Julie Atkinson spent the first International Yoga Day at the UN headquarters – this year she’ll be leading our IYTA Winter Solstice Class. Here she shares some thoughts about Japanese yoga and warming winter practices..
Q: How do you normally celebrate the International Day of Yoga?
For the very first International Day of Yoga I was living in Geneva and there was a big celebration at the Palais de Nation – United Nations Headquarters hosted by the Indian mission. It was held outdoors with a big attendance with the beautiful Lake Geneva and The Alps as the backdrop.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend similar celebrations at the UN on subsequent years. Last year whilst in lockdown, Rich (another yoga teacher) and I organised a day of yoga (on Zoom) as a fundraiser for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre here in Melbourne. Lots of people supported us and we raised around $1100. This year I’ll be leading this yoga class for the IYTA to celebrate and also mark the Winter Solstice.
Q: Will you do anything to mark the International Day of Yoga in the class?
Yes I’m working on ways to bring us together as a group, to feel our inter-connectedness and acknowledge the important role that Yoga has in all our lives.
Q: How easy is Japanese yoga for people who have never done the practice before?
Japanese yoga is very accessible. There are so many aspects to the practice as well as Yoga postures and exercises including, Do-In, self-massage, corrective exercises, chanting, meridian based exercises and meditation. Many of these can be practiced whilst seated in a chair. I offer many options and encourage participants to listen to their bodies and to work in a comfortable and steady way using the Yoga principles of Sukha and sthira.
Q: What can they expect from this class?
The class will include chanting, Okido exercises to help us feel grounded and centered, acupressure & tapping or rubbing on meridians with a particular emphasis for the water element and Kidney and Bladder meridians which are related to Winter. There will also be an emphasis of letting go of unnecessary thoughts, feelings and making way for new possibilities as we begin to move back into the light.
Q: What is your daily practice? And is there anything you will be doing that you do daily in this winter solstice class?
My daily practice is in line with the seasons, the current weather conditions and the time of day that I choose to practice. Since Melbourne’s first lockdown I have offered an online practice virtually daily. Often my own practice is playing around with ideas and themes for the zoom session. Okido Yoga would normally include some partner work which of course hasn’t been possible since Covid – whether online or in face-to-face classes. And so I’ve found different ways that we can give ourselves shiatsu or apply acupressure. In daily practice I include self-awareness, chanting Aum and do-in or self-massage including using a foam roller.
Q: How is winter celebrated in Japanese yoga and do you have any tips for nurturing bladder and kidney meridians?
In Okido yoga we mirror the seasons in our practices. Winter is the most yin time and the winter solstice is like the yin within yin. It’s seen as a time to consolidate, slow down, rest more and spend more time in meditation. Practices to improve our circulation – stimulate kidney and bladder meridians such as supported or restorative forward bends and rubbing ears and kidneys.
Wearing a hara maki – a traditional Japanese under garment around our lower back kidneys is recommended to support our kidney energy and keep us warm. We can improvise by wrapping a scarf or similar around our waist (I will demonstrate in the IYTA class).
On winter Okido Yoga retreats ginger foot baths were recommended for their warming qualities and if possible we would have a gathering around a wood fire, with time for sharing stories, performances songs etc. we might choose to write down three things we were ready to let go of in our lives and then burn the papers in the fire.
Q: Any final thoughts?
The class will acknowledge that although we are in this most yin time we are beginning to move into the light. We will very gradually over the remainder of winter see the days lengthening and begin to prepare for the more upward and out wood energy of spring. Now is a good time to plant the seed of what we would like to manifest or invite into our lives in the months to follow 🙏