Day Two- A celebration of the Solstice
No matter when I study with John, he finds something significant about the time we are studying together. Today was no exception- it was the Summer Solstice- the longest day of the year. After a lovely breakfast at our inn, Norika, Yukihito and Sumika- my new friends from Ibaraki-ken- headed over to find the mornings venue. We were all a little lost. Our ryokan is in the middle of Nikko National Park- we are surrounded by huge trees and shrines on every corner. It is so quiet and green here that you can’t imagine you are in a World Heritage site. Yukihito had done some calling around and found directions to the venue so we packed up our stuff for the day and headed out- to walk about 50 meters to the venue!! It was right behind our inn a little more up the hill. It was a huge new modern building but done with a sensitivity to the ancient buildings around it. As we came up to the doors, John came around the door with his entourage. He said a big cheery hello to all of us and then looked and me and pointed to my necklace. “Nice- did you have that before?”
“Yes- the last two times we met” I responded.
“Hmm.” John paused, “I am seeing it differently now.”
What a way to phrase it. Not “I didn’t notice it before” but “I am seeing it differently now”. It struck me as exactly how I felt about Nikko. I mean I had been there twice before but it was like I was seeing everything with new eyes. Everything was more beautiful, more colourful, and more precious.
We entered the venue room and I swear I almost fell over. It was the most amazing room I have ever seen. It was floor to ceiling windows overlooking a beautiful old temple and grounds surrounded by towering cedars. I felt like I was in a magical tree house suspended lightly from the sky. My pictures just do not do it justice. I was so excited about the room and seeing old friends that I was wondering if I could settle my mind to practice!
John took us on a very basic lecture and practice of Anusara yoga. He went through and touched on the main points of the practice, the first being Universal spirit. The Japanese are great at relating to this because of the Shinto religion which sees spirit in everything and John skilfully played on this to present the teachings. He explained that Yoga is a practice of awakening to this universal spirit and that is not just a practice on the mat but a practice of life. Everything you say and do becomes part of that universal spirit so you should know why you say something and why you do it. He talked a lot about stepping back to see ourselves better.
He went on to say that many of us do these things naturally, but if we step back we can better refine them- become more skilful. He told some great stories of buying goods in the US versus Japan and had the students in fits of laughter. He can be quite the comedian.
The day we were practicing was the summer solstice and he wanted us to think of that day’s practice as a celebration. You could feel the light in the room change as he spoke. A day that was predicted to be 80% chance of rain turned into the most beautiful light filled day. Everything around us was so green and bright. As Yukihito put it later, “I could feel the spirit of the trees in me as I practiced- their breathing, their age. I felt as one with them- like I was in the trees and not the room.” This was coming from a guy who started practicing Anusara a few short months ago. He totally got it.
John kept the poses simple and didn’t fill our heads with tons of alignment but really emphasized the heart theme. I realize that I get way to technical sometimes and maybe I need to back away from that and learn how to make the student move the way that is optimal using the heart language instead. That is why it takes so long in this method to get good- it is always a constant challenge to refine yourself more and more. It is never boring!
We finished which a few assisted urdva danurasana backbends which I have to say felt better than it had in weeks. Even John commented on how much I had softened. My achy hamstring stayed at bay and overall it was a great “Welcome back to practicing with John” practice.
We moved for the afternoon to Myogetsubyo studio which is just the most perfect japanese studio I have ever seen. It was part of the old structures of the surrounding temples and homes of the shogun families and Fran Kuzui had the foresight to turn the unused building into a yoga studio. We were to start the afternoon with Pranayama and then follow it with tea ceremony “sado”. We were told to bring white socks for tea ceremony so I thought I would go a little further and brought a kimono coat “haori” and sash “obi” and paired it with some black dress pants and white Japanese socks “tabi”. I thought that I might feel a little ridiculous until I walked in to the studio and saw John in full regalia! Kelly was also dressed in a beautiful kimono. I suddenly felt like it really was day of celebration- it was so fun! We so often don’t do what we want to because we are afraid of what others might think. I don’t know if its yoga or age but I am starting to get over that.
John took us through what he so appropriately called “a bento box of pranayama” – a little bit of everything. Ujjayi, viloma, nadi shodhana and kapalabhati. I think I have straightened out my collapsing left side but my eyelids need some work. Whatever John corrected you on last time you better have straight by the next time he sees you!
After pranayama we all made our way over to the tea house. The gardens were serene and refined. Individual stones lined the pathways and the sound of running water echoed softly as we rounded the corner. A little bamboo pipe was suspended over a massive stone with a small bowl-like indentation carved out of it. Two bamboo ladles lay across the water nestled in a bed of moss. It was exquisite. This type of stone wash basin is called “tsukubai”. The teacher of the tea house carefully showed us how to use the tsukubai before we went into tea ceremony. It was a highly ritualized practice just as all parts of the tea ceremony are. We learned how to kneel and sit and then get up again. I know that sounds like nothing to difficult but each foot was placed a certain way and in a certain order. John commented that the whole thing was like a moving meditation. It really did have that flavour. The sound of the tabi on the tatami even had a certain quality that added to the feeling of an underlying rhythm to the ceremony. It was a very contemplative experience.
Many hours later I dragged my aching knees – I forgot how hard it was to sit oseiza (Japanese style) for that long- back to the ryokan. It was heaven to soak in the tub at the end of the night. What a full day! It was a day of celebration- a day of fullness. It reminded me of one of the Anusara teachings from John and Christina – the purnamukti. A feast of resplendent fullness. Gochisou sama deshita!