The Hawaii Retreat Yoga Begins…

Morning practice with David Vira II facing the ocean With David Kim

We didn’t waste anytime getting on track with our yoga schedule.  Jeanne Sunderland, the founder and owner of the Hawaii Island Retreat Center,  greeted us and welcomed our group on the first morning. We were privileged to have a wonderfully spacious asana room overlooking the ocean. We practiced each class with the large french doors opened to allow  warm  ocean breezes to flow into the room as geckos scampered across the walls. David and I set a schedule offering two yoga classes a day–morning and evening including workshops.  In addition, we organized an exciting itinerary for the week  which featured: Hapuna Beach, nearby Hawi, Hilo, Mauna Kea Observatory, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and Polulo Valley.





David BalancingAfternoon at the beach

Hawaiian Odyssey


After I returned to Los Angeles on May 13, 2013,  I  immediately left for Hawaii on May 17  to co-host my  first international  yoga retreat with my Yogaworks colleague, David Kim and  YogaPlus teacher, Yuri N. Hayashi as our translator. Participants from Japan and the US would converge on the Big Island of Hawaii for one week of yoga, adventure and fun at the Hawaii Island Retreat Center.

David and I arrived a day early to prepare. We rented two vans, picked up supplies and then ordered hand-made Leis from a local Plumeria farm.

On Saturday, May 18, David and I greeted each retreat participant with a Lei as soon as they exited the gate at the airport and then whisked them away in vans.

Early arrival




At Kona airport












After shuttling back and forth to the retreat center on furthest northern point of the island, we settled down for a fantastic and festive meal. It was clear  from this photo taken before dinner, that would be a magical week.

First Night of Retreat

Back row left to right: Joni Kashiwara,Hanae Tsuda, Julie Graham, Karen Milke, Kyoko Ishimaru,Yuka Takahashi, Sanae Yamaguchi, Naoko Nakano

Front row left to right: Kaori Waragai, Jun Takeda, David Kim, Romy Phillips, Yuri N. Hayashi, Kazue Isono, Jun Makitani

The Lotus Fan


I end the Tokyo Diary 2013 with a thoughtful reflection on my gift, the Lotus Fan, which was given to me by my students. The lotus flower has so many symbolic meanings, but foremost it signifies rebirth–emerging from the mud to bloom into a gorgeous flower which can be one of many hues–from white, to pink, red, purple or orange. But purple specifically represents; enlightenment, renewal, self awakening, and spirituality, which coincidentally applies to my personal experience of Japan. Each visit has helped me to connect to a deeper dimension of myself and encourage personal development.

As I wrote my memoir on 2013, I realized it was loaded with so many stimulating experiences  that it has literally taken me a year to edit the photos, compile the data, reminisce, and tell the story. Some people have asked me why I bother–so late after the fact.  I tell them that sharing my diary is wonderfully cathartic.

What  was different from my first trip in Tokyo?  The first year (2012) initiated a profound physical and emotional metamorphosis. I literally cleansed and purified on so many levels and emerged Inspired and rejuvenated.

The second year (2013) was about connecting with students and teachers at Yoga Plus on a deeper level, growing as an educator, making lasting friendships, being more adventurous and exploring.

Tokyo is a complex city, it takes time to discover hidden secrets and cultural treasures that are beneath the surface. I am back in Tokyo for Yogaworks, Teacher Training 2014, but I will wait to tell that story as ell, it’s already turning out be remarkably different…

Party at Bista’s

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After an exhausting long day of  the “Final Practice Teach”  and an impassioned “Closing Circle,” we celebrated a successful conclusion of our training with a festive party at Muna, a local Indian restaurant in Gotanda. This would be my second annual party held at Muna and the owner Bista,  is always nice enough close the restaurant for us. He generously presents a prix-fixe menu of  assorted appetizers, curry dishes, rice, naan and drinks, especially mango lassis. We had all changed into nice outfits  right after our closing ceremony and Bindis were given to everyone.

Closing parties are so incredible because everyone is relieved that the training is over and they get to be themselves.  We were having such a great time together and became more lively and animated as the evening wore on. One of the students, Takako Ito, made special flame chocolate deserts as party favors–so fitting for the bright and radiant energy of this group.

Moreover, these 32 students, thoughtfully gave me gifts that would not only travel light, but that were loaded with symbolic and personal meaning–a card that turned into a  jeweled crown for my upcoming birthday; an illustrated scrap-book of photos of them doing yoga poses with personalized comments and drawings that made me burst into tears!;  and finally, a gorgeous lavender colored “lotus fan.”  Sobbing openly, I thanked them all. I also made a special thanks to Yuri Nakamura Hayashi and Kosai  Kato who I was immensely grateful  for working  11 weeks by my side, diligently translating every word spoken by me; every question asked by a student;  transmitting the information back and forth over and over, each hour of our days in the training. As a team we accomplished an arduous task.

As the evening wore on it became more difficult to say goodbye.  At last we drifted together in a large group towards Gotanda Station. Once there, we stopped and hugged each other tearfully.  I  then turned away and walked to my tiny apartment and then began packing way into the night for my return to LA the next day.

Savasana/ シャバーサナ

One of the last projects of the teacher training was to give the students 30 minutes to write Savasana teaching scripts. I had them organize into groups, collaborate on a theme, and then have one  person teach. I sat at the side of the room and let them hold the space while I filmed these clips with a tiny digital camera.

I took the time to create this video because it shows how outspoken they had become over the course of the training and most of all, their unique personalities really shine through!


Yogaworks Teacher Training Tokyo, 2013: Weeks 10 & 11

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I turn the focus back to the students and the last two weekends of the teacher training. These photos show so much personal growth and the impressive evolution of their yoga practice over 11 weeks of dedicated work.  Images highlighting themes covering: Prenatal Yoga; Arm Balances; Inversions; Chair Backbends; and preparation for the final  exam and teaching practicum; clearly show much more confidence and physical progress.

As I walk around the classroom where we have spent so much time together,  I finally witness the results of all the hard work I’ve put in teaching, instructing and lecturing. But it couldn’t happen without a collective commitment, willingness and dedication to sharing and learning.

“Abhyasa and Vairagaya”

“Patience & Perseverance”

Chinatown with Rina Oishi & Natsumi Chonan

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The frantic pace of impromptu sight-seeing excursions in the last few days before leaving Tokyo concludes with a grand finale—spectacular Chinatown in Yokohama. Since I was teaching night classes in Shinjuku during my last two weeks in Tokyo, (May 2013). I met Rina Oishi and Natsumi Chonan (Sun) early one morning and took the long train ride from Gotanda to Yokohama then continued on to Chinatown.

I was so impressed from the first moment we walked up to the entry gate and would soon discover that the architecture and temples in Chinatown are much grander, colorful, and flamboyant than you could imagine—in fact, more so than you would see in Chinatown in both New York and Los Angeles.   Great exposure to yet another environment rich with history and visual interests that one could go back to many times to explore.

Spanning a 150 year old history, Yokohama’s Chinatown is the largest in Asia. Chinese immigrants and traders arrived in Yokohama in 1859 and created a community that would slowly evolve into an impressive cultural hub. Overall, the temples in Yokohma’s Chinatown are much more flamboyant than Japanese temples or shrines. Rich with ornamental details: notably dragon imagery, gargoyles and the abundance of bright colors, particularly, red, gold, orange. I was fortunate to be there on a sunny day, which only heightened the sensory visual overload.

We visited two temples. First, the splendid Mazu-Mio Temple (The Goddess of the Sea). Ship owners and residents prayed to her for a safe voyage as well as protection from: floods, drought, cholera, epidemics,  theft and war. A statue of Mazu-Mio, sits on a lavishly decorated shrine surrounded by flowers and an array of symbolic elements.

In addition, we surveyed the Yokhoama Kan-Tie-Byo with its chief God–King Guan. Referred to as the “God of Business,” King Guan, is recognized for creating the accounting and bookkeeping systems used in China. This temple in contrast, had a playful ornamental roof of glass serpentine and dragon imagery. The Kan-Tie-Byo was first built-in the Edo period and reconstructed, like many buildings in Japan, over the centuries due to fires and earthquakes.

After visiting a couple of temples and eating lunch in a traditional Chinese restaurant, we spent the afternoon strolling through blocks of shops including “Silk Road” which is fancifully covered with dancing red lanterns. I bought last-minute gifts for translators and friends back home: rose petals and chrysanthemums to enhance loose black tea; beads, and paper lavishly decorated paper journals. We stopped to see the huge ships in the port the  before journeying back to Gotanda.

Ship, Yokohama

The Train to Yokohama

I taught in Yokohama two evenings a week during the month of April.  This journey would usually generate slight panic as I traveled far away from my familiar environment in Tokyo on a fast-moving express train packed with commuters.  On my first trip there, Chinatsu Ito, a bright and talented student in my Teacher Training and teacher at Yogaplus, led me–through a maze of stairs, escalators and tracks, starting with the JR Yamanonte Line in Gotanda, then changing trains in Shinagawa for the rapid Tokaido Line to Yokohoma.  Once we finally reached our destination, Chinatsu gave me more instructions directing me to the studio on a hand drawn map then left me with these parting words… “don’t get lost!”

Yokohoma Station, 10p.m.

Each of these massive subway stations—Shibuya, Shinjuku, Shinagawa, or Yokohama, are entire macrocosms overflowing with stores, restaurants, stalls for every type of goods, and throngs of people moving at a frenetic pace, never seeming to slow down. The surrounding areas outside of the ungainly Yokohama station were flanked with monolithic department stores, intimidating in scale and densely occupied by hordes of people.

Yokohoma a marine city with a busy port, is the second largest metropolitan area in Japan.  The city has a long history of foreign trade, primarily with Great Britain; immigration from China and Korea; and occupation by Americans after WW II.  I didn’t have a chance to see the greater metropolitan area or those that reflected distinct Western influences, but did manage to get to the “dazzling” Chinatown which will be highlighted in the next post.

Yogaplus in Yokhoma is an inviting place with a great group of students who were always fun to teach.  The studio is managed by  the gracious and energetic Kosai Kato who was also my translator for classes in 2012 and the 2013 TT.  Once I made the long journey to the studio, I always felt at home.

A Nice Welcome at Yokohama

One of the students, Yoko Ito, would occasionally walk me to the train station after class, pointing out a wonderful bakery in the subway that would mark down their goods just as I was heading home around 9pm.  I would buy an assortment of tasty bread and pastries to get me through the weekend and catch the train and make it back to Gotanda around 10pm.

Art on the Tracks…

Primary Colors, Ebisu Station

As I traveled on the subway to and from classes daily,  I would be entertained by the bold, colorful ads that adorned the billboards. Amusing or seductive large-scale photos, exquisitely lavish mosaics and dynamic painted murals– intended to captivate the masses and make an arduous routine more pleasurable. Here are some of eye-catching images I captured while gliding swiftly along the tracks or waiting on a crowded platform.

Blue Bamboo

Great Mural at Yokohama Station

Mobit ad, Shibuya Station





Yellow Mural, Tukiji Mkt

Eating in Tokyo: Favorite New Foods From Adzuki Beans to Wakame

Japanese food is quite delicious, but figuring out what to eat in a restaurant or purchase in a grocery store, can be quite daunting, especially since the language presents a barrier that makes selecting food purely a visual choice.  However, I was a bit more daring with my culinary experiments this time. People often ask me what I ate in Tokyo–always assuming lots of sushi. I tell them “no,”  in fact,  what’s commonly eaten isn’t what most Westerners think. There are so many clichés about Japanese food and so much to learn and discover.  I came to realize that you will consume copious amounts of  bean curd in hundreds of dozens of forms; soba and udon noodles; miso and fermented foods; a myriad of things from the sea including fish, sea urchins, seaweed and many things I’ve never seen before; adzuki beans and lots of raw and cooked vegetables  and eggs.  I was also surprised to see a proliferation of coffee shops around the city and that tea is consumed privately at home.

Nevertheless, I developed a taste for some dishes, which became some of my favorite new foods.  At home I routinely prepared: raw or cooked cabbage with vegetables and black sesame seeds, sprouts, topped with bonito flakes and sesame dressing.  Additionally, a savory barley miso, was the base for soup I made almost every day with seaweed.  Soba noodles were consumed on an almost daily basis, but I particularly liked a lunch of cold udon noodles with sesame dip and a side dish of crispy chicken.  Colorful bento boxes  filled with a variety of small bites could always be bought daily in the grocery store.

Furthermore, Japanese curry is fantastic– fragrant and rich with flavor and hints of chocolate, leaving a delightful taste that lingers on the palate for hours.  I fell in love with all things matcha, from lattes to Meji Matcha ice cream.  Sumptuous fanciful deserts with a french flair, were a regular indulgence, as well as, tempura lunch specials.  I even tried to acquire a taste for Natto (pungent, fermented soy beans), but not sure if I ever will.

Overall, the cuisine is very healthy and remarkably good for my body–I slimmed down effortlessly and many persistent aches and pains subsided.  I’ve discovered through some research, that many of the foods have anti-inflammatory properties.  I always come back from Tokyo feeling and looking younger and physically lighter and hope that I’ll be able to take a cooking class on a future occasion. Meanwhile, although its difficult to replicate Japanese cuisine, I do my best to keep up with my Japanese diet while here in Los Angeles.