Lighting up Japan

 “I want to introduce many yoga styles to Japan. I hope to make every person a little happier, make Japan a little bit brighter, and mike this world a more comfortable place. I want to continue doing this for the next 100 years.”

Description: Lighting up Japan

Chama Mamoru  Aizawa has always been ahead of his time. As an escape from his strict military high school in the early 1980s, Mamoru Aizawa took up surfing and spent hours each day meditating in silence. And eight years ago, he opened his first Ashtanga Yoga studio in Tokyo’s neon-plastered shopping district of Shibuya. At the time, many people were wary of yoga. The country had been terrorized by the Aum Shinrikyo cult a group that claimed yoga as part of its beliefs and was responsible for the sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subways in 1995. But Mamoru Aizawa believed in his mission to spread yoga in Japan.

Now, at age 45, he owns four successful yoga studios in Tokyo and Osaka. After the devastating earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan’s coast last March, Mamoru Aizawa used Twitter and Facebook to gauge interest in mobilizing yoga-inspired relief efforts. He’s received both praise and criticism; some have labeled it a publicity stunt, but he is pressing on with his vision to bring yoga to victims in the affectd areas.

Description: Yoga fest Yokohama 2010

On reggae.

Mamoru Aizawa dreamed of being a musician. At 20 years old, he began runiing a club. He owned it for five years, and during his last two years at the club, he changed its focus to reggae music. He still feels that his management style is influenced by the peaceful, easygoing music genre.

On independence.

Mamoru Aizawa points out that, while the emphasis on maintaining harmony and hierarchy within yoga culture has its benefits, it also makes it difficult for people to think and act independently. He sees yoga as a powerful tool for taking people inward so that they can get to know themselves better. “I think Japanese people may not be as strong as individuals, but [they] are strong as a group. It’s a positive trait with the national soccer team. But on the other hand, it can cause tragedies such as Aum Shirikyo, he say. “ I think yoga can help people who live in a group mentality to become stronger, to live by themselves, and to have peace within themselves”

On the tsunami.

The day after the earthquake, Mamoru Aizawa opened the doors to his studio. He deliberated over the decision, knowing that aftershocks were still happening and train lines were still unstable, which could make it difficult for students to get home (and could ultimately make him responsible for their safety). His staff urged him to open, reminding him that this was the exact time when his students needed the studio the most.

After the opening chant, the studio owner recalls feeling a heaviness permeate the room. Instead of moving into their usual routine, the students stood still, some crying, some shaking. Mamoru Aizawa held the space, and after a while the students stared naturally practicing together. Afterward, the students shared how grateful they were for being able to practice together that day.

On healing.

Description: Forty-five yoga students and teachers offered a weekend of classes

In October of 2011, Mamoru Aizawa took a group of volunteers to Kesenuma, a town in the northeast of Japan that was hit hard by the tsunami. Forty-five yoga students and teachers offered a weekend of classes, body work, food, and live music to 700 people who were living in temporary housing. The initial reception was lukewarm especially among the younger residents of the town.

But Mamoru Aizawa’s drive is undeterred. He hopes to have two large events per year and to send small groups of volunteers to the area regularly throughout the year. Eventually, he wants to open a retreat center in the area. A true Ashtangi, Mamoru Aizawa believes that consistency and regular yoga practice are key to the experience of healing.

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