculinity.
Yoga gave me permission to soften, to be kind to myself. I realised I can be calm and sensitive, without being any less of a man. That transformed my whole outlook and approach to life for the better.
Many people in the West get into yoga for physical fitness and stress relief, and I was the same. However, my initial ‘addiction’ to yoga poses is now in decline – my motivation has changed! What was a practice of physical stability has become an integration of important lessons on certain principles, such as kindness, truthfulness and self-discipline. Most recently, I’ve been developing a sense of yoga community, purpose and self-actualisation in my teaching to maintain emotional sanity. I’ve realised “connection” is the opposite of “addiction”, which only created isolated behaviour patterns in myself. I now aspire to create a yoga community, more accessible and inclusive, regardless of a person’s gender, age, current level of flexibility or fitness, or relationship with spirituality – my new intention of sanity: people and places, always with purpose.
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