Closing Ceremon(ies)

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 The last weekend of June was a compression of intense, ceremonious events involving the conclusion of the teacher training exams, the “Final Practice Teach,” “Closing Circle” and two dinner parties.  After completing the suspenseful ” In-Class Exam”  and turning in the “Take-Home Exam” on Saturday morning, I taught my last class based on Padmasana—I marveled at the progress that so many of the students had made in the program mastering a series of complex poses.  Our session was followed by a full afternoon of lectures and preparation for the “Final Practice Teach”–the grand finale of the Yogaworks program when the students conduct a class of assigned poses.  Although many of the students had grown confident in their teaching overall, there could still be improvement in some areas.   I gathered everyone around at the end of the day and made a few critical comments based on my observations. I really had to be firm and they seemed disappointed that I wasn’t completely satisfied with them.

On Sunday, I woke up realizing that I would be leaving for Los Angeles on Monday and as I walked toward the Gotanda teacher training studio for the last time, I wondered how things would go on this long, sentimental day of “closings.”

The “Final Practice Teach” started with Ahn Eunsun who gave a soul-stirring opening that highlighted our journey as a group together over the past months–the first tears of the day began to flow as sniffles were heard throughout the room.  Next, Kenichi Nemoto got up to teach Bidalasana, then Mikiko Goto, followed by Sayaka Iso… the class flowed seamlessly throughout the morning from one newly minted teacher to the next–all twenty-eight of them.   This wonderful class was punctuated with evaluations and comments–my voice cracked occasionally as intermittent tears swelled up in my eyes.  To my surprise everyone rose the to the occasion.  Many of the students who had overcome personal obstacles to make this challenging mental and physical expedition, flourished and held their space.  I had done my job–what seemed impossible on the very first day of training in April had come to a miraculous termination.  I also couldn’t believe I had spent nearly three months living in Tokyo!  Shortly before the “Closing Circle”— a couple of students wanted me to autograph their mats, then slowly one-by-one they all lined up for me to sign or write out a special note –jubilation filling the room as the training comes to an end!

Finally the sacred “Closing Circle.”  I’ve assisted at least three trainings and the profound “Closing Circle” is an intensely emotional experience for a teacher to get through–it’s a revelation of powerfully sensitive comments as people reflect on a journey.  Each persons’ story is earnestly regarded as they make a bold step to share their deepest feelings.  We chose to do a candle exchange and Tomoko quietly and patiently whispered every remark in my ear as each person in the circle spoke after receiving a candle.  I listened and was surprisingly composed as I took it all in.

Charlotte Tanaka and Natsumi Ishikawa had formed a committee to organize our sensational closing party which would be at a nearby Indian restaurant. Curry is popular in Tokyo and there are a surprising number of Indian restaurants throughout the city and our group commandeered a small place for the evening. We enjoyed a delicious, festive pre-fix meal of assorted curry dishes washed down with mango lasses.  I got up to walk to the other tables and was then given a book made by the students: a fuchsia colored photo album of pictures taken by me, them, along with personalized hand written notes.   Although numerous  wonderful gifts were given to me throughout the day and into the dinner, this one in particular tugged at my heart–the idea of this intimate and devout gift was such a surprise!  At that moment, they wanted me to get up and give a speech.  I stood up and began to thank them for being great students, their thoughtful gifts and the dinner party, as continued I suddenly  began sobbing and couldn’t say another word.   Then Lotte said, “We have to clear the room!”   Kenichi instructed me how to chant “YYYYOOO”! and then told me that I should clap once afterwards.  I laughed hysterically and then after a moment we all shouted “YYYYYOOOOO!!!” and clapped once loudly in unison.  This ritual is called  “Ippon Sime,” a Japanese custom that is carried out to clear a space, to close a ceremony or event and also expresses appreciation for the visitor–a remarkable and glorious end to our training and time together.

As I walked outside into the rain, I turned say farewell to my students before heading out with Tomoko and Arisa to a going away party for me hosted by the YogaPlus teachers…

A congregation of teachers were seated on floor cushions at a long table covered with numerous dishes of tofu, fish, tempura and assorted drinks.  I had associated with them over the months through workshops and the classes they took with me during the week. Three of the teachers were also my translators for these classes.  My work activities with them were just as significant as my time with the students in the teacher training, compounding my responsibilities as a teacher and mentor.  Stuffed from the dinner, I couldn’t eat another bite.  However, it was always fun to socialize with the YogaPlus teachers–they were a lively enthusiastic bunch and before I realized it was around 9:00 p.m and I still needed to pack!   I thought, “I will be up all night,” but they didn’t want me to leave and I had a hard time tearing myself away.  At one point, Mikoto said “Romy you must stay in Japan!”  I laughed “believe me” I said, “I would love to!” but it was time for me to go.   We got up to take a few photos and then shared a joyous hug circle”–never had I felt so accepted and embraced by people and it was sincerely touchingPeriodically, I would overhear  Yuri and Tomoko mention the concept of “Sangha”  which traditionally is a collective term identifying all Buddhist “Bhikkhu.”  Furthermore, in Sanskrit “Samga” means association, assembly,  and “gana” flock, troop, tribe.” The interpretation of these terms  appropriately applied to this yoga “sangha”  of talented teachers and students.  As I left with my bags of gifts, I turned to see the group standing and waving good-bye. “Sayonaora!” I said….in my mind, I can still see the image of them standing there smiling warmly.

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