"I'm going to meditate and practice yoga every day while in Japan," I told myself just before heading there for a two-week vacation. I sincerely believed it at the time too -- but yeah, right.
When I actually found myself there I didn't want to sit still and "just breathe." I wanted to immediately dive into my surrounds, into the sights, into Japanese culture. And into Japanese food.
Instead of starting my mornings off with yoga, most days began with desperately trying to find breakfast in a country that doesn't really do breakfast places (but apparently still does breakfast). I'd usually end up at Mos Burger, the only eatery around open before 11am, where I'd chow down on a rice, egg and soy sauce sandwich and alternate between sipping coffee and miso soup. Then I'd waste no time in taking to the streets, rarely coming back to my hostel before sundown -- there was too much to see. And too much people-watching to do.
The first several days (the entire time I was in Tokyo) the bliss of practicing yoga took a clear backseat to the joy of exploring a fascinating and brand-new-to-me country. But eventually, in Kyoto, I began to crave some breath-led movement and centering. I was getting cranky, sluggish and overwhelmed by mental clutter. I missed my practice. It was time to circle back to the mat.
Instead of practicing at the Airbnb apartment I stayed at, where where there wasn't much space and because I was incredibly curious, I decided to check out what public yoga in Japan was all about. Over the course of three days, I attended three yoga classes, all taught in Japanese, at a studio called Tamisa in the middle of a shopping center not far from Gion. The first class was Level 1 Vinyasa. It was very slow. Lots of low lunges. The second was a busy Level 2 Vinyasa class. It was less slow. Lots of low lunges. The final class I took was a noon class, something called Tri Yoga. It was the slowest, but also the most challenging class of the three. There was a strong focus (I inferred from the teacher's body language) on smooth ujjayi and moving with the breath. Lots of low lunges. An unreal amount of cat-cows.
Chaturanga wasn't instructed once in any of the three classes I attended (though I have to admit I snuck a couple in). And the unhurried pace felt great. It was the perfect vacation yoga.
I wonder if most yoga in Japan is in line with what I experienced: gentle, leisurely and more focused on stretching than strength. I should probably practice that way more often.
In my personal practice, I know have an excess of fire that needs to be balanced, but even though I know water'd be good for me, I only ever crave fire. I'm always thinking "vigor." I avoid restorative and yin and anything too sleepy, but in Japan it came to me. And, you know what? I didn't hate it.
In fact, in Okinawa, my last stop in Japan, I stayed at a summer cottage with plenty of floor room for yoga. I finally rekindled my home practice there, and I did it in the Japanese style. I lingered in each breath and doused each pose in breath. Three-legged down dog, which is usually a one-breath affair, I held for five. And it felt like smooth, hot sake in my body. You might guess I took several low lunges. I did indeed. And I certainly took my sweet time to wind it all down before savasana.
Looking back on the trip, I explored a lot and practiced a little (but the little I did do taught me a thing or two about the power inherent in practicing with tenderness). I think I did alright in terms of maintaining balance...for a vacation. But next time I'll bring breakfast bars so I can at least fuel a daily morning meditation session. #vacationyoga