Meet Me In Calgary Or Beijing!

I interrupt the flow of story telling to announce two upcoming 200Hr Yoga Works, Teacher Trainings that I will be leading in Beijing, China; and Calgary, Canada. These locations are a fortuitous departure from my intriguing annual trainings in Tokyo, Japan and I welcome this chance to expand my international scope as a yoga teacher.

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Furthermore, I will be in Calgary this weekend to host a “Meet the Trainer” event at Beyond Yoga, April 18, 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. I’ll teach a brief Yoga Works style class, which will be followed by a Q & A about the upcoming training to be held there in July.

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The training in Beijng starts, April 27 – May 24, 2015–will be led by me in English with a Chinese translator at HTimes studio.

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Yoga Works Teacher Trainings are growing increasingly popular at partner studios around the world. For readers who happen to live in these areas, please feel free to join me or spread the word! 

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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.

Jeannie

 

Balancing

 

David BalancingAfternoon at the beach

Hawaiian Odyssey

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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

 

 

Jun

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

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!

 

Japanese Weddings Pt. I—Style and Tradition

Japanese Style Wedding promo  European Style Wedding

Weddings became a surprising diversion from yoga with the emergence of a number of interrelated events. First, the discovery of Meguro Gajoen, a popular and spectacularly decorated wedding hall; next, the chance encounter of a couple of wedding photo shoots; and the timely marriages of Yuri Nakamura and other Yoga Plus teachers and students. Weddings around the world are typically joyous and  festive celebrations highlighting customs unique to a culture. In some cases it may be mandatory that a ceremony embrace many aspects of the past. However, for weddings in Japan, a youthful desire for modern, stylistic touches are in contrast with a splendid heritage associated with marriages. The solution?  From what I see,  a delightful compromise that presents an extravagant pageant of colorful finery and dazzling rituals.

Wedding Photo Shoot, A

On my way home from Hanami viewing at Shinjuku Goyen, I walked over towards a group of women peering into a storefront with “Innocently” printed  across the glass window.  I stood amongst them and saw a young couple inside being photographed for their wedding. The bride and groom wore stunning clothes.  We all gasped as an attendant removed the bride’s towering satin white headdress to reveal an elaborate, ornamental hairstyle….Wedding Shoot, B

Curious about what I’d seen, I later mentioned this incident to Sari (Sahoko Matsuo) who shared insight on the details and customs of traditional Japanese wedding attire.  She conveniently had pictures of her sister’s recent wedding on her I-phone. Sari told me about her sister’s rigorous lessons in the months prior to the event, learning how to walk, move and pose in the very heavy gown and headdress, while teetering on zori. Furthermore, all of the women attending the wedding, especially relatives, wore kimonos made especially for the occasion, some being handed down through generations. The ceremony is usually held in a Shinto Shrine (Buddhist).

Women's Traditional Japanese Wedding Outfits

After additional research and discussion with Sari, I found out that the  wedding attire and ceremony are laden with symbolic details:

  • The traditional Japanese wedding dress for women is a simply designed white kimono shiro-maku (“shiro”- white, “maku” – pure).
  • The headpiece is a tsuno kakushi, which covers the elaborate hairstyle, bunkin takashimada, signifying obedience to the husband.
  • The golden accessories, kanzashi, that adorn the hair symbolize horns of jealousy.
  • The bride’s face is dusted in white powder, indicating purity. Black outlined eyes and red lips complete the dramatic look.
  • She will also wear traditional Japanese footwear (tabi and zori) and array of other fine accessories.
  • For the reception the bride will change into an Uchikake a lucky, red silk kimono embroidered with flowers, cranes or natural scenes.
  • Nevertheless, a Japanese bride may change at least five times throughout the entire ceremony finally ending up in a Western style dress if she pleases.

marriage-japanese, traditional

The groom also wears a formal black kimono montsuki, with a family crest on the back, tucked into gray or white pinstriped Hakama pants.  The ensemble is covered with a haori coat that may be black over gray.

Getting photographed

A Wedding Portrait seen at Meguro Gajoen

Yuri Nakamura who recently got married in July, cheerfully kept me apprised on the developments of her wedding throughout our training. I enjoyed hearing stories about outings with her mother in search for the right dress to fit her small frame. By coincidence her wedding would also be held at Meguro Gajoen.  I mentioned how I discovered this amazing place. She was so excited and said that almost everyone in Tokyo had a wedding there. These photos from Yuri’s wedding show a harmonious weaving of traditions and style. Note the kimonos worn by her and the groom, the lucky accents of red, later contrasted by his shiny suit and her western style gown covered in a cascade of roses.

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Yuri Nakamura & Tatsuhiro Hayashi

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Tatsuhiro Hayashi & Yuri Nakamura with a “lucky red” Higasa

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This is just an overview on the subject and there is so much more information to reveal, but hopefully one can get a glimpse of the complexity and significance of wedding ceremonies in Japan. I’ve included a few, wonderful photos below of the recent nuptials of Yoga Plus teachers and students.

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Ayako Yoshioka & Shinji Oba

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Aki Kagoh’s wedding party with (Kosai Kato, Yumiko Unno, Emi Aoi, Yuk Takiyanagi)

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“Kii” Maki Sonobe

Meet the Translator: “Sari” Sahoko Matsuo

Sari at Shinjuku Studio

Sari, Yoga Plus Shinjuku

Sari against yellow green

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had the opportunity to work with a lovely new translator this year: Sahoko Matsuo “Sari,” whom shares unique traits seemingly inherent to other yoga translators: she is a yoga teacher, well-traveled, and speaks more than one language.  Sari has been practicing yoga for approximately seven years, completing a 200 Hr.  teacher training in NYC in 2011 and currently teaches at Yoga Plus, Tokyo. I was fortunate to have her translate for my classes at the Yoga Plus, Gotanda and Shinjuku studios.

Prior to pursuing her current profession, Sari was a researcher in Japan and then moved to New York  where she spent  2 1/2 years attending English language school and a yoga teacher training.  Additionally, during that time Sari volunteered at Soup Kitchen and NY de Volunteer,  a great experience where she was able to make lots of friends. Her work at these organizations was an effort to fulfill an ongoing special interest in social work and social welfare that she has had since high school.  She is always thinking of a way for everyone to be affluent and happy.

Sari is from the Aichi prefecture and speaks Japanese, English and loves cooking,  baking,  and traveling.  Although very young, she has also journeyed to: Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Denmark, France, Switzerland, Mexico and Jamaica.

Lithe, with a graceful & calm demeanor,  I found Sari to be impressively hard-working and tenacious; translating two classes a week at the Gotanda studio and once a week at Shinjuku, all while maintaining her full-time teaching schedule.  Nevertheless, she was a delight to collaborate with–and very generous–I really enjoyed her thoughtful gifts of home-baked fruit breads!

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Last year I profiled the translators for my classes and the teacher training: Yuri Nakamura, Kosai Kato, Mayumi Yamashita “Souffler,” and Tomoko Kawahara who are all, with the exception of Tomoko) were working with me again this year. You can read their stories in previous posts under, The Tokyo Diary, 2012.

Students Progressing: From Adho Mukha Vrksasana to Urdhva Dhanurasana

As we enter the final weeks of the teacher training, it is clearly evident that the students are making great progress in their yoga practice. The peak modules of the training—inversions (Adho Mukha Vrksasana, Salamba Sarvangasana, Sirsasana, & Pinca Mayurasana) and back bends (Dhanurasana, Ustrasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana)—are some of the most intensive sessions.  Nevertheless, these categories of asana can be very challenging for yoga teachers to instruct. We want to make sure that we have given our students adequate tools and knowledge to work in these poses carefully with acute awareness.  I was surprised to look around the room these past two weekends and see so many of my students practicing beautifully and confidentially.  It was clear that they had grasped many of the fundamentals and had been strengthening the foundations of their practice over these two months.

In addition, there are now weekly segments of “practice teaching” in preparation for part of the final exam.  A useful method for processing information, these practice sessions allow the students to apply teaching techniques, explore hands on adjustments and gain proficiency with their sanksrit. The room is always filled with exuberant chatter as they organize enthusiastically into small groups. I walk around with either Yuri Nakamura or Kosai Kato and make comments, answer questions or give advice.

Slowly, through the patient translation via Yuri or Kosai, we are also beginning to have more in depth dialogue about Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras–inquisitive questions about the “klesas ” (obstacles–avidya, asmita, raja, dvesah, abhinivesa) and the “Eight Limbs” in particular….”should we practice the yamas and niymas before asanas?”  ”Ideally, yes I say…but many of us approach yoga at the third limb “asana” and have to work backward and then forward again––It can take us a life-time to work through all eight limbs.”   I like that they’re trying to interpret these concepts on their own terms. I tell them that’s the point really, “we should not only attempt to apply the teachings of the Sutras to our practice, but to our lives as well.”

Early Stages of the Teacher Training

I’m approaching the half-way point of the training with this is a bright and enthusiastic group. Many send their homework assignments in on Sunday night just hours after we’ve met, and the others follow shortly early in the week. We’ve covered: the fundamental standing poses, many Yogaworks teaching methods,  the history of yoga,  Pantanjalis’ Sutras 1.1-1.41,  and just this past Sunday, an introduction to inversions. Nevertheles, some express frustration with the new topics they are exposed to; anatomy, philosophy, Sanskrit.  I continually encourage them to be patient with what they are learning–abhyasa and vairagaya (“patience and perseverance,Sutra 1.12 )

I have my own challenges as a teacher; its difficult to keep the energy throughout the day while teaching, demonstrating and maintaining a constant dialogue between the translator, students, and myself. In fact, there is constant chatter all day long. To end the day long session, I often have us sit in silence and I say, “let all of this new information settle,” reinforcing the concept of, sutra 1.2 “yogas citta vritti nirohda” (yoga is the calming of the fluctuations of the mind). Many are now saying how much that sutra resonates with them in personal situations throughout their week.

No matter how exhausted I may be at the end of a training weekend, I feel blessed and can’t believe I’m here in Tokyo teaching yoga.

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.