"Some guys think that yoga makes you less of a man, the truth is it makes you a better one. Yoga isn’t just for your mom, your sister or your girlfriend anymore. It’s time to smash the stereotype."
Talk us through the creation of Boys of Yoga. What motivated you to set it up?
I set up the project back in 2015 to celebrate something that was already there, but no one was really talking about. Yoga has been a big part of my life for the last 15 years as my practice, my lifestyle and my community, and I wanted to create something positive that spread the message of yoga.
Since the launch of the project, it’s been called a brotherhood for the BOYS, a global movement that inspires, but in its simplest form, it’s a conversation to encourage and inspire more men to get involved.
Whether we like to admit it, yoga can be very intimidating for guys and I was lucky early in my yoga journey to have friends, teachers and role models who were guys, who supported me and helped me wake up to the benefits of yoga. This was my motivation for the project – to help open more doors that invite guys into yoga.
What did you set out to achieve? Were your ambitions and goals defined from the start?
When the projected started, there was one simple message: ‘get more guys on the mat’. Early on it was about smashing the Western stereotype of yoga and celebrating amazing male yogis and brilliant teachers who were awesome dudes. If the project serves its purpose to get more guys into yoga and help normalise who it’s seen to be practised by throughout the Western world, then the movement as a whole will no longer be needed. We’re not there yet, but the conversation is definitely changing.
How was Boys of Yoga received initially – has the perception changed since the beginning?
At the start, the project was ‘conversational’ – people either loved it, or weren’t sure about it because it was such a new idea. Positivity was matched with skepticism and people were still understanding the greater purpose.
Over time, the support has been overwhelming. It’s been received with such positivity, all around the world from men and women, teachers and students, because everyone has a man in their life that would benefit from becoming a BOY.
Creating a community of the like-minded could be considered a little self indulgent – was the development of Boys of Yoga born out of a desire to solve a problem?
People who are like-minded share a common idea that connects them. In yoga, connection is everything, first to ourselves and then to others.
I cannot be so bold as to say that BOYS was created to solve a problem, but rather help guys consider another option, maybe one they’ve never thought of before. If the project helps to get just one new man on the mat, then it’s served its purpose well.
If more people do yoga, there will be fewer problems in the world, but that’s something that comes from each and every one of us. So to answer your question, it’s not self-indulgence that we’re looking for, it’s self awareness.
Surf, skate & snow started as small subcultures which grew organically in popularity through influences such as apparel and music. What influences have played a part in the growth of yoga culture and the awareness around modern mindfulness?
I believe we are on the cusp of big change and the general sentiment of the western world is waking up to the ideas of kindness, compassion and unity, even in the most daunting and challenging of times. Yoga culture has grown quickly because the world is looking for a way to calm the chaos of everyday life. People have a need for connection, and for many, yoga and the culture that it shares, is a way of bringing people closer together.
The commercialism surrounding yoga lifestyle and culture is increasingly apparent. How can yoga be less ‘consumed’ and more ‘experienced’?
In life and practice, experience is everything. Yoga is not something you ‘do’ for 60 mins on a mat, once a day. It’s an experience you live. Sometimes it’s in the body, moving and breathing, sometimes it’s just the way you see the world, with kindness and appreciation.
Yoga is not a commodity to buy, sell and trade, but something to be shared. Yes, there’s an industry to yoga in the western world, and there is nothing wrong with that, but we must all own our intentions on what yoga means to us.
My father would always say, ‘to each, their own’, so I can only speak to my story. For me, yoga has given me so much, it has kept me healthy and well physically, calm and composed mentally and a community where I belong.
Does it pay the rent? Yes.
But it also gives me so much more that money can’t buy.
Turning your passion into a purpose or career is still considered a luxury for many. Has the creation of Boys of Yoga felt like ‘work’ in the traditional sense?
If we are passionate about something, we put in work. We strive to continue and focus our efforts into the things that inspire us. BOYS is a passion project, and it will always be. But there are times where I’ll work long hours on reading and writing interviews, photographing and filming new ideas, and hours on end travelling to meet, connect and share the power of the practice with communities all over the world.
What does the future look like for Boys of Yoga?
The future for BOYS is unwritten, it’s a story that now has a life of its own. With over 75 BOYS all over the world and hundreds more connected through the project, the hope is to keep supporting the yoga conversation as it spreads to more and more guys.
Over the past few years I’ve been lucky enough to travel from Los Angeles to Australia, Bulgaria to Sweden, Hong Kong to Canada and many more places around the world sharing this project. We’ve grown our community and message to places I didn’t think yoga existed, and have received lots of messages from men and women telling us how much the project has inspired someone in their life.
So while I don’t know what the future holds, I’m looking forward to being a part of the journey ahead.
Is the idea of a ‘Pet Project’ or a ‘Passion Project’ for the wealthy and privileged?
Passion isn’t something that comes from what you have in your pockets, it comes from what you have in your heart. Creating a pet project isn’t easy, it takes time, dedication and a desire to create something meaningful. It’s a thing with late nights, working weekends, and spending your own hard earned money. But at the end, when you see your ideas come to life, it’s all worth it, and it inspires you to keep going every single day. No matter what you have to put into it, you always get so much more out of it.
A wise friend once told me, you gotta’ hustle for your passion. If you don’t, no one will.
So don’t just talk about it, get down and do it.
You can find out more about BOYS OF YOGA at www.boysofyoga.com @boysofyoga
You can find out more about Michael James Wong at www.michaeljameswong.com @michaeljameswong