Originally from Los Angeles, now based in London, Michael James Wong is an author, speaker, meditator, global yogi & wellness warrior. You may recognise him as the founder of the Boys of Yoga. Michael now travels the world as a wellness advocate bringing the benefits of modern mindfulness into the real world.
We were delighted to have the opportunity to chat with Michael about his latest book SIT DOWN, BE QUIET, an honest, real world collection of stories and teachers from Michael’s growing global community.
What have been the challenges for you personally of being a man in the yoga world?
I’ve been a part of the yoga community for the last 15 years and from the very first day, I’ve had very few challenges being a man, to be honest. The truth and reality is that any challenges I’ve faced have all been within me, not the community itself. The beauty of the practice is that yoga is available and accessible for everyone, men & women alike. It’s an open door. The challenge is just deciding to come inside.
For many men, the stereotypes of yoga are what limits their willingness to start, not the actual practice. But times are changing rapidly and many guys are starting to step through that doorway, and once inside, the yoga does the rest of the work.
Whether you’re new to the practice or yet to start, just know that yoga is good for anyone and everyone. You just have to be willing to try.
What are some of the things that put men off practising yoga and meditation?
Perception of the practice can put some guys off. Many people see the yoga community a certain way and it doesn’t resonate with them. And that’s OK. But it’s valuable to remember that the practice takes many forms and if you’re ready, willing and open, you’ll find the style of practice that works for you.
Guys often come to yoga wanting to be ‘good’, where in effect, it’s impossible to be ‘good’, because the practice is personal. It’s an awareness of movement and breath. It’s never a competition.
Meditation works in this way too. People want to ‘do it right’, ‘be good at it’, whereas the value of the practice is the experience, not the things you do while your eyes are closed. This can be a daunting and off-putting thing for anyone, and especially for those who lead busy lives, for whom sitting still for a few minutes can be a big ask.
What are some of the things you’ve been involved in to encourage more men to try yoga?
As a teacher of over a decade, my aim has always been to encourage anyone and everyone into the practice of yoga. Recently in the past few years, I created a movement called BOYS OF YOGA, a community conversation that aimed at making the authentic practice more accessible for all guys. Through personal stories and photos from male yogis & teachers all around the world, the project has been a shift towards to creating a conversation around yoga that is focused on relating to men.
And in March of this year, I published my first book SIT DOWN, BE QUIET, bringing the project to life in a way that hopes to extend and expand the vision of the project. While there are many yoga books out there sharing different focuses of the practice, I truly believe that this book has the opportunity to connect with the Western world in a way that has not yet been done.
This is an honest, real world collection of stories and teachers from our growing global community. To me it’s been inspiring, to be a part of the conversation and do my small part to expanding the practice to as many people as possible.
And why does this book need to be particularly aimed at men?
This book, like any aspect of the practice, needed a focus, and for me, bringing the conversation to men in a different & accessible way was important. For the past few decades, Western and modern yoga has been primarily a conversation with women, and it’s about time to bring the men back to the party.
Many people don’t realise that yoga was originally practised thousands of years ago primarily by men, and it’s only in recent history that it’s skewed the other way.
How will this book appeal to men?
This book has something for everyone: hundreds of photos, thousands of words and endless inspiration to share the practice in a way that might interest all readers. There are educational elements with posture breakdowns, short sequences to learn, yoga philosophy delivered in an easy to digest way and many anecdotes from the BOYS.
The aim for the project was to show that men don’t have to change who they are to practise yoga, but rather celebrate it, because that’s what makes us who we are.
What is modern mindfulness?
Modern Mindfulness is the daily practice of being present, aware and non-judgemental. It’s a way to live life in all aspects of what we do. For me, the more I’m aware of my actions each and everyday, the more space I have to life my life with passion, purpose and poise. The beauty of the practice, which is a core approach to my yoga, is that it’s a way of life, not just something you do on the mat for an hour a day.