Every morning, Linda Gould opens the doors and windows of Riverside Yoga studio in Hadano, Kanagawa Prefecture, and feels her body relax, spirit quicken and mind lighten.
She teaches daily until midday, mostly to local women, but also to an American women and a man from New Zealand who accompanies his Japanese wife. The rest of the day is taken up with family needs, a passion for writing (one of her short stories will be published for the first time in a science-fiction magazine next spring) and her role as secretary to Democrats Abroad Japan.
Gould’s studio is attached to her home, where she lives with her husband, son and daughter. “When we first saw the house, it was standing empty. It remained empty for two years despite our monthly entreaties about its status. Then one day our agent told us it had been sold and was up for rent. It must have been karma because that was also the time I was looking for studio space.”
Gould is an American from Delaware. She came with her husband, Tim, to Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on the JET program in the mid-1990s. After their son was born, they returned to the U.S. so that Tim could finish his degree in linguistics.
“We came back to Japan in 2000, this time with a daughter also, because Tim had a year-to-year exchange at Osaka University. When that contract was up, he found a job at Sophia Women’s College in Hadano, where he teaches language acquisition.” Gould dates her interest in yoga from the time she saw a picture of the model Christie Turlington on the cover of Time magazine. “She was in Crane Pose, and I couldn’t believe how much strength and balance was required.” In that same issue she saw a photo of the Philadelphia Eagles practicing yoga on the football field. “That really shocked me. All those big burly guys, those athletes, doing poses.”
Still, Gould had her own exercise routine, and yoga wasn’t part of it — until 10 years later.
She had been a career woman, working as liaison between grassroots organizations and management at the United Nations Environment Program, then in media and public relations for a natural history museum, and county government. When she moved to Japan, she had to give up that part of her life.
“It didn’t hit me so hard in Hagi because of the sense of community. I had little to do, but made friends, had a social life. When we moved to Osaka though I felt far more isolated and as a result became very depressed.”
She filled her time with sports but one day, playing racquetball, suffered a herniated disc. It was when steroid shots failed to improve her condition that she recalled yoga as being good for people with back injuries and started practicing at home.
Working from books and videos the change was remarkable. Not only did her back feel better but there were side effects: Her depression began to lift and she felt energized and hopeful. This was when she began practicing intensively both here and in the U.S.
“I learned what nearly every student of yoga learns; you start a practice for one reason and then you realize how yoga benefits every part of your life. Now I teach Hatha yoga, which connects controlled movement with controlled breathing,” she explains.
Politics is Gould’s yang to her yogic yin. It was after moving to Hadano in 2006 that she heard of Democrats Abroad Japan and, with an election approaching, began volunteering.
“I’ve always been interested in politics but I’d never heard of Democrats Abroad. I’d come from a Republican family, even voted Republican in the 1980 Reagan- Carter election. But then something very interesting happened. . .”
While traveling, Gould met a gay makeup artist, a man who proved such a wonderful friend that she was forced to reconsider her conservative values and one by one, knocked them aside.
“Once I got out of my small town in Delaware I began noticing the effects of some of those conservative policies that Reagan supported. Such realizations made me question many of my beliefs.”
The first in her family to go to college — she has a degree in journalism and environmental studies — Gould decided it was impossible to be exposed to so much information — see so much of the world — and not become a Democrat.
Gould, who was elected secretary of DAJ in August 2007, maintains its membership database, which has now accounted for some 1,700 registered Democrats living in Japan. Also she has taken on the task of adding the voices of Americans living with national health-care insurance to the U.S. debate on health care.
“So many people living in the U.S. have come to believe the myths and lies they’ve been fed by pundits and opponents of national health care: that it’s socialized medicine, that there is no choice or the quality of care is substandard. Well, as Americans living abroad, we know the benefits of national health insurance.”
She has set up a blog, for which she is collecting videos and written anecdotes of people explaining how the system has affected them. Most are positive, but since no system is perfect she also accepts negative comments, as long as they are constructive.
“America is in a great position to benefit from the experiences of Japan, the U.K., France and even Denmark, and to choose what works in those systems and what doesn’t.”
” ‘No, no,’ I hear people in the U.S. screaming,” Gould continues, ” ‘Our taxes will be so much higher!’ First of all, that’s wrong. But even if taxes were higher, it isn’t a matter of how high taxes are, but how they’re spent.”
She believes Barrack Obama to be a pragmatic man. “We need that. I’d rather have a true progressive, but that would make the Right blow a gasket!”
Gould acknowledges that health care is not Obama’s strong suit. The Bush government just vetoed expansion of the State Child Health Insurance program, which was in effect a cut in the program since the costs to run SCHIP have risen. Obama would likely use that program to cover all children.
And while she looks forward to the official announcement of the presidential candidates on Nov. 4, she’s not optimistic about the final result. Democratic voters are already being purged from the voter roles. And she wonders if mainstream America is ready for a black president.
“There’s also the anxiety about whether he’ll be able to stand up against the forces that pounded Al Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004.”
Gould is glad to be living in Japan right now. She wouldn’t be working on this health-care project if she lived in the U.S., and putting real-life experiences into the debate is important to her.
“I believe that what I do here will help me affect changes in U.S. politics one day. In the meantime, thank goodness for yoga, because it is what keeps me from exploding in anger and frustration at what is happening to my country.”