MICHAEL JAMES WONG
PHOTOGRAPHER . MOMMA'S BOY . CITIZEN OF THE WORLD . YOGI
Name: MICHAEL JAMES WONG
Hometown: SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA, USA
Current town: LONDON, ENGLAND
Yoga practice style: WEST COAST POWER VINYASA
Where is home? I was born in New Zealand, raised in Santa Monica, California, wandered around Australia in my 20’s and then made my way to London a few years ago to hang out with the Queen and eats lots of fish and chips.
But I guess if you want the short answer, home is wherever my mom is.
What's your story? I grew up in LA, and when you're young and in that place, it was easy to get swept up in the ‘cool kids crowd’, I used to be in the Hollywood party scene 5-7 nights a week which at the time was great, and somehow I even managed to turn the partying into a full-time job. I spent most of my early twenties doing my best work between the hours of 10pm-5am. Back then I thought I was really cool. Once I hit 25 I realized I wasn't cool, nor did I ever want to be, so I picked up and moved to Australia.
I spent the next few years avoiding nightclubs and getting into more creative things like photography, art and cooking, and started taking yoga more seriously. Though I had been doing yoga for a few years at that point, it wasn’t till I got to Australia that I really got in deep. I thank my teachers Duncan Peak and Keenan Crisp of Power Living Australia for being the first teachers to take me through Teacher Training and for showing me that there is a real and authentic place for guys in the Western world of yoga. Four years later, I decided to move to London. I've never liked to stay in one place for too long, and I've always loved traveling to foreign and strange places, so London seemed like the perfect place to start my next chapter. At the time of this interview I've been living in London for almost four years, and I'm still loving it.. but no one knows when the wind will change.
How would your mother describe you? Stubborn and selectively selfish. She’d probably say I’m thoughtful at times, thoughtless at others. However, I once overheard her tell one of her friends, ‘he’s really great with kids because he treats them like equals, very few people ever do that, and that's why he gets along so well with them, and they always like him’. I think that is one of the most complimentary things she has ever said about me and even though she probably doesn’t even remember saying it, or know that I heard her, it’s always stuck with me.
What drives you now? These days I'm trying to do things a bit differently, and express myself more creatively. I've spent the better part of the last 10 years working to a plan and a structure, whilst always creatively motivated, I've always been focusing on someone else's plans or visions and that's never as exciting as pursuing my own. I now intend to chase my own goals and set my own creative visions. I'm going to shoot more photography, make more films and generally focus my time on the weird and wonderful, rather than the straight and narrow.
What’s the worst job you have ever had and why? Once, when I was a teenager, I had to spend a summer painting the floor of this massive factory warehouse at my dad’s company. Back in those days there was no health and safety and when you're working for the family certain regulations don't really apply anyway. I think that that was the first time I ever got high, and not in a good way. On top of that, my brother and I had to do it together and at the time we weren't the best of friends, probably cause we were both arrogant teenagers (or maybe that was just me). We were told it was ‘mandatory’ and ‘brotherly bonding time’. There was nothing fun about that summer.
What's the best? For the last few years I have volunteered at a shelter for the homeless for the holidays/Christmas period. It's an amazing experience and something that I know I'll do every year from now on. These days, I couldn't imagine spending Christmas morning any other way (sorry mom). I think that it's crucial for the human spirit to give something back; it's my own personal 'puja'. It's by no means a job, but I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather spend ten hours.
What's your favourite meal? I’ll eat anything off the side of the road or anything made by my mom, both of which are pretty similar in many ways. I like street food because it tends to be the best local foods, just made by someone else’s mom.
How did you get into yoga and what was the biggest challenge when you started? When I first started I treated yoga like a sport. I figured that effort and dedication would equal achievement and accomplishment. The hardest thing to learn in yoga was that no one cares how ‘good’ you are because there isn’t even a rating system in the first place. Being good at yoga is irrelevant. Once I got past that, everything was easy going.
Since then, I’ve done multiple teacher trainings; taught, travelled, studied, practiced and lead retreats all over the world - in the USA, India, Europe, UK, Asia/Pacific - and it’s all still the first 10 years of the journey. I guess when you’re addicted to something you’ll go to any lengths to keep the high going.
As a teacher, what’s the best advice you can give to guys who are thinking about getting into yoga? For guys the hardest thing is stepping inside the room. The rest is easy. Usually the biggest issue that guys have with yoga isn’t the practice, it’s the word itself.
Why do you keep coming back? Yoga’s not just something you ‘do’ in a dark room with candles and Bonobo; it’s not about making shapes that look good on Instagram. All that means nothing. Yoga is my belief system, my attitude to life, a culture that I abide by, and a community I'm a part of. A lot of people think Yoga is like a religion, but the truth is it’s as far away as you can get. Religion asks you to narrow your beliefs; yoga asks you to open them up.
What is your personal mantra? Change is inevitable. Growth is optional. – Walt Disney
Interviewed: January 11th, 2015
Photos by @michaeljameswong and property of BOYS OF YOGA LLC