Interview with

A few months ago I was interviewed by Dylan Robertson of  We filmed it at a sweet spot up in the sky on the 21st floor of the Roppongi Midtown Residences.  For me, this turned into an exercise in self reflection, as this was one of my first filmed interviews.  To watch oneself speak and move is a rare and revealing experience. For everyone else though, I think, this is a nice introduction to the work I’m doing in Japan.

I’ve included the transcript in both English and Japanese below. 日本語訳は以下の通りです。



Tell us a bit about where you’re from.
I grew up in America. I was born in the Midwest, a kind of farm country area, but for someone with my craving for adventure, I needed to get out of there. I eventually moved to northern California in San Francisco. I lived there for fifteen years, and then I came to Japan just for a short time, but ended up staying a lot longer than I was going to.

How long has it been so far?
Almost six years.

You’ve been involved a lot in the yoga scene in San Francisco. How would you compare that to the yoga scene here in Tokyo?
There are a lot of differences, but I think in San Francisco, it’s much more of a real lifestyle choice, and it seems like people have a lot more time. Of course, there are a lot of folks that are working in the IT industry or artistic people or designers who have a much more flexible time schedule. And in Japan, folks tend to work with the company, and you work from morning until night, and you stay at the office. There are a lot more people in San Francisco who are working from home, and that changes the dynamic and people’s ability to practice yoga a lot. I would like to see that kind of freedom in Japan. I don’t know how it would happen.

What are yoga studios in San Francisco like compared to Tokyo?
They’re bigger, but the yoga we get here in Tokyo is not coming from India so directly. It’s really bouncing back from America. I think the American influence on the culture of the yoga scene is really significant, especially in the studio, the style, the physical area, and what you see, very similar.

Do they have showers in the studios there?
Some do, some don’t. It depends. Bikram Yoga studios have showers. But San Francisco is a pretty dense city, too. It’s not built up as high as Tokyo, but it is pretty dense. It’s surrounded on three sides by water, so there is not a lot of building outwards that they can do there. So you do get these pretty compact little studios.

Tell us a bit about the style of yoga that you’re teaching.
In Tokyo, I’m teaching two things. I’m teaching regular weekly yoga practice sessions. I call that freestyle yoga, although it’s not really the perfect name for it, but I wanted to express something that has a little more spaciousness and freedom than the more traditional forms of yoga. I do lead folks through sequences, but in general, it’s a little more organic movement than you would find in classical yoga. I try to turn students towards their own experience in the yoga practice.

You’re teaching somatics?
Somatics is a topic: a way or manner of inquiry into human movement or human experience, which is more of the first person. It’s more about what we’re experiencing inside our bodies, contrasted with a more scientific third person view, where we’re examining the body through tools and measuring. Anatomy is a good example. I teach anatomy in a lot of teacher trainings. The tradition that we inherit in learning anatomy is the medical tradition, the scientific tradition. And really, that’s the study of the human body being cut apart; we cut apart dead people and we look from outside.

A somatic exploration, or learning about anatomy somatically, would be learning through your own feeling or your own sensation. We might look at pictures, or we might develop an idea about it in our minds, but a lot of the somatics learned comes through our own experiences. You could say it’s an experiential learning.

You’re into Body-Mind Centering. Tell us about that.
Body-Mind Centering is a particular approach to somatics that looks at human movement and human health, very specifically through each of the body systems and body tissues and also developmentally—all the little building blocks that each of us goes through until adulthood to develop an adult style of complex human movement.

You’ve been on several trips to Germany to study BMC. Why did you go to Germany?
As you filter up the scale of this learning, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to study at more advanced levels. So right now, Germany is the only place I can go to do the more advanced work in Body-Mind Centering and the somatic work. I go there once or twice a year and work with my teachers and an international group of people. We spend three or four weeks together, going deep into our experience and learning about the body in different ways.

You’ve been teaching somatics as part of Body-Mind Centering here in Tokyo. How have the Japanese students adapted to these teachings?
We kind of get two camps. We get folks who have a very specific idea of what they want. Generally, I teach it in a yoga context so when you’re developing, or you’re moving from some kind of experience inside your body, it doesn’t always look like a classical yoga posture. But sometimes, when I get folks coming in thinking, “I want to do a triangle pose just like I saw Christy Turlington do it,” they get a little confused, I think. And then, of course, form, or kata, is so important in Japan. Sometimes, people get a little uncomfortable with these forms we are working with. But people can get into it if they’re patient.

And then on the other side, I think because yoga itself can be very formal, and because Japanese culture can be very formal, when I give people an opportunity to really act from their own experiences, I think they find that very liberating. And so they get a lot of excitement about it. It tends to kind of go in extreme directions.

You are now based in Tokyo. But before, you were in Kyoto. Tell us about Kyoto.
Every time I mention Kyoto, people are like, “ii-neh!” (that’s nice!). And it is. It’s a beautiful place. It’s surrounded by mountains and forests, and there are old temples everywhere, and I think there is a general respect for the old traditions and meditation. I mean, not totally—it’s a modern city. Just in terms of environment, it’s more like that. It’s a quieter place, and I find it a wonderful place to live in. Maybe I’ll go back there someday. I still lead retreats and do workshops there every couple of months.

As a professional yoga teacher, is it easier to build a career in one of the smaller cities outside of Tokyo like Kyoto? Or are there more opportunities here in Tokyo just because there are more people here?
Tokyo is very saturated, that’s for sure. There are a lot of inexperienced yoga teachers—a lot of yoga teachers and a lot of yoga studios. And we’re seeing it now. I think it’s also getting a little Darwinian; it’s filtering out. So, Tokyo is tough, but I get the feeling Tokyo is tough for everybody, no matter if you’re a yoga teacher or a designer or a photographer. People want to come here, and the best people come here.

But having said that, I do think things tend to sprout out of the big cities. But what I saw in America especially, and I see it here too, is that the neighborhood yoga studios are mushrooming now. And I think that’s really where the future is for teachers, because people don’t want to have to go to the closest big train station or central Tokyo. If it’s going to be a real practice and something that’s important in their lives—something that will change their body and develop their mind—they need to be having it accessible and close by. So, I can see people from my teacher trainings years ago starting little spaces and tiny little events in their neighborhoods locally. And I think that’s very good.

I know in the U.S., talking in terms of the yoga industry, the smaller studios have trouble competing when large fitness center chains open up nearby due to their different economies of scale.
Yeah, that happens. In some ways, it’s difficult for some teachers who don’t get involved with that. But, on the other hand, it seems like yoga continues to develop and grow. And the more diverse, the more people that practice it, the more exposure it has, the more diverse the groups are there practicing, results in all kinds of niches. The yoga world becomes like a mountainous terrain, going up and down, with a lot of contours. And in the end, I’m not really sure that there is a net positive or negative of that effect. The only thing I will say—and this is perhaps my personal pet peeve—I hate to see a real corporatization and commercialization of yoga. And I know that happens.

It’s just part of our society, but I hate to see it getting pulled out of the context where people don’t have a real sense of the heart of what yoga is. Of course, there is that entry level where people are just coming because it makes them feel good, or they want to come and reduce their stress or get a little more fit. That’s cool, but there’s all this other stuff back there that is very interesting and wonderful. It frustrates me a little bit when people don’t realize all the other things that yoga has to offer.

I understand you also have a background in dance.
When I was in high school, I was playing football, and my best friend and I had heard that professional soccer players run and dance to improve their dexterity on the field. So, of course, wanting to be as professional as possible, we started taking dance classes, and we started with jazz but ended up doing hip-hop and break dancing. It was a lot of fun. It did open my eyes a lot to the world of dance, and I continued in small ways since then, never really taking it so seriously. But, during university, I started doing African dancing, more contemporary styles, and contact improvisation. So, dance has always been there in the background. Here in Japan, I’m hoping to break in to butoh and see what that world is like.

People outside of Japan may not be familiar with that genre of dance, butoh.
I find a lot of Japanese are not so familiar with it, too, these days. Butoh is a kind of post-war ‘60s and ‘70s avant-guarde Japanese dance form. I guess you could call it really expressionistic. And as with somatics, it really works from automatic movement that arises spontaneously in the body. They developed their dance through that, as opposed to something like ballet, which is more about refining a perfect external form. Butoh is much more visceral and primal; it’s not always so pretty.

And sometimes they’re naked when they’re performing, right?
They often are. You can see the reference to the old Japanese art forms like the white face, and actually, they’ll do whole-body makeup. I think they are going back to that very first empty slate kind of intention.

Changing topics, I know that you have been leading various yoga teacher training courses. Tell us about your course modules and the contents that you are teaching.
I’ve done a few two-hundred-hour Yoga Alliance certified teacher trainings. Since I moved to Tokyo, I’ve put that on the back burner and have been focusing more on professional trainings for people who are already teachers.

I’ve got a thirty-hour breath training, where we go deeply into, not just pranayama, but natural styles of breathing and breathing anatomy, and also how breathing affects and works in tandem with our movement, and also doing anatomy trainings for yoga teachers. Those are all plug-ins to our basic yoga teacher training program.

What types of backgrounds do your students come from? Do they have very well-rounded yoga educations when they come to you, or do you think they have certain parts missing? Is there a trend you’re seeing here in Japan?
Mostly in terms of experience—folks often don’t have the same depth of experience in yoga. With a lot of the programs that I took for my own teacher trainings in the US, almost everybody had been doing yoga for at least a couple of years, but more commonly, it was five, six, or seven years sometimes, before they felt like, “This is something I want to do professionally,” or even just to deepen their practice through more advanced training. I just think yoga hasn’t been around in Japan so seriously for as long as it has been in America. And here, there’s also a tendency for it to be less of a transformative practice and more of a physical culture, a kind of exercise. It’s still here, but not as much.

In terms of what you see unfolding in yoga communities outside of Japan, you just recently came back from Germany, and you go to San Francisco and other places. What trends do you think we can expect to come to Japan from abroad?
I think the center of modern yoga is really the English-speaking world nowadays. It’s not really India. That’s the root, but there is so much vibrant activity happening in America, which I know best, and now in Europe too—really pushing yoga forward in terms of the academic study of its history and cultural aspects. We’re seeing a lot more translations of ancient yogic texts, and people are really examining yoga in a modern context by asking, “How does that part of yoga apply to us as modern people?” and really bringing it in and trying to do something that’s really alive in the modern world. It seems that yoga churns through the Western, or the English-speaking, world before reaching Japan. Japan is still getting it in the secondary wave. I just don’t see the same kind of research and true depth of practicing and saturation in the culture here. So many Americans are practicing and learning in such a big way these days. But it’s happening in Japan; it’s coming here too.

What is it like as a yoga teacher here? Do you find that you are able to teach fully in English or do you have to adapt the way you speak?
When I teach my regular classes, I teach in a mixture of English and Japanese. A lot of people come to classes because they want to practice their English and listen to English in combination with body movements. So, it really enters them on a physical level, rather than if they were just sitting in the eikaiwa, in English conversation school, and talking in a completely disconnected way from the rest of the world. But I use a lot of Japanese, and in the end though, it really comes down to just connecting mind-to-mind and heart-to-heart, body-to-body in a nonverbal way. I do a lot of adjustment, demonstration, and it works. I think it’s important to develop something a little bit outside of the linguistic part of teaching. But when I teach my workshops and things which have more technical necessities, I always bring a translator to help me.

What’s it like working with a translator? Do you have any tips for teachers coming from abroad who may not have worked here much before?
I know foreign teachers who come here and just teach like they always teach. In the beginning, I was using nonprofessional translators. So, I was frustrated, and the translators were stressed out, which really didn’t help the yogic process.

So, I developed a kind of rhythm where I would say things in little sound bites and give a pause, and they could work through it. And I developed that into a kind of teaching style that included the translator. The teaching became more of a conversation between me and the translator and the students, which felt much nicer. I like a more casual experience, and I like to work it out as a group. It feels good for everybody, even if the translation from English to Japanese is not always exact. And, if I take breaks, it gives me a chance to think about what I’m going to say next and be more precise and clear about what I’m going to say. So, my advice is to take your time. Take breaks. Let some space come in, and include the translator in a much more relational way. And the translators seem to appreciate it.

Tell us a bit more about the types of people you have seen in your classes in terms of demographics.
Well, mostly women, of course. Yoga seems to be seen as the women’s activity here in Japan. Although, maybe I can say 5 percent men, maybe less. I would love to see more guys. I feel somehow that yoga in Japan has really become identified with something that women do. Maybe not so much with the more active styles. I do teach a very vigorous and active style, but no one else is teaching it, so I don’t get the kind of marketing pushing from behind.

What do you think we can do to encourage more men in Japan to try yoga?
Let them work fewer hours. It seems like guys are just working all the time. If they had the time to practice yoga, they could. But there are a lot of men teaching. There are some very visible male yoga teachers. I guess we should just try to be good role models for guys.

I know that you have a very active practice doing private lessons. Tell us about your private sessions.
A lot of people come to me for yoga therapy and to do some of the somatic therapy work, and I do bodywork as well. We do a combination of movement, asana (yoga postures), and bodywork. People come for injuries, people come because they just want to have more attention, or they haven’t done yoga, and they are maybe a little embarrassed or shy to go to a class. But one-on-one, it’s a little more flexible for them. I get people who come to me because of my experience and my knowledge of the body who want to perfect their yoga postures but can’t get that kind of support from most teachers or from public classes. So, I get people from all over who just feel, for some reason, that they need some extra support.

Tell us about the type of bodywork you’re offering.
My background is in some of the osteopathic forms—very subtle adjustment of the bones and the soft tissues. I’ve studied Thai massage and I like to work with people on the floor, and they do the deep stretches. It’s getting to be very popular with the yoga people these days. In fact, I’m teaching Thai massage workshops these days as well. I have a lot of tools, and it ultimately depends on the people who are coming to me—what I feel and what they feel they need. Sometimes, they just want to get a good, deep squeezing—squeezing out the trapezius. I’ve given regular massages, and I’m really good at that.

Do you find that people in Japan come up with different physical conditions than you might find in people from other countries? In Japan, the older generations grew up sitting on the floor.
Hips are not an issue as much as they are in America, for sure. But shoulders are. With Americans, generally, flexibility tends to be the issue. For a lot of Japanese folks that I work with, it tends to be–– not a lot, but I see more issues with stability—people who are overstretching or aren’t able to really develop a central kind of stability, shoulders especially, that lets them do these deep yoga postures. In order to do a deep stretch, you’ve also got to be incredibly stable, or you might damage your joints.

Based on your six years of experience here in Japan and being very active in the Japanese yoga community, what would you like to see developed more in Japan? And also, what do you think is something which other communities abroad could learn from Japan?
I think community in general is something that could be more conscientiously developed here. In a way, what you’re doing seems to be teasing that forward, although it still seems to be evolving. In other words, places or opportunities outside the asana practice, in the studio where people can share yogic values or even sustainability, health, and all that. I’d like to see more of that somehow. But it’s coming, maybe. I would like to see more retreat centers. It’s really hard to find a place where people can go and where I could take my students, spend a good weekend, that has a good asana space that’s out in nature. I’ve found a few up here in the Kanto region, but as far as I know, there were none done in Kansai. That would be nice.

In terms of Japan for the rest of the world, it’s not so much in yoga but the character of the Japanese people and their warmth and their flexibility, in terms of person-to-person – that sense of wanting to have a harmonious relationship among everyone, and the kind of sweetness the people have here. Also, the fact that everybody cleans up after themselves — that’s a big lesson for the rest of the world.















私が京都について話すといつも、「いいね!(That’s nice!)」と言われます。その通りです。京都は素晴らしい街です。山と森に囲まれ、由緒あるお寺が至る所にあり、古い伝統と思考への敬意があると思います。つまり、現代的な街というわけではないのです。環境の観点から、更にそう思います。閑静な場所なので、住むには最高の場所だと思います。いつか京都に帰るでしょう。今も数ヶ月ごとに、京都でリトリートやワークショップを開催しています。









どのようなバックグラウンドの生徒達が来られますか? すでにヨガ学に精通している人達ですか?それとも、ある部分の知識がかけていると思う人達ですか?日本の傾向はありますか?














~ by 00davi00 on 0, July 13, 2012.

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