Temple Yoga: The Ultimate Zen Experience

Breathe, Just Breathe...

By Maxine Cheyney
November 28, 2016
Lifestyle

If you're tired of gym yoga sessions, dangerously candle-lit home yoga or YouTube-inspired practices, here is a new option for you: Temple Yoga in the very heart of Tokyo.

My martial arts series has certainly taken its toll on my body, and I was missing out on my normal yoga practice at home. The signs of strain were written in my waddle-like walk and my unnatural posture. But I was off to experience something brand new, and I was more than excited.

Ignoring the early Saturday morning start, it was with absolute relief that I set foot in the Gohyaku-Rakan Temple in Meguro. Greeted by streams of crisp morning weekend sunlight, I entered with trepidation. There is always a sense of “I don’t belong here” when I walk into a temple or shrine in Japan. It’s just that feeling that you are blaspheming or causing offense by encroaching on a space that is not yours.

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But as I walked timidly into the Amidado, I was welcomed by the cheerful yoga instructor Kazumi, who kindly invited me to settle down, fill in the usual health-related forms and sign in to the class.

It was only then that I took a look around the room. To my left was a wall of shelving stacked with weathered books, and to my right, a traditional Japanese garden setting, flooded with sunlight.

To my left was a wall of shelving stacked with weathered books, and to my right, a traditional Japanese garden setting, flooded with sunlight.

We rolled out our mats, the class filling up from wall to wall, and all assumed the “trying to chill” position on our mats. Whilst I was thinking of ways to make it look like I was a seasoned professional, Kazumi flowed to the front of the room, stopped and stood poised with the decorated shrine behind her.

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We began with a long stretch of deep breathing, Kazumi’s voice supplying the right amount of cool to totally remove all thoughts of work from my mind. The aim of the yoga itself was not to challenge, but to relax. So for those who fear the more strenuous yoga movements, this class is nothing to be afraid of.

The aim of the yoga itself was not to challenge, but to relax.

The class was conducted entirely in Japanese, but there was nothing stopping me from being able to follow it. I had a few quick glances to my right, and based on the tone of Kazumi’s voice, I was able to determine whether it was time to change position or not.

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As an experienced yogi, I’ve tested the practice at many studios and realized that I often prefer to keep my eyes closed, given that most of my experience so far had taken place at simple empty gym class studios. But this time I couldn’t help but keep my eyes open to gaze at the shrine at the front of the room or glance out of the side expanse of window into the Japanese garden. Likening it to the moment Keira Knightley finally meets Mr. Darcy in the fields outside her house in the romantic morning sunlight of Pride & Prejudice, I found total Zen peace, here in the heart of Tokyo.

I found total Zen peace, here in the heart of Tokyo

If you are looking to reset and reboot in an ambient setting that lets your body and mind achieve a complete relaxation, I highly recommend this temple yoga class. And the best thing about it is that you can just show up for the class with no prior reservation, wearing your most comfortable yoga outfit, carrying a yoga mat (or rent for ¥300) and some water. From there, take a deep breath and dive into your Zen moment.

Useful Yoga Vocabulary

Often the guidance of your yoga instructor is what helps take you on your yoga session journey and I can understand that it’s difficult when you don’t fully grasp what the instructor is saying. But here are a few key phrases to listen out for and help you guide your way through the class.

呼吸 (Kokyu) — Breathing
息を吸う (Iki o suu) — To inhale
息を吐く(Iki o haku) — To exhale
姿勢 (Shisei) — Posture
ポーズ (Pozu) — Pose
仰向けになる (Aomuke ni naru) — To lay on one’s back
うつ伏せになる (Utsubuse ni naru) — To lay on one’s stomach
四つん這いになる (Yotsunbai ni naru) — To get on all fours
曲げる (Mageru)  — To bend
伸ばす(Nobasu) — To stretch
つま先 (Tsumasaki) — Toes
足首 (Ashikubi) — Ankle
かかと (Kakato) — Heel
膝 (Hiza) — Knee
引っ張る (Hipparu) — Pull
押す (Osu) — Push
押し込む (Oshikomu) — Tuck
爪先を伸ばす(Tsumasaki o nobasu) — Point one’s feet
広げる (Hirogeru) — Spread
一直線にする (Itchokusen ni suru) —Align
引っ掛ける(Hikkakeru) — Hook
繰り返す(Kurikaesu) — Repeat
集中する(Shuchu suru) — Concentrate

The Deets

Location: Amida Do, Gohyaku-Rakan Temple, 3-20-11 Shimo-Meguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3792-6751
Class Schedule: Classes are held every first and third Wednesday of the month from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and every second and fourth Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. It is recommended to check the website in advance prior to attending. No reservation required.
Cost: ¥1,500

Maxine is a Kenyan-Seychelloise-British-Pakistani journalist who has spent time in London writing for superyacht magazines and now works as a freelance journalist and subeditor, and an English Instructor. She’s a keen yogi with kickboxing roots and a slight netball obsession, and always up for a new challenge. She spends her free time exploring and writing about the depths of Japan with her boyfriend, making sure to eat all the food that she comes into contact with.

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