Category Archives: Studios

Practicing Mysore-Style Ashtanga in Tokyo

[This is part of our series Practicing Mysore-Style Ashtanga in a Large Metropolitan Area. The previous installment is this site's 6th most popular post as of August 2007, Practicing Mysore-Style Ashtanga in New York . Let me know if you want to write about Los Angeles, London or anywhere else where there are 3 or more established Mysore-Style classes - Ed.]

I was fortunate to travel to Tokyo recently, and as I always do when visiting far away lands, I went to try out the Mysore-Style studios there. Let me add that I love Japan, having lived there for two years before I had discovered Ashtanga Yoga. After reading on AshtangaNews.com about how popular this style of yoga had become there (here, here and here), I was eager to see for myself.

I found that there are 3 (Update 8/23, now 4!) main studios in Tokyo where Mysore-Style is taught:

I heard of a fifth place opening in Shinjuku, in the West part of the city. If you know about this please let me know so that I can update this list.

Tokyo is by far the largest metropolitan area I have ever been to (35 million people), and Ashtanga is booming there. My first practice was at Chama’s place in Shibuya. It’s a small space fitting maybe 12 students at a time, but very intimate and friendly. Jane, an Australian who has lived in Japan many years, was kind enough to meet me at the station and take me to the studio.

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in Japan you can choose your cellphone ring and color tone

Quick aside – having the address of a place in Japan does not guarantee you will be able to find it. Even taxi driver frequently get lost. Always try to have the map to a place with you. From Wikipedia:

Street names are not used in postal addresses (except for Kyoto and some Hokkaidō cities such as Sapporo), and most Japanese streets do not have names. [...] It is for this reason when giving directions to a location, most people will offer cross streets, visual landmarks and subway stations such as “at Chūō-dori and Matsuya-dori across the street from Matsuya and Ginza station,” for the Apple Store in Tokyo. In fact, many small businesses have maps on their literature and business cards. In addition, signs attached to utility poles often specify the city district name and block number, and detailed block maps of the immediate area are sometimes posted near bus stops and train station exits.

Chama often posts photos of the practice room on the studio’s blog. Here’s one:

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the practice room at Yoga Tokyo

The practice room is small and cosy. If you want a lot of attention, this would be a good place to go to. The books for sale in the lobby included translations of two classics of Ashtanga Yoga literature, Ashtanga Yoga for Women and John Scott’s book. He is a superstar in Japan, and his workshops are always packed to the gills when he visits.

We had a friendly coffee afterwards with Zen, Jane and Chama.

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Hanging out in Tokyo with local yogis

The first studio in Japan to offer Mysore-Style was Ken Harakuma’s and Basia Lipska’s Ashtanga Yoga Japan in Ogikubo, close to Shinjuku (but outside the Yamanote-sen, Tokyo’s Circle Line). When I visited the studio Ken and Basia were traveling to Mysore, so Barry Silver (from AYNY) was subbing. I had met him before so it was a pleasant surprise. At a soba noodle lunch afterwards he told me that he loved being in Japan, and as gaijin almost invariably do we shared our impressions of the country.

The studio itself is very close to the train station and at the top of a small building, quite spacious by Japanese standards. Space is really at a premium there, as evidenced by this poster on the right.

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There were a lot of advanced practitioners and you could see Guruji’s influence in the photos, posters and practices. I had a sense of a place with a long history (by modern yoga standards!).

Tarik teaches in Shibuya like Chama, but a little closer to the station. The area around Shibuya station itself is one of the wonders of modern Japan. About 2.3 million people go through it every day, and the giant screens on the buildings make Time Square’s look amateurish.

The studio is on the fifth floor of a building in the midst of this modern whirl, with windows overlooking Shibuya square. Again, many advanced practitioners and probably more gaijin than at the other studios. I finally got to meet Tarik too, after having heard much about him. He is very tall but very gentle, which makes for an ideal combination for adjustments. When is not doing or teaching yoga, he is very busy learning Japanese. Gambatte!

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Tarik and Philippe

There seems to be a boom in all things yoga in Japan. On the subway, there are a lot of posters selling healthy and stress-relieving products with models doing yoga poses. There are also a lot of yoga studios opening everywhere. Ashtanga yoga especially seems appealing to the culture, with its forms which are reminiscent of martial art katas.

All in all, Tokyo has a vibrant and growing Mysore-Style community. With so many people starting to get an interest in yoga and especially Ashtanga, it feels like it’s only the beginning. I wonder what it will be like ten years from now.

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where Tarik teaches, Yoggistudio in Shibuya, Tokyo

Interview of Ashtanga Practitioners in Tokyo

In a previous post we talked about Lisa Hill from Chicago who is currently teaching in Tokyo. Here is an interview of some of her students and co-teachers from the Tokyo Yoga studio in Shibuya.

What do you think about yoga students in Tokyo?
It’s becoming more competitive. Everyone is too strict, too serious. Most people are doing only two things: yoga and work. They should enjoy doing some other stuff. Girls, especially, need to make time to find a boyfriend. Most serious practitioners are not even dating.

What do you get out of Ashtanga?

Makes my creativity sharp, and gives me power to work. If I don’t practice Ashtanga, I am not inspired to do anything but sleep. It is a source of energy. Sometimes physically, it makes me tired, but whenever I practice, my mind and heart get more energy. Ashtanga can make me exhausted. It’s hard to get heat. Practicing brings results, bringing self confidence.

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Yoga for us: a source of energy

How is Lisa’s teaching different from yours?
I can understand her philosophy about Ashtanga, which is the same for me. I like it, because she teaches calmly. She feels very settled in my classes. Her style is traditional, not allowing people to skip what they don’t like and adjusting so frequently is hard. She has lots of experience teaching Mysore class and we can learn a lot. We are open to teachers coming in as long as it’s traditional.

How do you (Lisa) teach Mysore-style to someone who does not speak the same language? It must challenging dealing with injuries, “problem students” who push too much, new postures, etc.
That could be a whole article in and of itself. I don’t speak in American classes much, so language is not much of a problem. Japanese students are very tolerant. They never say “it hurts” as if they trying to keep feeling in. They can be not very honest in that sense. Sometimes maybe they should tell the teacher, “your adjustment is too hard”. Japanese students are too modest, so they hesitate to say “it’s not good”. Knowing this, I’ve been adjusting very gently, working with their own breath, not pushing them. I can tell if there is pain by looking at the student and how they are practicing. Sometimes I need a translator, but some teachers have decent English, so they can help with that. So far it has not been much of an issue. Pushing too hard, there are a couple, but they refused to listen long before I came into the scene.

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Flyer for Lisa’s Workshop “adjasutomento no shingi” The Art of Adjustment

Are there any written materials or websites about Ashtanga practice and technique?
Yoga Mala, John Scott, Ashtanga Yoga for Women, yoga sutras websites in Japanese – there aren’t any websites for Ashtanga in Japanese. Except for Mindy’s blog, which gives them knowledge from some of the scene in Chicago.

What is the “workshop scene” like in Tokyo (or Japan)?
Very good. We have many good teachers who visit. Rolf Naujokat, David Swenson, John Scott, David Roche, Danny Paradise, Nancy Gilgoff, Govinda Kai, Mark Darby, Sharath, Petri Raisanen, Anthony Carlisi, Shankra Darby, Natalia Paison, Louisa Sears.

What are the differences you noticed between Ashtanga in Japan and the teachers who come from other parts of the world?
No difference. They just teach traditional Ashtanga system. We can learn lots of things from experienced teachers. We enjoy studying with the teachers. It’s very good to be taught by someone experienced. Sharing their experience is very good, but we are always looking for “our” Ashtanga.

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Fun community: examples from a t-shirt competition