Michael is a leading voice in the global movement for modern mindfulness, a community activist, yoga and meditation teacher, speaker and author.
- How to overcome the challenges we have with meditation
- The importance of community
- Men and mental health
- Practical things you can do at home to help your mental health
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Chloe Brotheridge: Hello, and welcome to the Calmer You podcast. This is your host, Chloe Brotheridge. I’m a coach, a hypnotherapist, and I’m the author of The Anxiety Solution and Brave New Girl. This podcast is all about helping you to become your calmest, happiest and most confident self.
Hello, thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you’re doing well. Today I’m talking to Michael James Wong. Michael is a leading voice in the global movement for modern mindfulness. He’s a community activist, a yoga and meditation teacher, a speaker, and author.
We get into a really interesting conversation about how to overcome the challenges that we have with meditation. I know as much as anyone how challenging meditation can be. Michael really is an expert in this area.
We talked about the importance of community. Michael has built an incredible community. He shares how he did that and why it’s so important to him. We talk about men and mental health and we get into his practical advice and tools for things that we can do at home to help our mental health.
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If you want to get those freebies, you can head over to my website, Calmer-you.com/free and enter your email address. I will send you all of those goodies straight into your inbox.
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How is Michael today?
Chloe Brotheridge: Welcome Michael. I’m really looking forward to speaking to you.
Michael James Wong 03:08: I’m good in all sense of the word. As good as we can be. I’m at home right now, having a bit of quiet time. In other words, I’m riding the waves of ups and downs, some days are busier, some days are quieter. Taking it one day at a time right now.
Chloe Brotheridge 03:32: Yeah, I think that’s something that a lot of people are saying. For people listening, we’re recording this just to the end of March. This is going to come out in a few weeks time. It’s all just adjusting right now to this new kind of way of being at home. While you are with us, can you share a little bit about what you do and how you got to where you are today?
Michael James Wong 03:54: Sure. I’m from many places I was originally born in New Zealand and I grew up in Los Angeles. I’ve now lived in the UK for the last eight or nine years. For me a lot of the work that I do, and a lot of the communities I sit within are really about having a chance to celebrate quieter practices.
I came from the fast and busy world of LA, which seemingly is is far crazier than most other places in the world, especially to grow up. I had always grown up around in a culture about being busy, successful, and winning. It was always a place where I was always judged by my output. Over the last 10 to 15 years was about learning what actually was important to me, rather than what I was told was important.
These days, I spent a lot more time on well being. My work is focused around teaching mindfulness meditation. I also do lot of writing and sharing. It’s really ultimately about building communities and giving people a sense of connection. Most of these practices can be implemented into our everyday lives.
Chloe Brotheridge 05:24: How do we even do meditation in our fast-paced world? I really wanted to ask you a bit more about meditation. Why meditation? Why did you start teaching it and what are some of the benefits for meditation?
Michael James Wong 05:52: Meditation as a practice for me was not something that came naturally. I didn’t grow up in a household of meditating kids. I actually grew up in a very normal LA lifestyle. You go to school, play sports, and do what other kids do.
Over the years of growing up, I felt how busy life can be and how swept up we can be. We can easily experience a disconnection with the world or the people around us because we’re really busy and lost in our heads.
We’re always on a timeline and deadline. I found meditation in my early 20s, It was an opportunity to try anything that was going to help my current state of chaos that I was living in. My life was very fast.
I found meditation as an opportunity to see if there was something else that worked. I was very lucky to live in Los Angeles at a time where the communities were quite strong with yoga and meditation. It just gave me a sense of space. In other words, meditation was difficult when I started.
Meditation isn’t easy at first
Chloe Brotheridge 07:35: It’s good to mention that Meditation isn’t easy at first. We’re not going to be amazing at it. You said that you weren’t a natural meditator. It wasn’t something that you’d grown up with. In fact, I heard someone say just today, actually, that meditation just feels like a chore and another item on the to do list.
What do you say to people who know that it would be helpful to get that space and quietness?
Michael James Wong 08:30: I think most people now realise and appreciate that meditation is valuable and can be beneficial for our lives. The challenge is actually doing it or sitting down to make time for it or seeing the value in the practice. What’s really unique about meditation, which is counterintuitive to Western society, is that the sense of accomplishment is actually the most challenging part of meditation. Western psychology says, if I’m doing something, I need be good at it.
What is meditation?
The practice of meditation is the ability in which we can move away from the thinking mind to process and from a sense of accomplishment or action. Meditation can be really tricky to start for some people. First you have to break the pattern of needing to achieve something. It’s helpful just to trust the benefit in trying.
Chloe Brotheridge 10:20: That’s really interesting, isn’t it? I remember when I started meditating, and it didn’t click for me, until I really started to notice the benefits of it working. I think after several weeks of practising every day, I kind of knew on a theoretical level that it was good. Once I realised the effect it had on my life, then it became much more motivating to keep going. I wonder if some people need to have that taste of the benefits so they can really stick to it.
It’s like brushing your teeth
Michael James Wong 10:48: A lot of the challenge, especially with this kind of Western intellect, is that we think by understanding it intellectually we can make these shifts. It’s when you first experience it and begin to value the time put it to it, hen the shifts happen, right? It’s like brushing your teeth. In addition, it wasn’t the most profound thing when you first started. When you do it with a bit of regularity, you begin to see the value and appreciate how it makes you feel. The light bulb switches and you realise it’s quite a valuable thing for my life.
Chloe Brotheridge 11:28: That’s a really good point. I’ve noticed that myself. It’s fine if I miss it every now and again. Howerver, if I miss it for a week, then things start to not go quite as well.
Michael James Wong 11:39: Go brush your teeth for a week.
Chloe Brotheridge 11:41: Do you think it becomes a habit that naturally becomes part of your life the more regularly you do it. The same way as brushing my teeth?
Michael James Wong 11:56: I am a big believer of creating positive routines. Habits sometimes can have a negative connotation of a chore that needs to be done and you do it enough, then by default. Like taking the rubbish out. If we create positive routines or create a sense of ritualization to it, it actually creates a sense of positivity. I think it is really important to look at practices that start to establish a long term well being.
Chloe Brotheridge 12:39: Can you share a bit about your practice? Is there something that you suggest for people who are getting started with meditation
What type of meditation
Michael James Wong 12:51: Meditation as a whole is quite a large conversation. Like dance, for example, there isn’t just one style. There are many different styles and types of meditation. I’m a big advocate of what we would call stillness. This is similar to Vedic meditation, or Transcendental Meditation.
I’m a Vedic meditation practitioner. It’s about cultivating a sense of space and cultivating a sense of feeling and allowing an effortless of a technique. We use a mantra to help narrow the mind into something a bit quieter.
As a teacher, translating meditation into the real world and starting to pull away the things that maybe aren’t as necessary to help amplify the points of conversation that helps you really see the value. We want to make it relevant to the new world.
How does meditation work
The meditation I practice and teach is about keeping it short, powerful and effective. 20 minutes is all you really need twice a day. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon. When you think you need coffee, that’s when you do meditation.
Chloe Brotheridge 14:48: I love that. I think it’s quite nice to start and end the day with that because maybe at the end of the day you can be switching off from your work. You can be Changing mode. With so many of us working from home right now, meditation can be a good way right now to delineate between the day and the evening is quite a nice thing to do.
Michael James Wong 15:13; Practicing now can offer value and a lifestyle switch.
Chloe Brotheridge 15:24: I really wanted to ask you about your events. Just briefly, can you share a bit about what that’s about? What’s been your experience of running that and what you’ve learned from that?
Michael James Wong 15:38: I started an organisation a few years ago focused on building community. Primarily, it’s about building community through events. Whether they’re small events or large events We’ve been able to create intimate gatherings. Bridging culture and community, with mindfulness at the core of it. That looks like a large mass meditation in public iconic places around the country and he world. We bring 500,000 people together to have an evening of quiet community and connection.
Sense of community at scale
We’ve hosted them at the British Museum and the top of the shard. We’ve created opportunities around the world, including New York, Stockholm, Berlin and Australia. The events create moments where people feel like they’re together and a sense of community at scale. Also in a really mindful and intimate way.
They’re really special events. They include music, art, dance, spoken word and small community conversations so people can start to see what meditation mindfulness is. It can be experienced with people that you might hang out with. People come straight from their offices. It’s a cross section of everyday life coming together with an appreciation to do less.
Chloe Brotheridge 17:32: I imagine the energy in the room meditating with 1000 people must be quite a thing. Can you feel the collective consciousness of bringing a group of people together to meditate? Can you feel like the good vibes?
Michael James Wong 17:52: Yeah, absolutely. You feel the good vibes. There’s this sense of collective consciousness. It’s about quieting down. When you have 500 or 1000 people getting quiet together special and really, really powerful.
Chloe Brotheridge 18:46: You mentioned the community aspect of those gatherings. I’m hearing so much about community now. This is something that we need as human beings and that actually it’s so beneficial for our mental health. What have you learned about community through the work that you do?
Michael James Wong 19:10: I absolutely agree. Community is at the essence of our humanity, our health and well being. It’s a big aspect of our mental health and keeping that well. It gives us a feeling like we belong to something that’s bigger than ourselves, and a sense of being a part of something where we are appreciated for who we are not just what we do. That can be the definition of community.
It’s not a new topic. It goes back for as long as human existence. The need for tribes, families, sports teams. Places where people feel like they belong and they feel like they’re seen. Community is at the very core of the wellness revolution.
Chloe Brotheridge 20:38: Yeah, so it’s so true, isn’t it? And whenever I hear about Yeah, wellness events, or even online groups that I run, so often people will say that the community aspect of it is the most important thing. You know, being able to connect with people and I love what you shared about being accepted for who you are and not what you do. I think that So important in our times when so much of things can be on the superficial level and actually we all need we all need that kind of level of acceptance.
Men and mental health
I really wanted to ask you about men and mental health. That’s an aspect of your work. Do you think things are changing in terms of how men are asking for help? Have you seen more men coming to your meditation groups?
Michael James Wong 21:35: I always start the conversation around mental health and first appreciating that everyone is uniquely themselves. It’s really easy to first have a conversation about the gender divide and men’s approach to mindfulness, wellness and mental health.
The men are very in touch with their emotions, their feelings, their vulnerabilities. That being said, there has always been traditionally a resistance to having an emotional conversation for men. There’s been resistance.
There is a stereotype of how men should be. They should be strong and swallow emotions. I think now more than ever, the conversation has drastically shifted. It will continue to shift with the support of both men and women appreciating the fact that we don’t need to uphold stereotypes.
We don’t need to assume or expect anything. We can celebrate our sense of intimacy and connection across gender and generational barriers. Mental health may be passed down generationally as opposed to passing across the gender line of our parents and our grandparents. We are starting to break away from the conversations of 50 years ago.
Men meditate too
I see a lot more men who are stepping into these spaces. I’m lucky because I’ve seen the shift. At our monthly meditations or big community gatherings you’re still going to see 30 to 50% men there. We also try to cultivate the space that is not about making it segregated purely by men or women.
Nobody wants to be told what to do in their development or growth. We just want to embody the practices with ourselves and inspire other people to see the value that we get. For me, it’s about just trying to be as open and as vulnerable and conversational as I can be. Hopefully when people feel welcome in the space it also begins to break down these barriers for men to feel open to come as they are.
Are men opening up to the wellness space?
Chloe Brotheridge 24:54: That’s really interesting that you found that a lot of men go to your events. I’m really glad to hear that. I’ve quite often noticed that a lot of events or workshops will have far fewer men in the space. Why is that?
Michael James Wong 25:21: For a lot of men, if they are interested in these topics they’ll step into these spaces. Sometimes I’ll find one or two guys in a room of 50 people. Yes, they’re gonna find themselves as the minority. I generally don’t think that’s a bad place to be. The guy stepping into that space has an opportunity to step outside his comfort zone and move in to a direction of interest.
Help men feel part of the conversation
One of the nicest things to do if you are a female in a room is say hi and make the man feel like he belongs. As opposed to there’s a guy here. Good job. Make them part of the conversation. The evolution is really about just the continued conversations.
I tend to say that all the work that’s being done in wellness is beneficial for everyone. It’s just about people finding the value in themselves to step into a room and really take the value as opposed to take the judgement.
Chloe Brotheridge 27:00: Love that. Do you have any particular routines or practices that helped you with your mental health?
Michael James Wong 27:15:: What works for me might not work for others. I have my own practices like meditation, yoga, and getting outside and a really strong practice of releasing the expectations of others. I was lucky to be raised in a family where it was valued to focus on what makes you happy and works for you.
One of my most dedicated practices is spending some time by myself and figuring out myself. My opinions, my point of view and what’s important, rather than stepping out into the world and waiting for it to be given to me.
For example, I’m gonna gather all my friends, we’re gonna have a brainstorm. Then all of a sudden, you go into this brainstorm with five of your friends and then everyone has a different opinion. Everyone thinks they’re right. And you come out with no good idea other than a mixed bag of ideas and everyone kind of thinking there’s is right and your’s is wrong.
Have an opinion or a point of view. Put yourself in a certain direction and it will evolve and change. It’s important to have your own principles, your own compass that takes you through.That’s a really important practice for my own mental health. It’s easy to feel the influence of lots of other people. That can take me off course quite regularly if I don’t have my own purpose or my own kind of direction.
Chloe Brotheridge 29:32: I’ve also experienced this and I’m sure people listening have too. We often don’t trust ourselves and then seek reassurance or validation from other people and then you find yourself on their path.
That is not where you want to be going in your life. Where you’re saying yes to things that you don’t want to do or not taking opportunities because you’re worried about what people are going to think. We need to take time to connect with ourselves and understanding what we want.
The Quiet Life
I wanted to ask you about your new podcast series, The Quiet Life. It’s all about home practices. Is there anything else that has come out of that or that you recommend people do in terms of home practices?
Michael James Wong: When the Covid crisis happened people went indoors. There was no grand design for this podcast, and it was really about responding to the need to support. There are many people who have lots to offer during times of uncertainty by nature of the work that we do.
The podcast is really about what the wellness community can do to offer more support to more people at home. The whole, the whole essence of the podcast is very simple. Have a simple and easy conversation with someone who has something valuable to share, whether that’s educational, inspirational, a different perspective, or a sense of purpose.
It’s about something that actually gives people a sense of connection. It’s a conversation about things that we can do at home that simply give ourselves a sense of well being.
The guests come from across a wide range of industries and perspectives, Fundamentally, it’s about how do we take all of this complexity in the world and simplify it down to simple home practices? Hopefully with this podcast, we can offer daily support and inspiration. Along with education and perspective about how people can incorporate into their homes and into their lives right now simple and effective ways for their own mind and mental health.
Chloe Brotheridge 33:41: Are there any things that you’ve heard recently that are some of your favourites in terms of practical home practices?
Michael James Wong 33:51: I was having a conversation with a personal trainer and a fitness person Mr. PMA Feisal , whom a lot of people know. He was talking about the need not just have physical fitness and movement while we’re kind of stuck at home, but also to check in on our emotional fitness. To understand how our emotions are keeping well. How resilient are we right now under the stress.
Are you spending time talking about how you feel and asking each other? Of course, it’s an opportunity to just appreciate the fact that right now it’s natural to have an up and a down and have days where you feel like you’re not productive or days when you’re really productive.
Chloe Brotheridge 35:46: That’s pretty powerful. Thank you for sharing that. It’s interesting to hear your perspective on things. Your approach is really fascinating to me. Where can people find out more about you and what you’re up to??
Getting in touch with Michael
Michael James Wong 36:07: You can find me on Instagram under Michael James Wong and on my website MichaelJamesWong.com. Firstly, you can also check out our organisation for mindfulness in the real world, which focuses on big events. There aren’t any live events now but a lot of online resources. So that’s just breathe so you can follow at just breathe on Instagram. And the website is at just breed, project calm. We’ve got lots of online content and videos. There’s we have a free meditation app, which is which is available for everyone to use at home and home practices. And finally, we’ve got the new podcast now which is out and running, which is really celebrating his home practices, as well as kind of a whole lot of other podcasts that we Put out across different conversations in the wellbeing space.
Chloe Brotheridge 37:04
Amazing. I’ll put those links in the show notes for everyone as well. In conclusion, thank you so much for talking to me. That was brilliant.
Chloe Brotheridge 37:12 Thank you so much for listening. I really hope that you gained a lot from this episode. Come on over to Instagram and let me know what are you taking from this episode. Find me at Chloe Brotheridge.
I would love it if you would leave me a review in the podcast app on iTunes, subscribe to the podcast, leave me a rating. If there someone in your life that would really benefit from this podcast, you can let them know by sharing this podcast. I’d be so so grateful. So I’m just wishing you a wonderful week ahead, sendin