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Does the yoga world have a guy problem?


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boys-of-yoga-1The yoga world is getting a major injection of testosterone, thanks to Michael James Wong.

The Los Angeles-born, London-based power vinyasa teacher and photographer was inspired to create Boys of Yoga, a seriously striking multimedia project designed to draw more dudes into downward dog, after attending a retreat and realizing that there were only two men among the 20 attendees.

“Guys are often the plus-ones in yoga—dragged there with a girlfriend or hovering in the corner as if they’ve mistakenly walked into the women’s changing room,” says Wong. “We all know there are huge benefits to the practice; it’s just a matter of opening the door for more guys to come in and give it a chance.”

Read on to see the guys he’s recruited getting their asana on…

 

Get Started
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boys-of-yoga-2 While major cities like LA, New York, London, and Sydney already have healthy communities of male yogis—Wong says that towns with strong surf and skate cultures tend to have high concentrations of guys on the mat—there are plenty of other places worldwide where yoga is still considered a feminine pursuit.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this year in Eastern Europe and yoga just isn’t a ‘thing’ [for men]—not because there’s resistance, but usually because the conversation, access, and opportunity to practice just don’t exist,” he says.

And that’s exactly what he’s aiming on changing with Boys of Yoga: Through a series of expository online films, gritty photography, and high-energy live events—including a workshop at Wanderlust Hollywood on November 14—Wong is “creating a reference point to inspire both men and women to give yoga a go.”

Step one? Form a squad…

 

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boys-of-yoga-3Just as fitness posses have taken over the women’s wellness scene, the squad mentality is a Boys of Yoga cornerstone. “I grew up always doing things with ‘my boys’—hanging out, going to events, playing sports—and this was missing for me in yoga,” says Wong, who started practicing while working in the LA nightlife scene (his interest turned into a passion when, at age 25, he burned out and moved to Australia).

To create a clique he couldn’t find anywhere else, Wong enlisted a crew of his fellow pro yogis—all ultra-stylish; many tattooed, muscular, and crowned with man buns—to tell their stories for the Boys of Yoga website and video series and pose (often in handstand) for portraits on the graffiti-covered streets of their home metropolises.

 

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boys-of-yoga-5“When we created the look of the project, I took a lot of inspiration from street style and skate blogs,” Wong explains. The gang’s reach is global, spanning from Hong Kong (represented by luxury publicist-turned-vinyasa teacher Victor Chau) and Bali (where Australian expat Octavio Salvado is opening a yoga center) to Atlanta, Georgia (in which ex-pro basketball player Jason Anderson has created a style he calls Calmtivity Flow). “I captured each guy in a way that I thought best represented them, in hopes that lots of different people would connect to the project,” says Wong.

The men—or, ahem, boys—are also involved in team-teaching special events in their cities, each one with its own vibe and agenda based on who’s involved. (This weekend’s LA class, a Movember fundraiser, will be led by Wong, skateboarder-turned-Boys of Yoga member Yancy Scot Schultz, and Wanderlust Hollywood‘s director of yoga, Chad Dennis.)

But ultimately, what matters to Wong is not the big-name instructors he can wrangle, but rather the guys who show up, mat in tow; “it’s not about the teacher—it’s about the crew,” he emphasizes.

And according to Wong, his approach is already having an impact…and in ways that he could never have imagined…

 

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boys-of-yoga-4“There are loads of ‘I used to play football, and now I love yoga’ stories,” he says—but he’s most excited by the fact that the under-18 set is finding yoga through his work. “Younger kids have become inspired to start the practice because they connect to it all,” he says. “Moms are sharing stories about how it’s inspiring for their [sons]—they find it aspirational, in a positive way.”

And 2016 will offer many more opportunities for guys of all ages to get involved, with even more events, stories, and films on the horizon. “There are stereotypes around yoga, and whether we like it or not, shifting that perspective will take time,” says Wong. “The idea that it’s ‘just for women’ is part of common culture, but it’s just a matter of time—and awareness—to help shift the needle.”

And I think I can speak for a lot of female yogis everywhere when I say the more boys joining us in the studio, the merrier. —Erin Magner

How else is the yoga world attracting a broader audience? Try hosting classes at breweries…

(Photos: Michael James Wong)