Cass Phelps believes that the way men have stopped moving in these modern times is creating a “dampening of the spirit.”
The other day, I saw my friend and colleague, David Odorisio. He is part of today’s burgeoning men’s movement and has created a site called www.consciousmasculinity.com. He was working away on his computer. Watching him tap away at his keyboard, I wondered how he would feel if instead of doing that all day, he spent his days wielding an ax like Pa Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie. So I asked him and this is what he said:
“Well, I think the short answer is that I’d feel f*ing awesome.”
He told me that a few years ago, he spent the summer on the grounds crew at the Kripalu Center, chopping wood, clearing brush, mowing grass, etc. He said it was by far the healthiest and most alive he’d perhaps ever felt. For him, there was definitely something deeply “masculine” about how physical activity brought him into his body, whether it was hiking, working on the land, or working with the soil.
This conversation made me wonder, what is the connection between movement and manliness?
My friends and I are big fans of Outlander, the BBC series currently airing on the Starz channel. One of the main male characters is a man named Jamie Frazer. He is a strapping example of an embodied man, with a beautiful body, a chiseled jaw and a powerful spirit.
It’s impossible to separate Jamie from the culture that created him. In 17th Century Scotland, a man’s body was his primary tool, weapon, and the vehicle with which he obtained shelter, food, and protection for himself and his family. There was an urgent and real necessity to his physicality.
Nowadays, life is filled with hours of sitting, not movement. Video games have replaced the battlefield with virtual combat. Physical activity has been relegated to an entertainment – working out at the gym. What type of masculinity is our culture cultivating?
I’m not saying it was better then. Clearly there have been many, many improvements but at the level of the body and movement, there has been tremendous change and much of it has led to the weakening of all of our bodies and to big transformations in the types of contributions both men and women make. Therefore, instead of looking at how we think about it, I decided to look to the body for some insights into the evolution of modern masculinity.
The body is one of the primary gateways to cultivating and expressing gender for the most obvious reason, it is the home of our sex hormones. Doctors have a lot to say about how testosterone levels impact things like muscle mass, activity levels and aggression but how does movement impact hormones?
Research has discovered that certain movements can raise testosterone levels. William Broad, author of The Science of Yoga, writes about how yoga can increase testosterone levels. For example, a team of Russian scientists studied Cobra pose and found that on average, practicing cobra pose increases testosterone levels by 16%.
Amy Cuddy, Harvard Business School professor and researcher, shares in her TED talk how movements like standing with your hands on your hips can also raise testosterone levels.
I talked to Cass Phelps, a movement expert, via Skype to get his thoughts on the interplay between movement and masculinity. He works with lots of men to help them get into their bodies and become more empowered and what he’s seeing in his clients is a real “dampening of the male spirit” which he attributes in part to how we’re moving, or rather how we’re not moving. He talked about how he doesn’t see a lot of movements in our culture that supports a man in fully expressing his masculinity. Although there is a lot of science around testosterone—where in the body it’s made, what factors are necessary for the body to make more and what factors inhibit its production—he looks at it differently. He believes there is a very real relationship between how we move and how testosterone expresses itself in our lives, speaking about it like an energy, as well as a hormone. A primary culprit is technology. There isn’t a lot of movement involved in typing on a computer, answering your email or using your phone.
One thing that he’s noticed with many men in their 20’s and 30’s is that they’ve become completely disconnected from their bodies. As our technologically-driven lifestyle has dragged us from our bodies to our minds, many of us—both men and women—live exclusively in our heads and there’s a price.
In addition to our body’s needs, there’s this larger need we all have to create, to build and to contribute in a meaningful way. Questions about the rightness or wrongness of the patriarchy aside, historically, men have created our cities, built our pyramids and hunted for the meat we ate. Testosterone’s role in creating bigger muscles, for example, has played a large part in our evolution. Today, the creative impulse to build and provide and protect plays out much more in our minds and less in our bodies. Most of us living in developed countries spend our time thinking about how to make money to pay for a house to live in, as opposed to building our own and transportation happens by sitting instead of walking or riding on horseback. As our lives become digitized and virtualized, and our lives play out on seats and chairs and couches, our bodies soften and gender distinctions lessen. There is a scene in the movie, Wall-E, where gender-neutral blobs sit all day in robotic loungers, drink specially formulated nutritional drinks, and are placated by television. Is this where we are all headed?
Recently, I was in NYC and saw a beautiful young man on a midtown street corner in full make-up. He was wearing foundation, red lipstick and had perfectly shaped eyebrows. Although in other communities this would still be unacceptable, that it was possible on that street corner was an example of the fact that there is a diversifying of possibilities for how men can express themselves. It’s not that we’re all becoming gender neutral, it’s more that we can play with gender. For the first time, for many people, gender can be a choice, just look at Caitlyn Jenner. I asked Cass if he thought men’s shifting roles in today’s society was partly behind this new freedom?
Cass recommends something he calls full spectrum movement where your movement practices are diverse and you can experience all aspects of yourself on a physical level. This type of practice calls you forward in different ways than linear work-outs like weightlifting where you’re stuck in a repetitive loop. When your movement practice explores the full spectrum of experience, you can show up in all aspects of your life, relationships and even in your sexuality in a fluid, responsive way instead of a stuck, rigid way.
BIO: Cass Phelps offers workshops throughout the world that support people in coming back home to their bodies and true selves and holds a private practice in Kauai, HI. Cass works with clients from all walks of life as well as those with complex neurological disorders and immune diseases such as cancer, autism, brain damage and paralysis. His unique approach to sound and movement unifies the creative and healing arts as ONE. A strong sense of humor and laid-back style help to deliver the awakening transmission: All Is Within. Www.awake-one.com
The Testosterone Project, created by Susie Arnett, explores the evolution (or devolution) of masculinity in modern society through a series of interviews with leading thinkers on the topic of men and men’s health. For more information, please contact Susie Arnett at [email protected] www.lightfieldmedia.us
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