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Unleash Your Inner Alpha Male

Spoiler alert: it might involve yoga, hugging and a bonfire

Animated illustration of 3 men doing yoga by a bonfire
Leland Foster

I was hiking past a river, stalking a wolf. My inner wolf.

I hadn’t found my inner wolf in the hot tub at EnLiven at the Green River, a Vermont event center that offers Welcome the Lone Wolf: Spiritual Retreat for Men, weekends chockablock with hiking,  bonfires and snowball fights. But it had to be around here somewhere.

If you’re like me, you rolled your eyes at the thought of a men’s retreat. They were trendy in the ’80s and ’90s, when business leaders doffed their jackets and ties to gather in the woods for bare-chested circle jerks — correction: drum circles — where they could bond and bitch about how women didn’t appreciate them.

That sort of bromanticism went out with Chia Pets and the Macarena. Today there’s no shortage of retreats for women seeking their Secret Selves or Inner Goddesses, but fewer for men.

Why start a new one for men in 2023? And why call it Welcome the Lone Wolf? Have today’s men forgotten how to slurp beer together and howl at the moon?

Almost, says retreat leader Brenda Stoeke, a blond earth-mother figure in a hoodie emblazoned GOOD WITCH. 

“Many men feel they’re on their own,” she told me. “Even if they’ve done well in their careers, they feel alone. Some have been alpha males for most of their lives. It gets lonely at the top, and COVID made it worse. The pandemic forced people to be with themselves more, and a lot of men didn’t like it.”

The modern alpha male, she says, could use a little company. Plus a bonfire, a tarot card reading and a round of drinks.

After a sunset hike and a perfect light meal — s’mores with pinot noir chasers — she passed out decks of tarot cards. We waved our hands over the cards, waiting for emanations to guide our choices. My card showed a wolf. Brenda said it meant I could expect “a life change.”

Hypertension? Too late. Social Security? Too early.

Maybe my tarot card was referring to my warmup for our yoga classes. The retreat offers “yoga designed for a man’s body,” which is code for “yoga designed for a body so tight it might take you all weekend to touch your toes.” 

Figuring a four-minute plank man like me would have no trouble, I warmed up by hoisting a pair of 40-pound weights and collapsed with back spasms — more fetal than feral. After that, my only yoga pose was Dead Dog. So I watched yogi Paul Menard put the others through their paces. 

“Men over 50 need yoga,” said Menard, a 41-year-old Jude Law lookalike. “Men are conditioned to fight — to exert ourselves against opposition. But we’re naturally tighter than women, who have more elastin, a protein that helps with childbirth. We need to work harder to stay flexible, especially if our jobs have us slouching over desks, keyboards and steering wheels all day.”

As he spoke, my retreat buddy Bill Seymore was holding a pose and turning a scary shade of pink. Broad-shouldered Bill, 67, a retired Marine chief engineer and martial-arts expert, was the toughest customer I met on our retreat. He had sailed on oil ships to Alaska, “where Kodiak bears come right onto the golf course. What do you do when that happens? You let them go through.” 

Big Bill had scrambled out of an upside-down helicopter in Nigeria, “but yoga is harder,” he said. “I’ve been in positions I could barely get out of!”

But wasn’t it all a little, um, girlish? Yoga poses, hot tubbing, drinking and hugging? Maybe we should just do our jobs, forget flexibility, keep to our lonesome selves and save $1,105.

“No,” he said. “Guys lose muscle mass as we get older. Yoga’s good for that. And maybe there’s something else we need to stretch — our habits. I think men can get stuck in a rut. I came here for new experiences, and this has been one of the best.”

Driving home with a pillow behind my back, I totted up what I’d gained: a goody bag filled with furry slippers, a leather notebook, a Kind bar and a bottle of Vermont maple syrup; and a firm belief that the Welcome the Lone Wolf Retreat needs a new name.

In nature, any lone wolf is an orphan or outcast. Because wolves, like men, are pack animals. We thrive in groups.

I was glad I’d traded numbers with Bill and yogi Paul, two guys I want in my extended pack. Bill’s right about habits — it’s easy to settle into routines, particularly if they seem to be working for you. Sticking to a certain circle of friends can be one of those routines. What I learned in Vermont is that my inner wolf can look outward a little more, and expand that circle.

I’d never seen myself as the sort of person who goes on retreats, but this one was a lot better than LinkedIn.

Follow Article Topics: Health-&-Fitness