“Hi, I’m Michael James Wong. Global Yogi, Wellness Warrior and founder of BOYS OF YOGA.”
Michael James Wong is a professional human being, a man on a mission to break down barriers, smash stereotypes and bring the global wellness community together in a calmer & quieter conversation.
Michael is the founder and vision before BOYS OF YOGA, JUST BREATHE and SUNDAY SCHOOL YOGA. All organisations aimed to create community, connection and quiet in our chaotic world. The global movement, BOYS OF YOGA, aims to share and connect male yogis around the world, widen the common perception of yoga and ultimately making it more accessible to men. Even today, yoga is stigmatised. It is still seen as something just for girls, yet the benefits for everybody undeniable.
“To most guys yoga is pink lycra and vegan chicks”
But they couldn’t be so wrong…
“The goal is simple: smash the stereotype and get more guys on the mat.”
Michael was born in New Zealand but grew up on the beaches of Santa Monica, California. As a child Michael recalls that he lacked confidence and identity. Growing up as an immigrant, all he wanted was to fit in and belong.
After reluctantly being dragged to a yoga class by some friends in his 20s, everything changed. His yoga journey began.
“Yoga changed, and saved my life.
Yoga cleansed me, shaped me and gave me something to be inspired by.
Yoga gave me passion and perspective, something I never had growing up.”
It also helped him find confidence in himself on and off the mat, and made his realise that life wasn’t all about being ‘cool’.
“Even more, yoga helped me calm the chaos in my mind”
At 25, Michael left the US and now splits his time between Sydney and London. Where, for the last 10 years he has been teaching yoga, modern mindfulness and meditation. He continues to explore the world and delve deeper into self-awareness through the stillness he found in yoga.
Michael is currently a lifestyle & wellness advocate, community leader, international yoga & meditation teacher and acclaimed speaker and author. His latest book Sit Down, Be Quiet is a guide specifically for men on to where to start, how to get going and keep going with yoga, meditation and modern mindfulness.
“This is me living my Yoga.”
With all this under his belt, Michael is recognised around the world as a leading voice in the global wellness movement for modern mindfulness.
This is a phrase that is continually thrown around. But what does it really mean? How can we be mindful in our modern world?
In order to be mindful, we firstly need to understand what mindfulness is.
“By finding stillness you can create a sense of calm in your mind and body. This is the practice of modern mindfulness and meditation.”
We are currently living in the global epidemic of always being BUSY. There seems to be a sense of pride in being perpetually busy. Often driving us to breaking point and sheer exhaustion. This is simply unsustainable. Eventually, we will hit a breaking point.
“We’ve become accustomed to thinking that this is how life is meant to be.”
“It’s easy to get overloaded. We allow so much to come in rather than blocking some of it out, and sometimes it overwhelms us. This is how stress and burn-out happen.”
“We need to turn the volume down.”
“The best place to start is to stop.”
Why is there certain shame in self-care and meditation? It should be celebrated. Believe it or not, slowing down is a good thing.
Mindfulness is understanding where you are in the present moment. Using your awareness. Giving yourself permission and the capability ‘be’: being aware, present and involved at that time.
Mindfulness expands our awareness and ability to connect. Elements of which filter seamlessly into everyday life. As a society, we just don’t listen. Is it really that hard to stop and really listen and engage in a conversation? Not just physically being present with our mind elsewhere but being emotionally connected and concerned with what the other person is saying.
Why is listening so hard?
“Listening is more than what you do with your ears. It’s allowing yourself to be present, alert and attentive to the conversation you’re having. Too many of us are already formulating answers and responses in our heads long before it’s our turn to talk. We need to talk less, listen more”
In this sense, talking reduces our ability to respond. If we actively listened, we would be able to properly respond. It is more than just hearing:
“To listen is to notice and pay attention.”
“Listening is about appreciating the right here, right now.”
Let’s live rather than just exist.
“Living is the rarest thing in the world, most people only exist” Mark Twain
Mindfulness is an attitude. Whereas, meditation is a tool or practice. These are often merged together or confused as being the same, but are actually very different.
Meditation teaches us the ability to switch off. Allowing us to disconnect from daily life stresses and find momentary quiet and stillness.
It also helps your physical wellbeing: improving sleep, reducing blood pressure, and decreasing stress and anxiety to name but a few benefits.
We like to overcomplicate meditation. Perhaps our experience doesn’t live up to our expectations. Or we feel like we are failing as we can’t stop thinking. But meditation can’t be defined as good or bad. It is simply an experience. Have that beautiful human experience and don’t over think it.
“There is no such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘perfect’ meditation.”
We can’t judge ourselves for what’s on our mind. Acknowledge the wandering moments but don’t let ourselves indulge in them. The key is to try and bring the mind back. Back to our breathing and mantra.
“At the end of your meditation don’t spend any time analysing what happened; just simply appreciate how you feel now your eyes are open. If you free refreshed, calm, energised and light, then the meditation was good, and therein lies the benefit.
And if you don’t, know that it wasn’t bad. It was just an experience that didn’t serve you well today.”
Breath work in meditation helps us reconnect with ourselves. This is the first step to modern mindfulness. If we don’t understand and connect with ourselves, how can we connect with others and the world around us? This is how meditation and mindfulness are fundamentally intertwined. Meditation doesn’t make life easier. It makes you more aware of your own life, therefore enabling you to choose how to live it.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.” Gandhi
We juggle a million things at once. So the idea of sitting still can seem impossible to many, even ‘a waste of time’ which may frustrate us.
Time is the greatest commodity. Yet, our mind is our greatest asset. Is putting aside a bit of time each day really that hard? Think bigger picture here. There is no minimum time requirement; it is up to you.
“Sitting still is hard when we first start. We can always find something that needs to be dealt with, or something else that needs to be done right now. Carving out a space every day for a moment to pause just never seems high on the priory list. But why can’t we prioritise doing nothing? Why is it so hard?”
It may be daunting. But if we sit still, what do we have to lose?
There are many different styles of meditation, all varying in length. However, Michael favours and personally practices twice a day for 20 minutes. But what is so special about 20 minutes?
“It’s often said that 20 minutes is the ideal length of time for the body to rest in calmness to receive the full benefits of the practice. After this you’ve reached ‘rest saturation’ and any additional time doesn’t offer as much benefit. It’s like charging your phone: once it’s charged, it’s charged, no matter how long you leave it plugged in.”
When you think about it 20 minutes isn’t very long; it’s only 1.4% of your day.
- Find a comfortable place to sit, where you won’t be disturbed.
- Set a timer. This way you hand over control so won’t be tempted to cut the time short. He also adds to make sure you pick a gentle alarm so you don’t have a sharp, painful exit from the practice.
- Minimise the external distraction where possible.
- Close your eyes. (This is the hardest part for most people).
- Breathe and let go.
- Recite to yourself ‘just’ on the inhales and ‘breathe’ on the exhales. This may help maintain focus and a clear mind.
Additionally, Michael suggests it’s a process worth ‘learning’, rather than ‘thinking your way through’. Hence why a guided practice, such as the App: HeadSpace, is a good place to start. The ultimate aim to become self-sustainable and at ease when practicing.
Mindfulness is a journey. It develops and evolves. The hardest part is starting or ‘finding’ the time. But it is so worth it.
“Sitting still is never a waste. Giving yourself time to focus within, instead of being distracted by the outside, will always have a positive effect in your life.”
Morning or Night? When is the best time to meditate?
- Morning meditation allows us to ‘warm up’. It is the first conscious act of the day which will put the body at ease. This puts self-care as the most important concept to start your day. Surely this is a great way to tackle the day ahead?
I love Michael’s Sun analogy for this:
Meditating in the morning gives us a gentle start which mimics the sun rising. It doesn’t just switch from off to on, night to day. The sun slowly rises, preparing itself in a sense. We are doing the same for our bodies.
- The 4 o’clock lull can be combatted with meditation too. This is a common time which we fatigue and look for external stimuluses. Well, put aside the sugary pick me ups; meditation is a brilliant natural stimulus to help reenergise.
- Night time meditation allows us to relax. Just as the sun slowly rises, it slowly sets. No off and on button. Our bodies are the same; we need to slowly unwind and find stillness for a more effective sleep and disconnection. Meditation is a brilliant tool to do this, as mentioned earlier aiding a deeper sleep.
“Cultivating quiet as a lifestyle approach will affect everything you do. Your edges will soften, your expectations will ease and your desperation to fill space with words will dissipate.”
Michael has noticed a big difference to how he acts and is.
“I’m quieter now than I used to be.
I enjoy long moments of no talking, I don’t have anxiety about small talk; I can just enjoy the silence.”
Making these small changes within yourself and to your daily routine can really be significant:
“Once you step into stillness, you’ll wonder how you ever operated in such a noisy world without reprieve.”
Michael’s aim as a teacher is to impact his pupils in the best way possible; helping them become genuine human beings. Take the plunge and join him.
“If not now, when?”