Often, discussions of “women’s health” or “men’s health” are limited to the reproductive systems. When I teach about men’s reproductive health, I like to include an overview of common problems for men, because sexual function is dependent on the vitality of the rest of the body. But even before I get to that, I start with a discussion of the place of men in society today, and how it is problematically different from our ancestral patterns. There are several elements to this, but one of the most important has to do with cycle.
Men don’t menstruate, but they do have cycles, little-recognized and less-studied though they be. You can identify them in your own body and mind, tune into them, and learn something useful about yourself – if you’re willing to do the work. The thing is, this work might not look like “work” as understood today. It’s about perception, and reflection, and connection; awakening your senses and directing them with intent, building skills of memory and pattern recognition.
It’s also about recognizing things that are right in front of your face. One of the most important cycles we live through is that of day and night, activity and sleep. In a culture of grey cubicles and electric lights, where is our contact with the blue sky at midday and the stars at night? What are the consequences of that absence on all our other cycles? On the physical level, sleep debt and melatonin dysregulation have direct and measurable effects on health, including hormonal disruptions that can impact physical performance and sexual function.
On a deeper level, this is a symptom of our homogenized experience of time: we expect all our employees to produce the same amount of work in the dead of winter as the height of summer. We expect our salesmen and spokesmen to go out and sell or convince or cajole, no matter if they’re feeling overtaxed or irritable or simply tired. Nothing in nature works this way; our bodies don’t work this way. When we expect them to, we invite disappointment.
As a culture we claim to value self-reliance, but we don’t teach it and we don’t make allowances for it. We have to choose to pursue it. Start by going to the forest (or the nearest approximate greenspace), alone, with nothing but a notebook and a knife, and staying as long as you can – even if it’s only twenty minutes. There are well-researched physiological benefits to this act of “forest bathing”.
Look at trees. Listen to birds. Breathe. You’re not here to do anything, you’re just here to be here. If this is difficult, examine the difficulty. Where does your mind go? Where does your body twitch? This will show you your habitual patterns of imbalance in a context where you can’t ignore them by clicking on another link or refreshing Facebook.
Are you reliving a difficult conversation or a fight, thinking up clever arguments that would have shut down your opponent, getting angry and hurt all over again? Drink some yarrow infusion, or take tincture; yarrow releases pent-up heat and frustration, and provides emotional armor.
Are you tensing up your muscles, gritting your teeth, clenching your butt, unable to enjoy where you are? Take kava. It relaxes muscles and lightens the mind without sedation.
Are you feeling your heartburn act up, just about to pop an antacid? Drink some catnip tea, or eat a leaf right off the plant. Catnip is great for anxiety rising from the stomach; it releases the gaseous and psychological pressures that contribute to reflux.
Are you floating away in abstractions, visions of spreadsheets dancing in your head? Take wood betony; it’ll drop you down into your center and root you there.
Just as you can’t truly rely on a work partner without recognizing their limitations, you can’t be self-reliant if you don’t know your own limits and imbalances. What you’ll find will be your own, but whatever it is, there’s an herb out there that can help. Start by recognizing these patterns, and you’ll be ready to put the knowledge into action when it presents itself to you. On that note, I’ll see you at Herbstalk!