Mindfulness for Men
Growing up in the South Wales Valleys you had to be tough, stoic, repress how you felt to survive and be able to fight your corner. Crying was a sign of weakness and it was considered masculine to smoke and consume alcohol and indulge in risky behaviours. Meditation wasn’t a hot topic in the club over a game of darts in the 1980’s.
I discovered meditation in my twenties and had an ‘on-off’ relationship with it – I would come home to me then go back to ‘Party-Paul. This was not a healthy way of being – my hedonism and indulgence led to avoidant relationships, unhealthy lifestyle choices and feelings of guilt and shame.
Ironically it was during these challenging times that I started to realise that I could live a better life and actually like who I am!! How profound, liking who you are and not feeling bad about yourself because of your behaviour. So how did I make this change, what was the shift, the pivotal moment?
I learnt to stop beating myself up and to forgive myself and others who I blamed. I was carrying around this bag of resentment from the past and began to treat myself with compassion. This became contagious, I actually started to be compassionate towards other people, however, I still have a lot to learn.
There may be men who are reading this thinking, ‘What a load of rubbish!!’ That’s ok, however, I have a question for you – ‘If your pet was ill, would you ignore it?’ Why a pet, why not children, partners, family or friends? Well, we are more likely to love animals unconditionally!! We love animals!! We love puppies & kittens. They become part of our tribe!! What if we treated ourselves with the same unconditional regard we have for our pets?
How does mindfulness help us? Consider the Jedi knights from Star Wars; they use restraint and are able to focus their minds and not become overwhelmed by fear, anger or hatred. Most people would love to be a Jedi!! The great Bruce Lee was an advocate for meditation and was able to channel his energy and focus to bring martial arts and eastern philosophy to the West. In military boot camps all over the world soldiers are being taught to control their breath. In the elite special forces they are taught to be ‘situationally aware’ to ensure they are not reacting to situations which will lead to increased risk to their lives. This technique has been adopted by firefighters in the USA. One particular group has used mindfulness to assess danger – instead of reacting, they respond by managing their feelings of overwhelm when the fight/flight or freeze reaction is triggered.
There are many myths surrounding Mindfulness; it is not just about sitting for 45 minutes like a pretzel, it’s not mysterious or spiritual. Harlequins rugby club, home to Joe Marler, have been using mindfulness since 2018. Former Head of rugby Paul Gustard said that rugby is a very ‘Alpha Male sport’, he adds that unfortunately the players will try to resolve issues on their own which is not conducive to happiness, health and high performance in sport. Using mindfulness they have been able to focus on the present and not on the worries of the future or dwell on the mistakes in the past. Whilst finishing this blog, I am aware Harlequins Rugby are enjoying a rich vein of form, whether or not that’s due to mindfulness only the players can tell.
By Paul Griffiths