Buddhist Temple Yoga

Patrick McCartney
Feb 23, 2018 · 6 min read

寺ヨガ — tera 寺 yoga ヨガ

In Japan, there is an interesting blend of modern postural yoga with Buddhist meditation. Apparently, the online presence of Tera 寺 Yoga ヨガ or ‘Temple Yoga’ has only occurred in the past 5 years, or so. In Kyoto, one can find yoga classes offered in several temples. Many are not advertised online. It is a matter of visiting the temple to find a local resident, who offers yoga classes at the temple. Some people might use their relative’s temple as the classroom, simply because they might be able to pay a reduced amount for renting the space. I’ve been to only one Tera 寺 Yoga ヨガ class so far, which turned out to be a Sivananda style hatha/kriya yoga class. It was patronised by 100% women in their 40s — 60s. My wife and I were walking around the grounds of the local temple, and noticed a sign, in English, that said ‘YOGA’. We asked the monk at the office, who informed us that the temple offered three yoga classes a week. They occur on Monday, Wednesday and Friday around 10–11am.

Tera 寺 Yoga ヨガ can be found in Kyoto. This is the website to one of them. I haven’t had the chance to get there, yet.

The left sentence in the picture reads: ゆつたり yuttari ヨガ yoga = relaxed yoga. Here is a free booklet if you want to know more about this style of ヨガ. The cover is below. You can actually purchase the booklet via Amazon.

As far as I am aware, this temple is part of the Jodoshu sect — which is part of the Nenbutsushu form of Japanese buddhism — which is much more relaxed, in terms of rituals/discipline, than the Zenshu sect (which is what the golden and silver pavilions belong to).

Jodoshu is the more popular and vernacular form of Buddhism that was the domain of peasants in premodern Japanese society. Basically, one just has to chant (nen) the name of buddha (butsu). And, importantly, it is NOT Zazen (from the Zenshu sect — more information below). In contrast, Zenshu Buddhism was the domain of the upper echelons of society, particularly the Samurai class. While, today, the Zenshu sect might have more economic capital, the Nenbutsushu sect is more popular. This link provides some demographic information about religion in Japan. Here is an interesting article by Allan Andrews on the Pure Land Buddhism, which is the English way to say Nenbutsushu. If you are interested, this website has a good overview of the spread of different schools of Buddhism into Japan.

One interesting thing is that you might expect this sort of hybrid form of yoga to not be worried about vain anxieties of the body. Yet, as you can see below — FACE YOGA — is a thing in Japan. Which promises to be able to give someone a facelift, reduce patchy eyes, swelling etc.

One thing about 寺 Tera ヨガ Yoga is its price point — the average modern postural ヨガ class in Japan is about ¥2500–3000 or ¥16–18,000 for an unlimited monthly pass — most of the 寺ヨガ places only charge ¥1000 per class, or about ¥7000 for an unlimited, monthly pass.

坐禅の寺ヨガ【ざぜん】ZAZEN YOGA

坐禅 ヨガ is also popular. It comes in many different forms. The Zazen 坐禅 Yoga ヨガ below is a bit more visible online. I would say that the idea of temple yoga, in general, is imagined to be something more along the lines of this. That this is, in some ways, is imagined to be a more authentic form of Buddhism.

Here is some more information about this style.

While here is the price of a ‘Zazen and yoga experience’. It is ¥3000 for a class.

Another form is called日本ヨーガ 禅道院 Nihon Yoga Zen-Do-in. In case you are wondering 日本 (nihon) means Japan. ヨーガ (yōga) means ‘yoga’, while 禅道院 (zen-dō-in) basically means the “āśrama for way of meditation”. 禅 (zen) means meditation (deriving from Sanskrit dhyāna). 道 () means way, or path; and 院 (in) means temple or a kind of āśrama.This group is affiliated with Kaivalya Dharma, which is a very famous yoga institute in India.

One peculiarity that might not be apparent is the way in which yoga is spelt. Below, on the left, is close up of how how ‘yōga’ should be spelt, if one considers the lengthened vowel from Sanskrit. In the eyes of some, this spelling of ヨーガ (yōga), as opposed to ヨガ (yoga), demonstrates a basic misunderstanding of the principles of the tradition.

This, however, is not considered to be an issue by the majority of yoga consumers I have spoken to. Still, if you look at the Lava Yoga image on the right, you will notice how yoga is spelt ヨガ. This is certainly the more common way to spell yoga in Japanese.

Lava Yoga is the opposite end of the yoga industry to the 寺ヨガ found in various temples. Lava Yoga is arguably the biggest yoga business in Japan. Over the past 20 years, this style of ‘hot yoga’ has grown to more than 350 studios across the country.

Unfortunately, Lava Yoga is a women’s only yoga club. I hope to learn more through vicarious interactions with patrons and employees. But, from what I’ve heard from several seasoned yoga studio owners in Japan, ‘it spits out young, pretty yoga teachers in a week to teach “robot yoga”, but they also take on a full time role working the reception and cleaning the yoga studio as well. They don’t just teach yoga’. It seems like it could be a good experience for young women to learn several aspects of running a business. Here is a promotional video for Lava Yoga.

It seems, that many of the Lava Yoga teachers aspire to learn more, and will also attend other yoga studios, to deepen their knowledge of yoga, beyond the fitness and beauty-oriented model of Lava Yoga. Still, they can go to the temple yoga for a facelift, if they need.

As time goes by, and I get the opportunity to attend some classes, I might add more to this article.

Patrick McCartney, PhD is a JSPS Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies, Kyoto University, Japan; a Research Associate at Nanzan Anthropological Institute, Nanzan University, Japan; and a Visiting Fellow at the South and South-East Asian Studies Department, Australian National University, Australia.

Building upon an anthropological premise, Patrick’s work intersects the commodification of desire and consumption of yoga-inflected lifestyles. It explores the consumption of global yoga through the politics of imagination and the sociology of spirituality. Patrick’s current project focuses specifically on the Japanese yoga industry, which includes understanding the aspirations of Japanese yoga consumers and how modern yoga is reconstituted in unique ways into Japanese culture. You can follow this project at Yogascapes in Japan, and also find his articles and films there too.

Patrick McCartney

Unless otherwise stated, all content is licensed under: CC Attribution 4.0 International