Meet the Belfast man determined to break the stigma surrounding masculinity in Northern Ireland through his outdoor workshops.
Ciaran May, an ex-international power-lifter, started his company Natural Resilience in September 2020 to help other men develop their physical, mental and emotional resilience while reconnecting them with nature.
Speaking to Belfast Live for Men’s Health Week, Ciaran expressed how successful his workshops have been in allowing men to open up in a safe environment.
He said: “The aim was to try and get people back out into nature after being locked down – out of the house and out of their own heads. We started the workshops which were all psychology-based as I was wanting to teach them the difference between fear and self-doubt and try to push them out of their comfort zone and show how powerful they really are.
“We look at masculinity but bring it around to look at their emotions such as asking what did fear look like there, what did vulnerability feel like and how to control your breath to change from fear to calmness.”
His sessions begin with addressing emotions such as how to deal before pushing the men out of their comfort zones via cold water immersion, abseiling whilst blindfolded and huge leap of faith zip lines.
Ciaran also teaches about the importance of breathwork and how to control it in stressful situations.
“We will get them to breathe slowly and deeply to make them feel calm within that controlled environment – obviously life can be difficult at times so we put it into practise by getting them in the cold sea and get them to do the same breathing technique to prove it can still work in a stressful environment.
“This shows them if they are at work or whatever it might be making them anxious, they can go back to their breath and get to that state of calmness as they did in the sea,” he explained.
Ciaran’s workshop not only pushes participants physically but mentally and emotionally as they learn life skills such as the importance of effective communication.
He added: “When you need help, you need to reach out and speak to somebody – you’ll not get up the ladder in life unless you ask people to guide you and are confident enough to speak out.”
Men who have benefited from these workshops range from professional athletes, corporate employee to those suffering from mental health issues such as PTSD, addiction and depression and ages span from around 19 to the mid-40s.
After their session, participants are added into a private group where they can continue to connect with other men and have the opportunity to meet up for free activities which has helped Ciaran create a support network and community for those who may be suffering.
“We want to show them that they have the ability to inspire and lead others while treating people with respect but in order to do that you need to respect yourself – learning self-discipline while also being in tune with your emotions as opposed to acting out of anger or frustration,” Ciaran expressed.
“It’s trying to dispel the myths surrounding ‘man up’ or ‘boys don’t cry’ and try and take those phrases back and say a real man is aware of his vulnerability and asking for help.”
Natural resilience also offer classes for women such as workshops for new mothers struggling with postnatal depression and are opening up classes to teenagers who have been badly impacted during lockdowns.
Ciaran hopes that his business can continue to define people’s beliefs on what it means to be a man and benefit the wider community across Northern Ireland.
“The future is to build and develop a community of like-minded individuals to ‘the art of living’.
“We want to continue to provide a service to people who want to change their ways and grow.”
For more information on their workshops, see here.