It's easy to understand how we got to this place in which men feel responsible for carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. Speaking to evolution and centuries-old tradition, perhaps in many ways, they did. Even the origins of the 18th-century title "bread winner", which suggests that the income earner is solely responsible for putting food on the table, justifies a heavy burden to carry. Generations of evolution have created a certain male-centric set of expectations, despite actual change among men and women in our present-day roles as parents, employees and members of a shared household.
Thankfully, these emotional barriers, AKA "toxic masculinity", often presenting as stoicism, anger, anxiety or machismo, are being addressed now more than ever, and over time, de-stigmatized. As humanity evolves, and as mental health awareness rises to the forefront, men are being given the permission to express more feminine characteristics, such as community, empathy and humility -- ultimately progressing toward a more balanced human experience, that which allows for a range of masculine and feminine qualities, and a celebration of it all, resulting in a deep love and worthiness of one's whole self.
One man that is making his life's work about encouraging transformation and creating brotherhood among men, is Jerold Limongelli, founder of MVN Movement.
MVN Movement was born from what Limongelli observed as a lack in programs exclusively available to men emphasizing and developing brotherhood. He wanted to create a program that spoke to every man at every stage of his life. The 12-week transformation program, built on four pillars - Mind, Body Spirit & Service - works with 33 men a season and includes integrated nutrition, fitness, meditation and yoga, master classes such as motivation and communication, weekly meetings and one-on-one coaching.
Limongelli says the the intention behind MVN wasn't just to heal men but to produce leaders, stars; men who could lead their families, partnerships, communities and workplaces from a space of heartfelt humble leadership, a level of leadership & transformation that is only amplified in an intimate group setting.
"The brotherhood builds a space that wills vulnerability," Limongelli asserts. "It creates real shifts within men when they see they are not alone."
By inviting men to collaborate in a journey of self-discovery, together, they can overcome limiting beliefs, such as the idea that they don't need support.
It may come of no surprise that a 2011 study revealed that men who held the strongest beliefs about masculinity were only half as likely as men with more moderate beliefs about masculinity to get preventative health care. Seeing a physician for an annual physical, for example, runs contrary to some men’s beliefs about toughness.
Furthermore, when it comes to mental health, a 2015 study found that men who bought into traditional notions of masculinity held more of a negative attitude about seeking mental health services compared to those with more flexible gender attitudes.
Limongelli asserts that this kind of "resistance becomes the biggest teacher" throughout the MVN transformation program.
"Men's work is a new frontier," he says. "We are breaking down the walls around how men seek support. Our biggest hurdle is with men realizing they need help. When we create community and brotherhood we create trust and support. We stop looking at our fellow man as competitor, but as a brother!"
Competition - it comes up often in the conversation of toxic masculinity, and it rears its ugly head in a man's work life and in how he feels about physical fitness, wellness and body image. It's also why MVN Movement includes nutrition, fitness, yoga and meditation in its transformation program, and why Limongelli reached out to Yoga Wake Up to partner in the next 12-week program launching May 12.
Despite showing strong participation by boys and men in its birthplace, India, yoga in the United States and western cultures has generally appealed more to women, likely due to perceptions that yoga is socially unacceptable for men. Furthermore, while younger men may be deterred by a perception that yoga is physically unchallenging, mature men may worry that they're not fit or flexible enough to practice. In both cases, the emphasis is on the physical and not the spiritual or mental health benefits associated with the practice.
Limongelli emphasizes that yoga and meditation is a significant addition to the program and encourages daily mindfulness practice to further the group's transformation goals.
As Yoga Wake Up is a mobile app featuring beginner-friendly, audio-guided yoga in the most intimate of places - the bedroom - it has a low barrier to entry for men considering starting a practice.
Yoga Wake Up co-founder Lizzie Brown sees the connection between MVN's mission and that of the app.
She says, "Through yoga, I becomes "we" and "me" becomes "us". We created the app to reach beginners and non-yogis to open a gateway to meditation, mantra work, and a richer physical yoga practice, thus opening the door to a deeper connection to oneself and their community, and a relinquishing of the ego.
It's a partnership that she and Limongelli hope will give men permission to relax a little, and find joy and ease in their minds and bodies. This kind of collaboration goes hand in hand with the ethos of MVN and Limongelli's mission of creating community and trust.
"I'm a big advocate of creating more connection and supporting all programs that share our vision of mens' empowerment," Limongelli says. "It's not a competition, it's a community, and we are leaders in showing how together, we are more powerful than one."