“To be natural in all we do is vital. Yoga seeks to raise vitality to the highest level in order to give full, joyful expression to the life force.” ~ Masahiro Oki
When I was about 20 years old, my journey into the yogas really began. I went it alone as none of my friends at the time expressed any sincere interest in exploring it. But I was okay with that because deep down, I knew that to venture into any new world, I would probably have to go it alone.
And so, that’s what I did. For the next 8-12 months, I started rocking up to a variety of yoga classes, practicing different yoga styles, attending different studios, and had lots of different teachers to learn from. Most of the classes were good experiences and I felt great from the yoga practice, but nothing really “clicked” for me. There was something missing, I just couldn’t work out what it was at the time. From this limited experience, the impression I was getting is that yoga was a pretty serious physical practice, steeped in Hinduism and esoteric-like practices. Another thing I noticed at the time was that in most cases, the students in class seemed to leave the space as quickly as they had come and therefore, no real connections or friendships were made in that initial exploratory phase. Knowing there was more to it, I stuck at it and after about 8-12 months of trying out lots of different classes, I came across a very humble looking black and white photocopied flyer advertising Oki-Do Japanese yoga. It read: A unique combination of hatha yoga, zen Buddhism, and Taoism.
“Where and when?” was my first thought.
The very next day, I rocked up to the studio called zen central in the suburb of West End in Brisbane, Australia for a taste of Oki-Do Japanese yoga.
It was one of the most opening and joyous yoga classes of my life. What I noticed first of all was that there were thin futons on the floor instead of yoga mats and the futons were all placed into a circle instead of lines. The floor at the studio was also carpeted, giving it a soft and cozy feeling. I was then warmly welcomed and directed to a futon, where everyone shared gentle smiles, and we began the class lying down. We rolled, slid, and wobbled our bodies on these futons, the teacher often giving permission and encouragement for people to make noises and sounds as a way to release their bodies. Large “aaaaaahhhhhhhsss” came out of some of the students as we rolled on our futons with giggles often following. What ensued was a mix between moving hatha yoga postures, animal movements, expressive sounds, shiatsu massage partner work, and stillness meditations. We moved from the thin futons, to yoga mats, to moving freestyle around the room. Time felt altered, like we were all in a different place and in a different world. When the class had concluded with the palms in prayer and a gentle bow coupled with a Japanese “Arigato Goziamas” (thankyou), people lingered in the space, drinking cups of green tea and having chats. After the class, my body felt like it was buzzing from head to toe. I felt a great sense of inner peace and relaxation without a need or want in the world. I was hooked.
What was this practice?
What does Oki-Do mean and where does it come from?
This was really the beginning of yoga for me and its practices and teachings are now a part of who I am and are thoroughly ingrained in my own approach to teaching yoga and I feel blessed because of it. The founder of Oki-Do yoga was Masahiro Oki (1921 – 1972), a Japanese monk during the 2nd world war who travelled extensively through China and as far the Middle East, spending time with learned monks, saints, and desert nomads. From his worldly and spiritual experiences, he brought together what he had learned and built a yoga studio, or dojo as it is called in Japanese, where he opened his doors to all. At his dojo he offered “life training”, not just yoga training as he taught all of life was yoga. He housed and worked with many people whom were diagnosed as mentally ill and showered them with love, some experiencing miraculous recoveries. Although his teaching methods were not always logical (zen style), they did always have a purpose. Throughout the ongoing years of practice, I began uncovering the underlying philosophy and approach to this yoga.
Masahiro Oki focused on 9 primary principles of yoga:
1. Positive mind
3. Hara (centre of energy just under the belly button/core/stability)
4. Smile – laugh
Oki-Do yoga does not heavily emphasize correct alignment in asanas, or the aim of achieving advanced yoga postures but instead, places more importance on the quality of mind of the practitioner. Oki-Do yoga also gives the practitioners time and space to find their own way into many of the postures, which allows room for creativity and individual expression. Its primary focus is on establishing strength and awareness in the Hara, or core center. It is from this strengthened Hara that we can then extend our energy and awareness out to the limbs and to the other aspects of our mind and body. Another important aspect of Oki-Do yoga is to mindfully adjust our yoga practices, our diet, and our mental energies to be aligned with the cyclic nature of the seasons.
I have found that some yoga styles and practices can become a little bogged down in the seriousness of “the practice” and the original joy is dampened out, but with Oki-do yoga, it is a joy that just keeps giving. Oki-Do yoga is a great contribution to the world of yoga, bringing in more laughter, joy, wisdom and Hara core stability.
Currently, there are Oki-do yoga studios and dojos in Tokyo, Netherlands, the UK, and in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne, Australia. Yoga life teacher trainings are run by Peter Masters in Australia and there is also a 4 year teacher training program in the Netherlands. I would encourage anyone who is looking for a unique Oriental vibe to their yoga practice, which also offers a lot of laughter, to be sure to attend an Oki-Do class or workshop when you can. It might just blow your heart and mind wide open as it did with me.