EVER BEEN ON A ‘MEN’S URBAN DAY RETREAT’? I HAVE.
Imagine a day dedicated solely to men. I mean, men going on a ‘day retreat’. Struggle to think of one? Well that’s what Stephen Marks pulled off last week, in a remarkable event that combined physical, mental and spiritual aspects of wellness in his ‘Men’s Urban Day Retreat’.
When I explained to one of the guys at the beginning of the day that yoga used to be exclusively for men, the look of surprise was priceless. How could it possibly be, that the practice of modern yoga today is predominantly female?
That’s what it feels like to be a man these days who wants to get involved but is faced with many barriers to entry; the awkwardness, the hesitation, the lack of ‘flexibility’. It takes something to step into a yoga studio and sign up to a class for the first time. Quite frankly, it’s intimidating. The Men’s Urban Retreat was a small part that aims to ‘reduce this gap’.
1. Yoga with Chris James
The Men’s Urban Day Retreat started with some gentle hatha yoga led by experienced teacher Chris James from Chris James Mind Body. Chris explained that women come to yoga for refuge, men initially come to be ‘competitive’. After awhile men soon realise that it’s the space that yoga creates, that brings guys back to the mat. Come on guys, you really don’t need to be ‘flexible’ to practice yoga!
2. Working Well with Hari Kalymnios – The Thought Gym
Hari Kalymnios from The Thought Gym opened the first talk of the day on wellbeing and most importantly the importance of learning how to ‘breathe’; how we have a tendency to engage in more shallower, less efficient breathing that creates stress rather than inducing a relaxation response (instead of using the full abdomen, or ‘belly breathing’). Thanks for Hari to reminding us of this fundamental, but effortless gift!
3. Nutrition with Alexandra Neilan & Chloe Cunningham – Health is Wealth
Alexandra Neilan and Chloe Cunningham from ‘Health is Wealth‘ led the next session where they described the importance of identifying those triggers for stress, including coffee, sugar and how stress plays havoc on our hormones, through the release of cortisol. Cortisol it seems has a lot to answer for in affecting our overall level of health! The answer: stress reduction. Could it be that simple?
4. Yoga with Andrew Hunt
Following these interesting wellbeing and nutritional talks, it was time to hit the floor again with Andrew Hunt, who introduced the guys to a bit of traditional Hatha yoga as well as Kundalini. Kundalini yoga is well-known for its dynamic and challenging breath work, including the infamous ‘breath of fire’. Andrew reminded us there is a distinction between ‘discomfort’ and ‘pain’. Once you identify with this, it becomes easier to accept the ‘discomfort’ and move with it. At first I thought this was perhaps a little too much for some first timers to yoga, but then I realised it’s also about breaking down barriers and gently introducing people to different traditions and approaches. Great work Andrew!
Lunch followed with a tasty and great selection of both vegan and traditional sandwiches and salads. It’s amazing to think how far the vegan movement has come, such that it now regularly features on food options for all clientele.
5. Mindful Drinking with Jussi Tolvi – Club Soda
Following lunch, It was time for the afternoon schedule of the Men’s Urban Day Retreat. The guys from a Club Soda kicked it off by giving a short talk on ‘mindful drinking’, yes you got it, drinking ‘mindfully’, whatever that means! In actual fact, it’s a code name for the new wave of alcohol-free beers and non-alcoholic alternatives hitting our bars. We think we can drink ‘moderately’. We are told all the time of the benefits of a ‘moderate’ amount of alcohol, but what does that really mean and would we say that most drinkers only drink moderately? Why not enjoy the benefits of all the flavour and drink alcohol free? A challenge for some, but entirely possible if you put your ‘mind’ to it.
6. Yoga Nidra & Sleep with Stephen Marks
Stephen himself, the organiser of the Men’s Urban Day Retreat, then led a session on ‘yoga nidra‘, the practice of yogic sleep. ‘Nidra’ as Stephen likes to say, is a method of conscious awakening, a means by which the body enters a wonderful relaxation response. In Yoga Nidra, the brain starts to produce deep states of alpha, theta and delta waves. It is in this state that the body experiences deep rest, and all the benefits of 4 hours sleep can be experienced in as little as 20 minutes! After two sessions, all the lads came out certainly rested and ready for the next session.
7. Conscious Leadership with Marika Messager
One would say straight after a ‘nidra’ session, it was a lot to process, however what then followed was an inspiring talk by Marika Messager about ‘conscious leadership’; a thought-provoking talk about being alive in what we do and how we can connect with our inner self. How many of us go to work on a day-to-day basis and just feel numb? An awful lot of us. Marika invited us to explore what it really means to feel alive and break down the many layers that define our existence. Peeling the onion as they say!
8. Gong Bath with Patricia Carlotta
Finally, the day finished with a wonderful gong bath by Patricia Carlotta, which is a form of sound healing. Imagine lying down in a room and feeling the wonderful effects of pure vibration ripple your body? That’s sound healing for you. Divine.
Together with a first class venue at the amazing Ace Hotel, in Shoreditch, London that oozed with professionalism and flair, a wonderful day was experienced by all guys. Thanks to Stephen for taking the initiative to produce a truly unique and special day. I connected with so many wonderful participants. As a male ‘recipient’, I am truly grateful. I hope there are more days like this dedicated to men’s health in the future. If the Men’s Urban Day Retreat is a start, then the future is surely looking bright.