Get flexible, men - Move with the joy

Thursday, February 26, 2004

I've done yoga and I've done Pilates. I still can't touch my knees. And my hamstrings remain tighter than the cables holding up the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge.

I am always cruising the late night infomercials for an easy fix to these problems. So naturally I was a sucker for the following class notice at my local athletic club: "NIA -- an integrative fusion fitness class."

I'm all for integration, even fusion, but it still sounded a bit too ethereal for my taste. I caught up with instructor Ken and asked for further clarification.

"NIA stands for Neuromuscular Integrative Action," he explained.

The music began and bodies began moving in what seemed like random ways. I asked a woman doing something snaky with her hands what we were supposed to do. Lyrically, she said, "Move with the joy."

I did my best. But 40 minutes into the class, I thought I was having a 1960s flashback. Hazel, a frisky purple-haired woman in black leotards started what looked like a freeform conga line. Before long, she had several spritelike middle-aged women galloping fluidly behind her, snaking their way through the NIA dancers, all doing their own thing. Over the beat of the music, Ken kept asking us to find the "wave."

There were only three guys in the class. And, trust me, all of us had to get in touch with our feminine selves in order to fully participate. All of this fluid movement, lack of structure, lack of competitive edge: not exactly guy territory.

Yet, I realized that this is probably a good thing. I recalled Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychiatrist, who wrote extensively about how men need to find a new relationship to the feminine in the second half of their lives. He was referring to the inner feminine aspect of our own nature. Such a relationship will encourage the man to continue to grow and to avoid getting stuck in the purely masculine space of power, competition, acquisition.

This doesn't necessarily mean that we men need to don tutus in order to accomplish this. But it does require us to find new ways to move through the world. Less rigid, more flexible.

The next morning I woke up with enough joint pain to justify a game of racquetball. Evidently, relating more to one's feminine side through exercise is not exactly pain free.

I shouldn't have been surprised. Men are notoriously inflexible and prone to spending whatever fitness training we alot to ourselves in things like bench presses or treadmill jogs. Put us into a downward dog pose for too long and, not only are we uncomfortable with the vulnerability of the pose (butt up in the air, hands flat on the floor), but our bodies quickly shriek at these strange and more flexible requirements.

Ken later explained it to me this way: "In any physical training or movement discipline we tend to stay inside specific movement patterning that is required of that sport or activity. The body adapts itself for the demands of those specific physical and mental actions. This can create imbalance."

This is especially true for men. Thus, he contends, "We need to stimulate the body with new and challenging activities and movement patterns."

OK, fellas, I guess it time for all of us to change up those rigid patterns of movement, go find our own "wave" and move with that joy.

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a Cape Girardeau native who is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 20 years experience helping individuals and couples with their emotional and relationship issues. He has a private practice in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica, Calif. Contact him at mseabaugh@semissourian.com.

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