The primary image of yoga here in the West is of a young, lithe woman, wearing skintight neon clothes and contorting happily into unlikely positions. But according to Michael James Wong, that’s far from a full, or even accurate, depiction of what yoga is and how its physical and mental benefits can help everyone, of all ages, sizes—and genders.

Wong—a Los Angeles-raised, London-based yoga teacher—wants to spread the gospel of yoga to guys. To this end, he created a movement called Boys of Yoga, aimed at showing that “yoga isn’t just for your mom, your sister or your girlfriend anymore.”

Wellwellwell chatted with Wong about his efforts to create a community of yoga dudes.

Why do you think yoga is not so guy-friendly? 

Boys of Yoga Michael James WongYoga is a word that comes with stereotypes and misconceptions. I think the way that we look at it, and what we’re doing with the movement, is just understanding that yoga in the Western world is very one-dimensional. What makes it so difficult to connect with is the fact that people only usually see very bendy, flexible girls on Instagram and in magazines. It’s a victim of its own success, where people see it for such a beautiful and elegant thing in women’s fitness or women’s culture. And soit becomes very difficult for men to wrap their heads around it.

Can you elaborate?

As a guy growing up, the first thing you usually do is play sports. You grow up with a play-to-win mentality; you’re trained to think that you need to be the best at things. And all those things are not what yoga is about. Yoga is about the opportunity to explore, to try, to be open, to see how the practice works for you.

 What are those benefits?

Yoga is a great for anyone and everyone. Physically it helps to lengthen and open the muscles and increases health and well-being. It gives you stronger balance, flexibility and endurance. But that’s just the physical element. The other side consists of the mental and emotional benefits: the ability to de-stress, not overanalyze things, not be so judgmental. When you really delve deeper, you really understand that yoga is the full package.

How are you changing perceptions? 

In its essence, it is a movement to bring more awareness to the benefits of yoga in a way that is different, not to create separation, but to show how valuable and accessible it can be to guys and girls alike.

Boys of Yoga