When we announced our latest pilot workshop – Boys, Coyotes & Other Wild Creatures: Healthy Alternatives for Harnessing “Wildness” – we figured there would be a lot of interest, but nothing like the outpouring of enthusiasm we’ve received.
Scheduled for May 14 – 15 in Portland, Oregon, this workshop will explore the importance of movement and “rough” play, and the need for boys to find meaning, initiation and physical connection to the world. We will learn how to use traditional stories of animals such as wolves, coyotes and cougars, as well as current cultural mythology such as Star Wars and its Jedi knights, to explore the warrior archetype and its importance in addressing the global challenges of this era.
Certified Yoga Calm Instructor and Intervention and Prevention Specialist Jeff Albin will be teaching the course with us, and recently, we asked him if he would share some of his thoughts on how yoga can help connect boys and men with their masculinity. Eagerly, he agreed:
Channeling the Need for Rebellion & Autonomy : Nurturing the Peaceful Warrior
A Lakota elder once joked to me that he felt the reason his people had so many problems with their young men was because nobody let them steal horses any more. In the horse culture of the Plains, stealing horses was a time-honored way for young men to prove their merit. Few died in those escapades, and it gave young men a chance to practice all of their warrior skills. Of course, these days, the ranchers in South Dakota would most likely frown upon young Lakota warriors stealing their horses. Still, I believe the spirit of the idea can be entertained.
It is with these stories and traditions in mind that I approach the young men in my Yoga Calm classes. I understand and appreciate their need to be young warriors. Sometimes when I introduce myself at conferences, I tell people I am a reluctant pacifist. Yet I am a warrior. My true nature is to be a warrior and defend the village, the tribe, the school, the nation from threats. These days I have different battles to fight: addiction, indifference, apathy, abuse, sloth. The battles have changed, but the role of the warrior remains the same.
Young men and boys are no different. The warrior instinct lies deep in their bones. The desire to be strong, competent, fierce and protective at the same time runs through the DNA of all males. Getting boys to do yoga requires a different strategy than the contemporary Yoga Journal image of super-slim, scantily clad 20-somethings in difficult and advanced poses.
Adults beginning a yoga practice are generally motivated by a need to seek relief from pain, spiritual aspirations, the desire to be fit or to ease depression, arthritis and other maladies. Boys have different motivations, and much of which come from the conscious and sometimes latent warrior instinct.
A majority of youth in rural, isolated Eastern Washington communities involve themselves in sports. I tell both boy and girl athletes that practicing yoga will make them better athletes. Depending on my audience, I may expound upon the ability a person can develop during yoga practice to see everything at once, to slow things down internally when everything is happening very fast around them. In a rapidly paced, always-moving sport like basketball, this is indeed a valuable skill to master.
Rebellion and autonomy are primary needs of young men. Rather than trying to quash this trait, I talk about the need to channel it. I introduce them to the idea of intelligent rebellion. There are many fine causes to rebel about: bullying, obesity, addiction, mental slavery from the media and other injustices. I remind them, often, that self-destruction is not rebellion.
During the actual physical yoga practice, I take time to point out that the Warrior poses can actually appear to be a martial form of yoga. I introduce them to the concepts that Dan Millman articulated so well in his seminal work The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.
Perhaps much of my approach comes from my own philosophy and identification with the Peaceful Warrior archetype. The boys know I’ve “got their back” in all sorts of situations. They know that I stand up for what I believe in and say what needs to be said, and practice stillness when that’s called for.
One of my favorite and most popular wind-down activities is getting the boys to sit in a circle and share “scar stories.” All boys – and indeed all girls – have some scars just from being on the planet. I allow enough time for each student to share a story about a scar they have. If it is a physical scar in an appropriate place, I let them show the group. This is akin to a “red badge of courage.” It lends validity to their adventurousness. Every boy has a scar that comes with being young and foolish. It is the joy of being young and foolish that makes them boys.
Jeff Albin, CDP, is a Certified Yoga Calm Instructor and has worked as an Intervention and Prevention Specialist for ESD 112 in rural Washington schools. His rich and varied background includes over 10 years running a high ropes course, owning and operating his own sea kayaking business, co-leading the first joint USSR/USA kayak expedition in the former Soviet Union and extensive wilderness and survival skills experience. Jeff claims to have forgotten more activities than most people will ever learn! Perhaps that’s why he wrote Changing the Message: A Handbook for Experiential Education.
We still have a few spots open for our inaugural Boys, Coyotes & Other Wild Creatures workshop. To register or learn more about the workshop, click here.