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annalynne mccord, wim hof, and the power of masculine energy

Wim Hof: “I am into mental healthcare. But we will shoot right straight in. Change the world. Cause, you know, I’m reaching about a hundred million people already [AnnaLynne: “Gasp”] but it’s going to be billions [AnnaLynne: clapping, yells YES!] and when we change billions of people from the inside in their heart. Feeling autonomy, we will change the world.”

So begins the Wim Hof podcast with AnnaLynne McCord. McCord jumps in to describe her first experience with Wim Hof breath work at a Lululemon event in which she burst into tears, ran out of the event room, found a private place, called the man who sexually abused her as a child, and forgave him.

“That fifteen-minute breath work changed my life.”

That is an amazing and inspiring story.

For at least a decade now (since the start of social media and the mass-scale curation of self? Or, checking an n-gram, was it the rise of neoliberalism?), we’ve heard ad nauseam about the power of narrative. Humans need stories! If this wasn’t clear from the billion-dollar film industry or the many other means of storytelling, the scientists have brought their stamp of approval. Even (especially) data and medicine needs a narrative.

Wim states that AnnaLynne’s trauma story, coming from “someone with all the looks of the world and the universe,” with “such vulnerability and power,” will change the world.

We have heard many of these trauma stories now. This broad-stroke talk of changing the world frankly baffles me.

The Wim Hof Method is an amazing and powerful practice. Absolutely. I write this not to dis it but because the way they market and deliver it can be off-putting to many. To whom? To quieter people? To people who analyze too much? To those who aren’t into cliché stereotypes about femininity and masculinity, women and men? I find the conversation about the feminine and masculine interesting when it is actually defined and explored. But that is rare.

And I wonder if this story of instantaneous healing after fifteen minutes of Wim’s breathing method might discourage anyone who doesn’t have such dramatic results. The method actually requires some persistence and discipline.

I also wonder what is meant by changing the world in real, concrete terms. Self-help gurus, breathers (yogis and others) and meditators have spoken of changing the world through their particular method for centuries. Is it changed? In the ways they envisioned?

Never-mind that my idea of positive change might look very different from yours, and our ability to discuss this as thoughtful adults has been increasingly and severely restrained by all sorts of social factors over the last few decades. Further, world changers tend to seek customers (seekers, whatever. I do not mean to imply they are solely mercenary), so they often veer sharply away from such discussion.

What specifically do they seek to change?

As I mentioned in the last post, the episode is titled “Power of Masculine Energy.” But as Napoleon Hill taught us in Think and Grow Rich (1937), it is not the contents of books (&c.) that people buy. It is the titles. The WHM ad blurb says they will also discuss, “how the masculine/feminine dichotomy is holding us back.”

After listening to the episode, I did not come away with a sense of either the power of masculine energy, which we tend to see on display 24/7 in American life anyway (sure, my definition of masculinity would be welcome here), or learn how the dichotomy is holding us back. There was a lot of yelling though.

You know what I love, Wim? I really really appreciate what you represent. Just when someone looks at you. Because there’s, there’s a loss of the divine masculine, of, of sacred masculinity in our world and, you know, you look like a Viking. You kind of sound like what I think the Viking would sound like [Wim: ROAR. AL: YES!] but you are you’re preaching LOVE! You’re preaching openness and sharing and curiosity and acceptance. and these are masculine traits…

Okay now, hold up.

I often show my students this image of the Sun God, Louis XIV, the most powerful man in the latter half of seventeenth-century Europe.

The hair. The legs. The heels. The illustrious gown. The fashion. The most powerful man in Europe.

Yes. These were masculine traits.

And the beautiful ancient Greek statues of gorgeous “natural” male bodies were sculpted by and for mature adult men who celebrated sex with adolescent males. These were masculine traits.

And then the Vikings. I’m not sure how we came to discuss them as the pinnacle of the “divine masculine,” but they too engaged in homosexual sex, usually in the rape of an enemy.

It is not news that traits of masculinity and femininity are defined by time and space, which are also more slippery than some would like. Yet it seems to be news to the interwebs, where there is a pervasive insistence from both guys and dolls on the “natural” Viking male and Barbie female.

AnnaLynne, whom I find endearing, is doing a few things here that work for her. First off, she’s flirting with and flattering her host. Second, she’s snuck in love, openness, sharing, curiosity and acceptance as inherently masculine traits, which is not what the internet usually serves up.

Masculinity is getting shit on right now because there’s a, there’s a little bit of our population that are toxic and that’s for real. I’ve experienced that obviously with my story.

But so many wonderful men are getting pushed down because just men are being attacked right now because we’re trying to do that thing that we always do where ​we swing the pendulum too far.

I am not convinced that media does not intentionally swing the pendulum too far as a way to shut down conversation. But it could also be the tendency of latent problems long ignored simply erupting when the can is opened. Regardless, McCord argues:

And we do, we need to acknowledge the plight of women and support women and what we need to realize that men are part of the solution. Men are part of the solution. The 90% of the men that are actually good men, here supporting and standing by the feminine, by women. There’s 10% going around and creating all the problems. We need our men.

We need our good men to stand up and be a voice with us and bridge that gap. And women have a responsibility, the feminine has a responsibility, to stop suppressing the positive side of masculinity and throwing the baby out with the bathwater we’ve got to look at the issue [Wim: WOW], cut out the cancer you know, bring Life Force to the cancer and enliven it or cut it out whatever has to be done to remove it so that we can unite the feminine and masculine in our world and have the proper balance.

Wait, what?

It’s a nice thought, that the world is fine and we just need to deal with 10% of the bad men and the women who suppress and “shit on” the masculine. I guess I should ask who the audience is here.

The stereotype of Wim Hoffers is that sort of Jordan Peterson, men’s rights fan who might be very into AnnaLynne’s rendition of masculine/feminine balance and her suggestion that they are good men who want to support femininity–and women should let them.

Just let them already.

Okay, okay, how is femininity defined here? Pink? Makeup? Manicures? Cooking for men? Cleaning for men? Looking good for men? Passivity? Agreement? Saying yes? All of these have their place, but as a definition or guide for femininity it is sorely lacking. And the men who want women who behave this way exclusively also tend to resent their dependency and frivolity, which is inherent in their definition of feminine. Catch-22.

I write all of this because I think that Wim’s method is extremely useful and all the yelling and drum beating in his media might turn off a large number of people he’d like to reach. I’m also not so sure that this hackneyed idea of the feminine and masculine is serving anyone but a few who actually, really, truly enjoy that sort of set up.

The problem is not that 10% of men are just bad and need to be dealt with by the good 90%. Apologies, but that is silly. If she’s saying that 90% of men aren’t rapists and child molesters, okay then–more than fair.

However, the issue is larger than physical abuse. It is systemic–our favorite word. The issue is that, for example, a large percentage of “good” men think that a general medical study that includes only white men is an “excellent study” and are annoyed by the suggestion that if we truly cared about the health of women, people of color, and non-binary people, a study that did not represent a majority of the population would simply not exist, much less be considered “excellent.” This is a particular example, but such particulars pervade daily life. And because you get places in the U.S. by keeping your mouth shut, this is not likely to change anytime soon.

Does the audience here intentionally exclude every man who does not relate to Viking masculinity and every woman who does not relate to Barbie femininity? And everyone else? Do the majority of humans (they seek billions) relate to this? How are these qualities defined? It is assumed here, and assumed to belong to gender. While the vast majority of viewers may well subscribe to this notion and share in the definitions of these qualities, fifty years ago we started to talk about what these traits meant as a society. At some point that conversation was shut down and eventually a new one came about, but only small corners of the world are actually engaged in it.

That many people do not wish to subscribe to traditional binary ideas of gender is not addressed here at all, perhaps because their overall numbers are not large enough to penetrate this audience? I do not know.

Wim Hof’s media is all very much addressed to healing the wounded masculine, defined as a big, strong, open and loving Viking, supported by a beautiful, smiling “feminine” woman. Fair enough, if this is a select community that wants to indulge in these gender ideals. But they claim to want to change the world—billions.

The conversation about what masculine and feminine qualities are is quite interesting. And, even removed from gender, we might notice that our society has a marked bias toward qualities often assigned to the masculine, and neglects, belittles, abuses, or ignores qualities often assigned to the feminine. I’ll address this next time.


Did you know that Amazon now has a meditation app? Wow. I mean, of course they do. I don’t really get into meditation apps, but if you do, try it and let me know. They have a 3-month free deal for student prime members.girlie stuffMy favorite girly-girl (different than/same as feminine woman?) products are definitely cookware. Does this come in pink?

Of course.

Wait, are yoga mats girly? Wanna get your girly-girl the best mat going (the manduka pro. Heavy but worth it)?

Is chocolate girly?

I don’t know. Trying to think about shopping for girly items makes my head want to burst. Enjoy.


If you’d like to support the site, buy stuff that you need from the links. Some of them send us kickbacks at no cost to you, but a wee cost to the empire. Thank you! ♥

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blog self-help critique the yoga consumer what is yoga yoga habits

tell me what you’re running from

About thirty years into yoga & meditation, I look back at the questions and desires I had for it in the beginning. The one that loomed largest was that I wanted some kind of coherent system that brought it all together and made sense in scale. A philosophical and practical system that included both yoga and meditation that would bring shifts that weren’t so gradual I couldn’t sense them, that had teachers who weren’t more fucked up than I was. I wanted both yoga and meditation integrated, not one or the other, or separate.

That didn’t exist though, largely because of how modern postural yoga has developed in the last century. Yoga schools are mostly postural, and meditation schools are mostly sitting. The meditation done at yoga schools is generally short and visualization based, which is pleasant and valuable but not terribly revealing.

Ducklings
baby ducks lurching over a construction float on the hudson river

On two occasions, I realized that my problem was essentially relational and that sitting silently on a cushion or doing backbends was not going to help my general distrust of people. To be honest, yoga and meditation teachers couldn’t answer many of my basic questions about the psychological patterns the practices can revealor show a way out of them, or even simply support my exploration of them. Whether or not that’s their place is a discussion for some other chat room.

(The problem stems from my father’s untimely death when I was a teen. I was encouraged to chin up and keep moving, and I did. But I shut down my grief and organized my reality to avoid experiencing such destabilizing loss ever again.)

So I found a good psychoanalyst who happens to think that meditation is largely about bypassing and dissociating. No, we don’t agree on everything. Thoughtful people generally don’t.

Yoga does create the body-container and body awareness to hold the psychological work of psychoanalysis and meditation, a concept I learned from the work of Marion Woodman. Decades in, I realized that the combination of my various endeavors, which include breath work, sauna, city walking, country hiking, and summer swimming, are all part of that pat system of yoga I once sought. The philosophy, once so central to Indian, Greek, and other ancient traditions of health, I’ve had to sort out on my own.

Ah yes, the individual.

Perhaps partially due to covid, I also realize that so many things I make part of my day simply because I enjoy them are just as healthy for me as yoga and meditation: getting up with the sun, walking outside (on the river or ocean, if possible), getting outdoors several times a day, swimming in the ocean, talking to friends and neighbors, taking photos, watching the animals of NYC, sauna/banya/pirtis (oh how I miss the smell of heated wood) and the obligatory cold dips or showers that follow, reading books, and so on.

The ocean swimming I knew was good, so to the sauna habit. And sure, the walking, the river, the small creatures. How? I felt it. I paid attention. Much of it, really, feels like yoga.

People find me a bit obsessive perhaps. But in the last year, youtube has informed me that my beloved pastimes are healing. Like, bonafide scientifically healing.

But we knew that? Well, we did know that, but it’s interesting to hear another take. To have intuition confirmed, particularly when you aren’t status quo.

Fifteen years ago, as part of my master’s degree research, I hunted for information in PubMed and various other sources on why sighing felt so good. The intellectuals smiled and said, “Oh, how cute, this yoga teacher,” with a look that suggested my question was trivial. Eventually, maybe five years later while reading about trauma, I found that it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. Okay then.

And now, fifteen years later, the mainstream scientists are studying it. That’s cool. Will more people do it? I hope so. Sauna studies have been going on for a while now, too, though mostly in Finland.

banya sauna pirtis

I turned to youtube over winter break when trying to find new ways of explaining breath work to students over zoom. Most of my students are more into the postural practice, and breath work can seem too esoteric. But I first learned yoga in the early 1990s at a 1960s-style school in the Village, where pranayama was a standard part of class. When I moved on to more vigorous styles of yoga, I noticed that the awesome effects weren’t as long lasting without the pranayama. So I include it in my personal practice, though sometimes my students resist it.

Youtube. I was aware that many of my young students plan on making it big on the small screen, but I had no idea of all the medicalized self-help on offer there. Every other doctor has a podcast on BEING YOUR BETTER SELF because HUMANS ARE PROGRESS THAT’S JUST WHAT WE DO. 

It’s entertaining, it’s maddening, and I love it. I’ve thought about and researched self-help culture for decades because it’s an essential part of the American psyche and storyline.

What strikes me hardest about the youtube strivers is their desperation for progress. It is very upsetting for students to hear that history is not a linear story of progress, and many simply refuse to take that in. And so it is with the youtube coaches. “What are your goals? If you aren’t progressing, you are a loser! Better, faster, stronger! Tune in for more! I will succeed in my goal of saving you with my science-based advice! Here! Buy some vitamins!” (No shade, but I’ll sell you chocolate.)

As I stroll along the river early in the morning, I watch the bodies and faces of people running, walking, and working out on the pier. I wonder if they’re enjoying themselves as they struggle along, forcing their bodies farther and faster. They don’t stop to admire the cormorants drying their wings on the old pier stumps, the baby ducks lurching over a construction float, or the common terns on their wild and erratic nosedives into the river for fish.

I have no idea, really, if the strivers are enjoying themselves. Sometimes I am tempted to ask.

If you don’t enjoy moving, why do it? How do you even make yourself, if it isn’t fun?

Does everything have to be quantified to be valuable?

I’m not suggesting we only do what we enjoy or that we never push past discomfort. I’m just wondering if that’s all there is. And if moving isn’t fun for you, then stick around, because I can help with that. (Yes, I too, am a self-help guru.)


theo chocolate w/o emulsifiersIf you’d like to support my work, buy stuff that you need from the links on the site. Some of them send us kickbacks at no cost to you, but a wee cost to the empire.

If you’d like to eat chocolate that does not wreck your belly with detergents (ok, emulsifiers), Theo and another kind with a blue package are the only bars I’ve found that are free of guy-destroyers and delicious. I stick with 85% chocolate because there’s as much fiber in it as sugar. (Really.)