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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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”

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!


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.


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.


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.


After Class with Yuri Oishi

Ryusenji Temple (Meguro Fudon) with Sachiko Inomata

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One day after at the Yoga Plus studio in Gotanda, Sachiko Inomata offered to take me to lunch and off we went by cab to an Italian restaurant in nearby Meguro.  Italian food is very popular in Japan and Sachiko said that the pizza was especially great here. She was right; we enjoyed light, fluffy pizza topped with the freshest ingredients made in a brick oven before our eyes.

Salads before pizzaPizza in TokyoRomy in front of the brick oven

Sachiko suggested we make a quick visit to see a temple in this quiet neighborhood.  We walked for about a mile and came upon the Ryusenji Temple (Meguro Fudon).  I’ve seen at least eight temples or shrines during my visits to Japan and marvel at the fact that no two are exactly alike.  I later found out that the temple’s grounds were designated in 808 a.d. by a Buddhist missionary, “Jikaku Daishi Ennin” and since then, “divine water” has been flowing from this spot for over 1200 years.   A statue of Fudo (God of Fire) is placed in a fountain of water, which is said to have healing properties. It is customary to splash water on Fudo before moving forward.

Ryusenji Temple is nestled deep within a “village-like” neighborhood in the middle of bustling Tokyo. The rambling temple grounds have a rustic naturalness with a liberal mix of fountains; ornamental, mythical and sacred statues including a great bronze Buddha behind the temple that Sachiko said had a “Japanese” face.  After cleansing our hands, mouths and taking off our shoes, we were able to visit the lavishly impressive ornamental altar inside the temple, but no pictures were allowed.  The best I could do was to zoom in and capture an image from the doors of the entryway.  I was also instructed on the process of lighting a bundle of incense to place in a bronze urn outside as an offering in prayer. It was nice to have someone highlight traditional rituals that are a mystery to a westerner like me.

Meguro Fudon seemed especially intimate since there were very few people there.  In fact, I had no idea that this compound was within a couple of miles walking distance from where I’m staying in Gotanda.  Sachiko told me that sometimes she comes to the temple at sunrise when the city is quiet and the air is fresh.


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.”

Spring Fever in Inokoshira Park

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The final installment on the Hanami series presents the lively antics at Inokoshira Park in Kichijoji. This setting was the most playful and eclectic: packed to the rim with people, picnicking, boating, strolling, and a delightful temple dedicated to Benzaiten actually situated in the parks’ pond.

The colors of this temple, crimson red, cobalt blue with touches of gold and bright accents, gave it an enchanting, folk-like quality.  It was right at home in Kichijoji, a community known for its artistic and creative flair. I later found out that Benzaiten—is the Japanese name for the Hindu Goddess Sarasvati whom symbolizes everything that flows–water, words, speech, eloquence, music and knowledge. She is also a protector deity attributed to granting monetary fortune. Snake and dragon imagery are also associated with her.  In fact, there is dragon shaped statue Bentin in the form of a fountain, at the back of the main temple, where you can wash your coins to help bring you wealth and luck.

I loved being amongst the jubilant crowds covering every inch of the park. There literally wasn’t one spot to sit down.  People had claimed their territory with large blue tarps or make shift tables and were not budging. The pond was crowded with amusing pastel hued and duck shaped boats. I was amused by the fable that Yuri Nakumara told me–there is a common belief that couples that ride the duck boats together will break up.  It was fun to watch the boaters attempt to navigate the pond without crashing into each other!

Petals in the water