FIRST PUBLISHED IN DRAZE MAGAZINE
While there is usually at least one bloke in my yoga class (sometimes two or three) yoga is still largely thought of, and practiced, for women and by women. I can’t really work out why that is, but someone actively trying to change that is yoga teacher Michael James Wong, founder of Boys of Yoga. Launched in early 2015 Boys of Yoga is an awareness project that has a simple objective - to create more accessibility and de-stigmatize yoga for men all over the world.
Founder Wong was born in New Zealand, but grew up in Santa Monica, California where yoga was part of the everyday (along with soccer, skateboarding and martial arts, to name a few). He moved to Sydney in his 20s but now calls London home. We caught up with him to talk yoga, his involvement in the Railway Children charity and of course, boys (of yoga)...
When, how and why did you first get into yoga? I started my journey with yoga growing up on the beaches of Santa Monica, and I was lucky enough to be emerged in a world where yoga was part of the everyday.Even back in the early nineties when I was a teenager, yoga was always there. And while I didn’t get into the practice until my early twenties, it was always a part of the culture I grew up in. My relationship with yoga first started post childhood athletics, martial arts and arts movements so it was an easy progression to make in my body, but a bigger challenge as I got deeper into the practice. I come from a very ‘Hollywood’ background growing up in LA around the glitz and glamour, so my ego took the biggest hit as the yoga took over. Becoming a teacher was one of the biggest decision I ever made many years ago, as it allowed me to finally learn more about who I was, what I loved and what made me happy. And to this day it’s still one of the best decisions I ever made. These days, London is home when I’m not on the road, and I honoured and grateful at the opportunity to teach and share my experience with the practice to all those that are willing to listen. Each and everyday I wake up lucky to have people around me that are important, experiences within me that have helped me grow and memories behind me that keep me grounded to the ones I love and the places I’m from. This is my journey so far, and I’m excited to see what happens next.
What kept you coming back to your mat? What keeps me coming back to the mat is the way that yoga makes you feel. When you’re in the practice, the movement helps to connect the breathe, body and mind and it’s an addictive feeling, something that you never want to leave. Luckily for me yoga isn’t just what happens on the mat, it’s something that comes with me wherever I go, it’s who I am, how I act and how I see the world around me.
Can you tell us about the Boys of Yoga project? BOYS OF YOGA is an awareness project that has a simple objective, to create more accessibility and de-stigmatize yoga for men all over the world. Since the project launched in early 2015, it’s been inspiring to see all the positivity that has surrounded the movement with teachers and global yogi’s sharing their stories about their journey with yoga. We all live in a world where there is so much stress, anxiety, and busyness, and yoga is an amazing way of life that helps step away for all the chaos. If the BOYS OF YOGA project can help just one guy to step into the studio and onto the mat, then that to me means the project is a success. I started the project in February of 2015 with the intention of celebrating male yogis from around the world. I launched the project with the support of a few amazing teachers from London and continue to add a new BOY to the crew every week. The project is now represented by BOYS in the UK, USA, China, Bali, Australia, Canada and many more cities and countries to come (keep your eyes peeled on what’s coming next)
Can you tell me about your involvement in the charity Railway Children? Railway Children is a fantastic UK organisation that supports troubled youths in the UK, India and Pakistan. Our involvement in the charity is both in raising money to support, but more importantly helping to raise awareness of the good work they do. The organisation has some fantastic people within the organisation that have a passion for the work they do and are amazing and positive yogis whether they call themselves that or not. A big shout out to Dave Ellis, from the organisation, he truly is a man with the most positive intentions in this world.
What do you think are common misconceptions about boys and yoga? The biggest misconception about yoga to men is the actually the word yoga itself. We live in a society where there is a stigma around the word, but the actions, movements and beliefs of the practice are beneficial and relevant to everyone. I truly believe we’re moving in a direction where yoga is becoming part of the everyday, and I hope to be a part of the conversation that de-stigmatises yoga and help all men and women see the value of the practice
What would you say to any men out there who are put off by yoga thinking it is only for women? At the end of the day our opinions are personal, but if I’m ever with guys who think that yoga’s not for them, I simply ask them to step inside the studio for 1 practice and then resume the conversation afterwards. 10 times out of 10 their opinions have changed and I didn’t even have to say anything more. It can be pretty daunting for a beginner to see all of the crazy yoga Instagrammers in weird pretzel shapes and impossible looking balances, right?
What would you say to someone who’s put off by this? It’s a common thing for people to see all the advanced poses and crazy shapes online and feel intimidated and put off, for me, while those posture are part of my personal practice it’s really about understanding that no two people are alike, and no two bodies move the same way. Some people just have the space in the body, and other people take the time to create it. At the end of the day yoga isn’t about handstands and hip openers, it’s about the presence of mind to choose how you want to spend your time. So for some it’s about dedicating the time to advancing their physical practice, but there is equal and sometimes greater value of understanding that less is more, and that’s really what yoga is all about.
What does yoga mean to you? My yoga-life and real life are one and the same. For me, yoga isn't about going to a studio and throwing some shapes for 60-90mins, yoga is my belief system, it’s a way of life. One that gives me the courage & confidence for anything life throws my way. All the trendy-bendy stuff is just the by-product.
Outside of yoga what do you love to do? Outside of the practice my attention is shared between my camera, my passport, my family and friends and anything where street food is the main option for dinner.
What’s the one question you always wish people would ask you, and what is your answer to it? I wish people asked me ‘are you happy with the choices you’ve made in life so far?’... My answer would be ‘yes, I think I’ve played a pretty good game so far...’