Monthly Archives: August 2007

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 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.


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:


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.


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.


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!


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.


where Tarik teaches, Yoggistudio in Shibuya, Tokyo

Vancouver Inspiration: John Scott’s June Workshop

Like most American ashtangi’s I had heard stories about John Scott for years. One of my teachers in the Bay Area had practiced with John when he lived in London many years ago. But when I asked about the John Scott-style, I didn’t get much of a clue. People would tell you little things about his practice style. John says,

“Save your knees and hamstrings, leave a slight bend in your knees when you enter a standing pose.”

“Keep your hands firmly on the ground as you breathe through trini position in Suryanamaskar.”

“Ground yourself”

But, I couldn’t get a sense of what to expect of John as a teacher. When the Ashtanga community in Vancouver succeeded in getting John to come to North America in June 2007 (June 9th through the 13th), it was a unique chance to see for myself.


What John teaches is inspiration as much as anything else. If you are looking for an in-depth training to help you understand the linkages between anatomy and the practice, this is probably not the workshop for you [David Roche comes to mind here -Ed]. But if, like me, you run into periods when getting on the mat and then heaving yourself through poses and vinyasas is a little strenuous, then go. Go to New Zealand where John lives, find a workshop and go. The workshop really focused on loving the practice and approaching the practice with an attitude that will allow you to practice for life.

I have taken a few workshops and there is almost always a focus on asana and then vinyasa – the mechanics of practice. These are always great and extremely helpful when you are just getting into primary series. You want the formula to practice. What is the cheat? What’s the recipe? We all want to look like Richard Freeman’s or John Scott’s DVD – airborne. John focuses on the practice as a whole. We are trained to think of practice as asanas linked by “jump-backs”. You learn a posture and then your teacher gives you a new posture. So of course that is how we think of practice. In this workshop, the practice is the unit, one flowing movement from Samasthiti to Savasana, from one’s first stance in Samasthiti to one’s closing death in Savasana. A little microscopic life lived out each morning.


John and his wife Lucy

The Vancouver workshop was about how to get there. So, the three elements we focused on were breath, bandhas, and dristi, not asana, not jump backs. The same three things that are the focus of most meditation practices – breathing, grounding/lifting of one’s posture, and the gaze. Morning practice focused progressively on these three elements over the course of the workshop. Try practicing one morning and stopping when you have lost the breath. You’ll be surprised at the results. John did talk about some asanas and technique, but I think almost exclusively as a response to student questions.

In the afternoons John shared technique (but always related to the three elements of the practice), stories of his experience of yoga, stories of Mysore, observations on the state of the world. John’s general style was laid back. Everything was delivered with a “give it a try and see what you think” attitude.

The workshop was large (50 plus people), but I think the size actually helped us focus on the practice and not get too bogged down in poses and the inevitable problem of did you get adjusted or not. The organization was great , despite a few issues with the venue. And Vancouver is a fantastic summer getaway, beautiful, clean, not too hot, not too cool. If I had one suggestion for the organizers for next year (I am hoping that John puts this on his travel schedule), is find a venue in Kitsalano, a nicer neighborhood than the downtown venue that we used this year.

A review has to have stars or thumbs to make it easy to grasp. So here you go. I give John Scott’s Vancouver Workshop two thumbs up. Suggestions for next year would be longer maybe a full week or even two, and maybe in a more laid-back location than downtown Vancouver. Anyone else that attended please add any other thoughts in the comment sections below.