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.


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.


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.


Fun community: examples from a t-shirt competition

10 thoughts on “Interview of Ashtanga Practitioners in Tokyo

  1. Erin

    Is anyone going to comment on “Girls, especially, need to make time to find a boyfriend. ” I guess it’s a cultural thing, but that kind of patronizing statement makes me laugh, with sadness for women in Japan.

  2. tracy

    I think that “Girls, especially, need to make time to find a boyfriend.” is interesting and funny.

    I always try to give the benefit of the doubt to people, especially those who are giving interviews in a language that is not their own and who most likely do not give many interviews.

    Erin, how do you think it might feel to have your thoughts called “patronizing” in such a situation?

    I think that maybe you could have left a more constructive comment. One statement in one article makes you feel sad for all women in Japan?

    (By the way, what is your culture? We need to classify you properly! 🙂 Data indicates that most of our readers are United Statesean, by the way.)

    I’d like to again thank Lisa, Yuka, Miyuki and Katzu for taking the time to contribute to AshtangaNews!

  3. Erin

    Waiting for many days to see if someone would make a comment about it was my first step towards . . . not saying anything. Basically, regardless of the cuture, the statement is sexist. And regardless of where the sexism takes place, I still believe we should speak up. Yes, I am from the U.S. and spend plenty of time dealing with various forms of bigotry. Just thought it was worth not letting go. I’m married and that sure does get in the way of my ashtanga! (the early to bed, early to rise doesn’t always go over well)

  4. Erin

    Also, commenting on “the news” in no way means I don’t want the news. This is a blog after all–shouldn’t we comment?

  5. lisa

    yes, i think it’s very important to consider cultural differences. i don’t think the interviewed meant to be patronizing. lots of women in tokyo are fine without boyfriends. i think what she meant is there’s no time between work and yoga for dating, that’s all.

  6. Pingback: AshtangaNews » Practicing Mysore-Style Ashtanga in Tokyo - Ashtanga Yoga Matters (as taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois)

  7. Pingback: AshtangaNews » Ashtanga Geography Quiz: Parts I and II - Ashtanga Yoga Matters (as taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois)

  8. Ben

    Erinさんの考え方は固いと思う。自分の理想にこだわり過ぎて、女と男の社会的な立場が平等ではないからこそ女の人は男の人より色々考えた方がいいかも。Get someone to translate it for you if your interested. Japan is a fairly sexist country but I can think of much worse things to be than being mildly sexist. Unless you think that sexism and being a misogynist are the same thing. After all chivalry is based on a kind of sexism. The stigma that goes with being labelled sexist is so strong partly because we don’t make a distinction between misogynist and sexist. One should always stand up to a misogynist, but maybe we could be alittle kinder to those with old fashioned or culturally different perspectives about the differences between men and women.

  9. CM

    Hey Ben, perhaps there’s a stigma associated with being sexist, because, well, it’s just not nice to treat people as less than what they are. Do they have logic on your home planet or has it gone the way of grammar?

    It’s always amusing when someone who has never experienced something tries to tell those who do experience it how they ought to react to it. Ben, you’re like a white man telling an African American what it’s like to grow up in the southern United States, although considering your track record, you likely think that’s fine and dandy too.

    Darn, my foot’s itchy. If only Ben were here to tell me if it’s an itch worth scratching.

  10. t.

    dear friends,
    In order to have a more informed discussion I thought you might find these statistics interesting:

    Japan’s gender inequality puts it to shame in world rankings

    Staff writer
    When it comes to gender equality, Japan has no shortage of distressing figures.

    The statistics that are most often used to illustrate the nation’s dismal status in this respect are the United Nations Development Program’s Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM), which gauges equality by tracking women’s participation in politics and business.

    In 2007, Japan’s GEM was ranked 54th out of 93 countries, compared with Australia’s 8th ranking, Germany’s 9th, Canada’s 10th, Britain’s 14th and the United States’ 15th. Among Asian peers, Japan’s rank was significantly lower than Singapore’s (16th), while China and South Korea both trailed Japan at 57th and 64th, respectively.

    Women in power are particularly few and far between, with only 9.4 percent of parliamentary seats here being occupied by women, which puts the nation in the disgraceful position of being ranked 131st out of 189 countries surveyed.

    Things are not any rosier in the private sector, where, as of 2006, women made up only 10.8 percent of all subsection chiefs (kakari-cho), 5.8 percent of section chiefs (kacho) and a mere 3.7 percent of department heads (bucho). And as for female researchers, Japan’s 96,000 represent only 11 percent of the total.

    Life is even harder regarding careers in science or technology. A 2007 study by the Japan Association of National Universities found that only 2.5 percent of professorial posts in science departments across national universities were occupied by women — with a mere 1.8 percent in agricultural departments and just 1.1 percent in engineering departments.

    Girls are turned off early. A 2005 report on education by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) said that, among 100,000 young employees, the number of male university graduates in Japan with science degrees was 1,656, above the OECD average of 1,398, but the corresponding number for women stood at a paltry 372 — less than half of the OECD average of 858. The report noted that many women lose interest in mathematics by age 15.

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