Keiko & Kenichi Visit Los Angeles

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In July 2013 my YogaPlus colleagues from Tokyo, Kenichi Nemoto and Keiko Tanaka, made their first trip to Los Angeles to visit various Yogaworks studios. Kenichi (Ken) a student in my first TT in Tokyo (2012), is now a very popular teacher at Yogaplus. Tall, talented, and a former professional vocalist who notably performed in a touring company of “Phantom of the Opera.” Keiko Tanaka, whom passionately oversaw the expansion of the Yogaworks trainings at YP, was the quintessential programming director.

They were encouraged to come to LA and experience the thriving yoga community here and spent a glorious week filled with an intensive program of classes at a number of Yogaworks studios in Santa Monica (Montana Ave. & Main St.), South Bay, Westwood and Hollywood; and mandatory sightseeing.

Keiko and Ken were able to practice with so many popular Yogaworks teachers, including: Vinnie Marino, Mia Togo, David Lynch, Birgitte Kirsten, Chad Hamrin, and Alexandria Crow. At the Montana Avenue studio they took Lisa Walford’s Iyengar class and had a special meeting with her afterwards. They dropped into David Kim’s class at Westwood, and my class at Southbay. In addition, the two made a special visit to Gurrmukh at Golden Bridge Yoga in Hollywood; Exhale, Sacred Movement in Venice; and Yoga Loft in Manhattan Beach for a kid’s yoga class with Grenville Henwood, who has developed “Groovy Kids Yoga” trainings that are taught internationally. Both Chad Hamrin and Grenville Henwood would carry out successful trainings and workshops at YP.  Finally, a special treat for Ken was to be featured in one of David Kim’s class segments on “My Yogaworks.com.

Food became a secondary focus, although Californian fare isn’t as stellar as Japanese cuisine, there are plenty of popular spots in L.A. On our fist evening together we had dinner at Annipurna, a popular vegetarian restaurant in Culver City. Pumpkin Pie at Urth Cafe became one of our favorite treats–their salads were second best. Ken also insisted that we try Unami Burger—Unami is the “fifth flavor”–which often is the secret undistinguishable essence in a dish that makes it delectable.  Additionally, Ken and Keiko had their fair share of ubiquitous Mexican food, claiming they ate more tacos and burritos than they could stand, but we insisted they try Wahoo Fish Tacos. We were able to squeeze in our last lunch of wholesome sandwiches at Fundamental.

For more fun, Ken and Keiko toured the city from Hollywood to Venice Beach. One evening we drove up and down the mountainous Malibu Canyon Road and then headed north on Pacific Coast Highway towards Pt. Dume, where we spent a fantastic evening hiking the bluffs, then viewed a spectacular sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

In all, Keiko said that she was impressed by robust yoga culture in Los Angeles, which is diverse in many ways: people of all ages and backgrounds practicing yoga; lots of men, not just women taking classes (which tends to be the case in Japan). They were both very surprised to the large audience of yogis attending filled classes here at each studio, literally back to back. I told them that yoga is part of the mainstream environment  in Los Angeles, with so many choices of styles at dozens of studios, and of course great teachers, it makes it impossible to not to pick up your mat and participate. Once people see the benefits of consistent practice, they keep going. Furthermore, the studios become a social outlet and mini-communities are formed.

I was delighted that Ken and Keiko were able to visit Los Angeles and gain insight on how they could positively influence the yoga program at their studio in Tokyo, recognize the growing potential of partnerships, and the abundant opportunity for collaborations.

 

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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! 

The Lotus Fan

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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”

Erakokyuu Nakameguroten with Friends

Lots of Lights

A few of the students from TT 2012 wanted to organize a Yakaufune outing on the Tokyo river but bad weather forced us to make a change of plans.  We met instead for an outrageously fun and amazing feast at Erakokyuu Nakameguroten a traditional Japanese seafood restaurant. After a rendezvous in Nakameguro one chilly evening we walked under a canopy of budding sakura towards the restaurant which was situated on the canal of the Nakameguro River. After coming upon a the brightly lit exterior, we entered a rustic and lively setting primarily constructed out of wood. Expressively painted murals of sea themed images, including a rendition of Botticelli’s Venus–covered the walls, hand drawn banners listed the daily specials and colorful paper lanterns hung from the ceiling.
Today's Seafood Specials

A price is set per person for all-you-can eat and the meal was served at a steady pace throughout the evening.  We started off with a hearty miso soup flavored with fish bones, heaping bowls of sashimi and daikon, squid, crabs, salmon and roe, enormous clams, and Japanese fried chicken, mugs of beer and green or oolong tea.

Ensun Ahn Fusae, Natsumi, Mikiko in front of Venussaid that everything is caught and selected that day and even the scraps of seafood are used in the soup stock.  I stretched my culinary boundaries to eat some things, mostly raw, but couldn’t muster up the strength for others–particularly the “crab brains”–the innards of the crab which are considered a delicacy.

The meal evolved into laughs, stories and an exchange of gifts. One gift, scented eye pads, from Akie Asahi, heated up immediately once they made contact with the skin. We squealed with laughter as she explained their use the then said— “1 2 3 “zzzzzz!!!”  I used those eye pads a few nights throughout the training and they do put you to sleep immediately!  Mana Sasagawa gave me goody bag filled to the brim with treats and Tomoe Honjo, an illustrated book on kimonos.  She explained that she was one of the youngest experts on kimonos in Tokyo and carefully wrote out translated segments in key sections of the book. I looked around the able and realized that my students were now friends, and even felt in some ways like family especially since I was so far away from home.

For a good nights rest, gifts from Akie Asahi

I told them that I would always be able to offer help with their careers in the years to come. We made an agreement to meet at Nozomi Kadokura’s new venue Tulsi Yoga Studio in the weeks ahead, which included the presence of a few more students. That too was a special evening where we practiced teaching and gave informal evaluations and feedback followed by a pot luck, treats and gifts.IMG_2113Goody Bag from Mana...

Having a Great Reunion

(Left to Right) Nozomi Kadokura, Charlotte Kasumi Kabe, Romy Phillips, Mana Sagasawa, Eunsun Ahn, Akie Asahi, Mikiko Goto, Mimura Fusae, Tomoe Honjo, Natsumi Ishikawa

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.

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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.

Oki Yoga with Yuji Oishi

Yuri Oishi, Oki Yoga

Yuji Oishi




Yuji Oishi, CrescentYuji Oishi, Eka Pada Rajakpotasana

Yuri Oishi, Upavistha Konasana Variation


Some of the Yoga Plus teachers mentioned Oki Yoga in the studio one day. Their descriptions of this traditional Japanese style of yoga sounded intriguing to me.  Oki–“Do”—“path, or way of searching for truth in life,” was developed by Master Masahiro Oki, who was influenced by many different disciplines and religions—eastern & western–including Hatha Yoga, Yin-Yang Chinese philosophy & Japanese Zen traditions.

I finally had an opportunity to attend a private class at the BMSI in Gotanda earlier this week.  Yuji Oishi,  who teaches regular classes at Oki Yoga in Tokyo, led us through a two-hour practice. We started with traditional Oki Yoga breathing movements that were synchronized with a series of spinal rotations and shoulder openers. The practice progressively moved from rhythmic and dynamic standing to seated asanas, addressing every part of the body from head to toe. We gradually worked our way into Eka Pada Rajakpotasana.  Although I have very tight hips, I was able to get deeper into this pose than usual without props!  In fact, props are not used and nor does the practice focus on alignment. Instead, the emphasis is placed the release of muscle tension through expansive, flowing transitions.  In addition, periodic parts of the practice also included light self-massage to the feet, chest, shoulders and after savasana, the scalp and face. In some ways, I was reminded of Viniyoga, Yin and perhaps Tai Chi.

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Yuji Oishi was an impressive teacher who’s body had a notable balance between strength and flexibility (evidenced in the photos above).  He said that the overall philosophy of Oki Yoga is not only for body and mind, but, for the whole life– “Total Life Yoga.”  Yuji also pointed out that Master Oki translated B.K.S. Iyengar’s renowned book, “Light on Yoga” into Japanese, which is now being used in our teacher training.

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Overall I found the class experience grounding, meditative and calming.  After the practice, I actually felt “re-aligned” and had a sense of physical spaciousness while walking around later that day.

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After Class with Yuri Oishi