Back in June, I met up with Michael Womg and Emily-Clare Hill at Dalston’s new and trendy Good Roots festival, celebrating all things ‘wellness’. As well as an opportunity to try breakfast from 26 Grains, lunch from Deliciously Ella’s Mae Deli, and never-ending tasters from the likes of Pure Earth and Planet Organic, there were inspirational talks and Q & As with Hemsley + Hemsley. Since then, both Michael and Emily-Clare have shared their special Asana Addict Yoga workshop at the Brighton Yoga Festival, and are continuing to bring their inspiring co-lead classes to the masses.
Michael Wong is the founder of Boys of Yoga, a group of guys from around the globe and from all different backgrounds, who aim to break the stereotype that Yoga is ‘just for girls’. Not only is Michael a great practitioner and now very known in the wellness world, he’s actually a wise, soulful and talented teacher too. Emily-Clare Hill is one of London’s top Yoga teachers, with a tonne of knowledge and passion, and has just opened her own Yoga studio – Mudra Yoga in Stoke Newington, with fellow wellness enthusiast Paul Wong.
After seeking out a somewhat quiet-ish corner of the Good Roots festival, we sat down to chat about Yoga, Health, their exciting new co-taught workshop, and what they both do to maintain their own health and happiness while living a busy life.
Q: How did you get into Yoga?
Michael: My journey with Yoga started about 15 years ago. I grew up in LA and came from a
typical sports background. Everyone in LA surfs, skates and practices Yoga. That sense of wellness
and a beach lifestyle was very much part of my childhood, and Yoga was around all the time, but I actually got dragged into it…. Some of the most inspiring teachers in the world base themselves in LA, so once I got started it kind of shifted a lot of things – coming from a sports background where you’re used to pushing to win, this was a good opportunity to step back and see more of myself. Now it’s part of the everyday for me, and a really exciting journey to be on, but I’m lucky in that where I grew up that it was already part of the culture.
Emily: I used to dance and when I was a dancer it was all about ‘having to look and be a certain way’. There was a lot of looking in the mirror all the time, and everything I did had to be very specific, rigid and structured. I actually ended up falling into this Yoga class at the gym and realised the teacher was saying you could ‘be yourself, your postures don’t all have to look the same’ and I got really intrigued because that was the polar opposite to what I was studying, and the movement was helping to almost re-balance what I was damaging through dance. The industry I was stepping into was telling me “you have to look like this” and Yoga was saying “you can be anything you want to be. Embrace yourself”. I was totally blown away and wanted to learn more, and actually very quickly got more interested in the philosophical understanding of it.
Q: Do you have a daily Yoga practice?
Michael: I do have a daily practice, but it’s probably different to what most people would expect; A good four days a week are physical practice, but now it’s more balanced with different styles and things like meditation. It’s one of the most difficult things to keep up with a busy life, but you make
it a non-negotiable, and for me it’s not necessarily about getting out there and doing really vigorous stuff, but more about spending some time by myself on the mat, to reflect upon what the
practice is for me.
Emily: Especially when you’re a new teacher – myself included – you’re suddenly going from attending lots of classes, to having your energy spread across giving and teaching, and finding the time to fit in your own practice is difficult. [Self practice] is so important though, because what you’re offering needs to be replenished, and you need to continue learning as a teacher. If you’re not feeling something in your own body, then what you’re teaching is inauthentic. I do practice daily, I try to
get to the studio early before I teach because it gets me into the right mindset to be able to then give. I own a studio that is barely a year old, so the past year has been even busier than usual, but that means making time to practice is all the more necessary.
Q: When you’re teaching, what do you hope people get out of your classes the most?
Emily: The main thing for me is empowering people to empower themselves. It’s not about me making people do something to pull their energy forward, it’s about encouraging them to do it themselves.
Michael: Everyone comes to the mat for different reasons, and I think a big part of our responsibility as teachers is to be able to hold space for people to explore and move through whatever they want to – whether it’s physical, mental or emotional, it’s about giving people a safe space to have that opportunity to say “this is my time to get to know myself”.
Q: You have just started to share a new practice and workshop together named ‘Asana Addict’, what’s the story behind the concept of the class?
Emily: What we’re seeing, particularly in London and other cities within the Yoga scene, it’s just about ‘asana, asana, asana’ and doing handstands, and parts of the practice are being lost. This is our kind of play on guiding people into other parts of the practice who are essentially addicted to
only the asana part of it. We just want to lead people through some steps to bring their awareness back to the practice as a whole, but in a fun, lighthearted way.
Michael: In the class we will go through some strong asanas and inversions, but ultimately it’s about understanding why we do these things, and finding the balance, not getting lost in handstands and what things looks like, but why you do them, how you feel and what that helps to set you up for. It’s really important that people start to be more appreciative of the fact that Yoga is not just but shapes and funny poses, but that there’s a huge amount of depth to it. It’s important for us to celebrate the asana, but then give people more of an experience that goes deeper.
Find out more about Asana Addicts here.
Q: Have you always been ‘healthy’?
Emily: I’ve always been interested in health, possibly more as an active girl – wanting to feel healthy, to have bright skin and lots of energy to enjoy each day. When I used to dance I was using a lot of energy so I always had to be conscious of my diet, and maybe sometimes that was in the
wrong way because I had to look and be a certain way. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was a small child so I’ve never had that battle between eating meat and not eating it. Of course there are times where you’re ‘playing’, you’re out and having fun and not necessarily being that healthy, but that’s balance! Because I’m interested in it, I tend to retain a lot of information on health so it’s not an effort to sit and read things on health, the way food effects the body and the way our works with food.
Michael: I’ve always ‘wanted’ to be healthy (Emily laughs) but I guess like life, you go through ups and downs, and I think from a very young age – especially growing up in LA – you’re very aware of what it means to ‘be healthy’. It’s a process and a journey, sometimes you go through a phase where you’re really healthy, you do a lot of physical activity and you eat really well, and there’s other times where you just eat, sit around, have fun and relax. The balance of both is absolutely important to livelihood – being conscious and mindful of all these things, but also compassionate to the fact that it’s ok to fall off the rails a bit or take a bit of time. It makes you human. If you can be mindful of what you put into your mouth and conscious of what comes out of it then ultimately you’re living a healthy life.
Emily: I think you could re-phrase that! (laughs)
Q: What three things do you do every day to look after yourself and your health?
Michael: Brush my teeth. Drink water. Make sure I go outside.
Emily: Drink tea, learn something new or read something new, and pause to make sure you’re looking and seeing and noticing something about your day every day.
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