Yoga practitioners moving to the next level

by Takeshi Nishide

Kyodo

There is a “natural” convergence among yoga practitioners in Japan: Those who have practiced it primarily for slimming or health are becoming more interested in its spiritual aspects, while those who have approached it as a philosophy are more actively engaging in physical exercise, according to an experienced yoga instructor.

“When you have a dialogue with your body as a real object, you have to face yourself,” Mamoru Aizawa said. “This is an awakening. Lots of people practice Ashtanga yoga early in the morning before going to work.”

Ashtanga yoga is a modern form of classical Indian yoga increasingly practiced in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Aizawa, whose yoga name is Chama, is an instructor at TOKYOYOGA, which offers a large number of classes in the capital. Following his instructions, students perform a series of poses ranging from the basic to the complex.

“I feel refreshed and cannot experience it in other exercises,” a female student said. “I am able to maintain a good balance between my body and mind.”

With the yoga boom spreading, what organizers called the biggest yoga event in Asia was held in Yokohama in late September. The 10th Yogafest Yokohama offered various yoga classes, including those for children and physically disabled people.

At an outdoor class, an instructor told participants to “accept gradually continuing changes in the feel of your body,” and practitioners in another class were told, “Gaze at yourself being here” and “Don’t compare yourself with others but look into yourself.”

With women driving the boom, the festival had a large number of booths selling fashionable yoga wear.

Yoga is also being practiced outside of classes. For example, Enyuji, a Buddhist temple of the Tendai school in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, holds a monthly seminar called “Zen x Yoga x Ayurveda” covering Zen meditation, yoga and traditional Indian medicine.

“The theme of Buddhism is harmony of the body and mind,” said Junsho Oka, deputy master of the temple. “The seminar is an extension of it. The three (Zen, yoga and ayurveda) originated from the same source and share an essence because they help (people) exercise their latent power and find themselves as they are.”

According to Masayuki Ito, an associate professor at Aichi Gakuin University, who is familiar with the development of yoga over several thousand years, modern forms of yoga, such as Ashtanga, combine Western physical exercises and traditional Indian martial arts. They were given spiritual meaning while spreading in the West and brought to Japan via Britain and the U.S.

Key expressions used in modern yoga, such as “touch your real self,” are also used in spiritual cultures, Ito said.