ASK A YOGI: ABOUT OPENNESS

In this edition's Ask A Yogi, we spend an afternoon with Michael James Wong, founder of BOYS OF YOGA.

Words: Michael James Wong  //  Images and cinemagraphs: Jill Damatac Futter

How has your personal practice helped open you up as a person?

When I first started the practice I wasn’t that open as a person. I was very specific in who I was, what I wanted to be, what was right, what was wrong, and what direction I was moving. At the time, I thought this was the best way to live, because I was always in control of myself and the things around me. As I got older and got into the practice, it helped me realize that in the bigger picture, I didn't really have any control of anything, in a good way, and it changed me for the better. Slowly, over time, this helped me let go of a lot of the chaos and stress of my life. 

These days through the practice, I’d like to think I’m more open to the world around me and take each day as it comes. When we surrender to the unknown, the world around us opens up, and we can find happiness in different kinds of ways.

As a teacher, how do you demonstrate or teach compassion to students?

For me, compassion is one of the most important parts of the practice. These days, everyone seems to be really into strong physical practices and fancy inverted practices--it’s just how Western yoga has developed--but for me, the practice is about kindness, and compassion, and understanding what really serves you best, on and off the mat. As a teacher, it’s really important to make sure my students know that the hour on the mat is far less important the twenty-three hours off the mat, because that’s where the real yoga is, out in the real world.

What's your favorite heart opening or hip opening (or both) pose, and why?

I’ve always loved frog pose (bhekasana), as it’s an extremely challenging pose. It asks us to do nothing for an extended period of time. So often these days, we’re used to moving from one place to another quickly, whether it be in practice on the mat or in our every day lives. The beauty of frog is that it gives us the opportunity to do absolutely nothing and that, in fact, the more you try to do physically or mentally, it makes the practice harder. Sometimes we all need to spend a bit more time doing nothing and surrendering to the world around us, and that’s the beauty of a big hip opening pose. 

A lot of us have jam-packed schedules and tend to lead lives that encourage a more inward, self-oriented perspective, whether it's while crowded into the subway or driving in our own cars, or just staying within the perceived boundaries of our own mat. How do you like to stay open as a person--to new experiences, to new people, to different perspectives?

For me these days, life is less about thinking and more about just experiencing each day as it comes. We spend so much time in our heads thinking, analyzing and interpreting how the world should be and our place within it, and usually during that time we miss out on what’s right in front of us. Every person I meet is an opportunity to a new world, new cultures, new foods, new conversations and new things. These days I live by the mantra ‘stay fresh’, which to me is the opportunity to stay open to everything that comes my way, to try new things, hang out with new people, and continue to believe that you have every opportunity to live an extraordinary life.

You founded BOYS OF YOGA as a way of reminding the now female-centric modern yoga world that men practice, too. Have you found that this project has helped others practice differently? If so, how?

BOYS OF YOGA is a project founded on awareness with a positive message at the core. For me, as the project grows, it’s about continuing to share and spread the benefits of the practice and how yoga can create positive change in everyone. 

We know so many dudes out there who say they want to practice, but seem intimidated by the idea of it. Any advice on how to overcome that initial hesitation, that sense that "it's for chicks in spandex"?

Yoga is something that is undeniably beneficial for all men, whether in body, mind or spirit. But like anything that is stigmatized, it’s about putting aside the stereotypes and stepping into the space and experiencing it for yourself and seeing if it works for you. It’s common for guys to be intimidated, but these days, there are a lot of accessible ways to try the practice, be it in gyms, online or private/special events. For those that still have hesitation, give it a try just once, and then reassess after the fact. I guarantee your point of view will change.


ABOUT MICHAEL JAMES WONG

A West Coast Power Yoga teacher, Michael is a New Zealand-born Los Angeles native who, after a few years in Sydney, Australia, moved to London, England, where we caught up with him. Aside from founding BOYS OF YOGA, Michael also runs a creative agency and has some big-time photography skills. Find out more about Michael on his website, and check him out on Instagram.