BOYS OF YOGA is a global project created in 2015 by Michael James Wong, a London-based, Los Angeles native yogi and photographer. The aim? To smash the stereotypes and misconceptions of guys who yoga. Michael shares his story, and his advice for men curious about getting their downward dog on.
I started yoga pretty early on, considerably. I was about 20 years old (this was almost 15 years ago). At the time, I was living in Santa Monica, California. I was at university, and I had a few friends who did yoga, but I wasn’t that common in the circles I hung out in – and if asked, I was beyond reluctant to go.
I grew up playing sports. Soccer was my main thing and as I got older I transitioned to the gym, because that’s what you do when you’re that age, and a guy. As for yoga, I was the typical ‘it’s not for me’ kind of guy.
Whether by luck, fate or force, I was dragged into a yoga class by some friends. I went almost as a dare, or to prove that it was easy and a waste of time for me. Little did I know as I walked into that that first practice, it would smack me upside the head harder than anything I’d done before physically in sport.
It turned my world upside down. From that first practice I was hooked, so much so that I went back that afternoon for a second practice by myself.
In those initial days I was hooked on the physical practice – what it did for my body, how it made me feel, how it energised my everyday life. It was something like I had never experienced before.
Slowly, over time it became more than that. Yoga gave me the space I didn’t know I wanted, the perspective I didn’t know I needed, and the calm and ease in both my body and mind.
"Yoga gave me the space I didn’t know I wanted, the perspective I didn’t know I needed, and the calm and ease in both my body and mind."
Yoga is a lifestyle
I’ve never stopped practicing since those early days. Yoga isn’t something you do for 60-75 minutes a day – it’s a lifestyle, an approach to life and a way to connect to ourselves, our bodies, our breath, our emotions and to the world around us. Getting on the mat is just a daily reminder of what it’s all about.
These days I practice all styles of yoga. Most frequently I’ll move my body in a strong and flowing vinyasa class, or step it back into a calmer quieter yin class. Other days I’ll want to spend more time focusing on the alignment and anatomy, so Iyengar or Forest style classes are good ways to use the time on the mat. I’ll always make time for vedic meditation practice, twice a day.
As a teacher, my influences are power and vinyasa yoga. I teach a strong, but slow dynamic practice that moves the body carefully to build heat and focus helping students to find the calm and compassion in a strong and fiery practice.
"You’ll get stronger and more flexible and your functional movement will increase in a healthy way."
Yoga is for everyone
BOYS OF YOGA is a project of awareness, a movement that hopes to inspire more men into the practice. In the western world, yoga has been stereotypically seen as feminine, but in reality, there is a strong and growing community of men in yoga.
The aim of BOYS is to celebrate the community that already exists and help share stories, videos, events and experiences that connect to all men. Through the connection of the project, and connection of the practice, we can show that yoga is for everyone.
Man, women, old, young – there is always something beneficial you can take from yoga. For some it’s the physical workout you may want for your body. You’ll get stronger and more flexible and your functional movement will increase in a healthy way.
For others it’s much more than the body – it’s the space, calm and connection that we find in our crazy lives. It’s the emotional ease from anxiety and stress, the control of the breath and the perspective of the here and now.
"The more often you come back to the mat, the more you learn about yourself and your body."
Yoga for beginners
My best advice for beginners is to just keep coming back. The idea of ‘getting good’ at yoga is something we need to let go of. There is no ‘getting good’, there is only getting connected.
The more often you come back to the mat, the more you learn about yourself and your body, and the perspective shifts. Your body opens up, the tension will release, and so will the weight of all the expectations we put on ourselves in our daily lives.
Some of the best poses are the simplest ones:
- Child’s pose – typically the pose we start class with. It gives us a moment to be at ease, to be calm and simple, face down, to reflect and be gentle in the body.
- Downward facing dog – the ultimate pose that builds the foundation of any practice. It’s a perfect combination of strength and softness in the body. Physically it’s great for the shoulders and hamstrings, but has benefits throughout the entire body. The best part is that you’ll get a chance to come back to the pose often throughout most practices.
- Savasana or corpse pose – this is the final resting pose, the place where the whole practice comes together. Regardless of the strength or speed of the practice, savasansa is the place where we bring the body into stillness, to feel everything and appreciate the practice as a whole
So just go. Yoga communities are extremely supportive, and there is always room for beginners. At the end of the day, you’ll be thankful you went. The hardest part is just showing up and walking in the front door. Keep coming back, and the rest will sort itself out.
Images: Michael James Wong and BOYS OF YOGA