Hot Yoga in Japan

I've never really been much of a sports person. As you may have remember my last blog, I'm extremely unfit. I never really exercised much and was never really into working out. However, as of last year, I tried my hand at yoga, and found myself really enjoying it.



Unfortunately, I was without a yoga instructor since mine returned home during COVID19, and in my small apartment, it was difficult to practice online without getting in the way of things. So I decided to join a hot yoga studio, and I want to talk briefly about the process of joining. I know that some of you have strong opinions about putting yourself and others at risk during this time... so do I, but this is not what this post is about. We can talk all day about whether its right or wrong, but barring that, I do want to talk about how that's like during this time.


(This is not an endorsement nor a sponsored post!! I am only sharing my experience joining a yoga studio here in Japan)



Joining Hot Yoga


There are a lot of yoga studios in Japan, mostly in Japanese and few in English. Most English studios don't offer just English classes anyway, so I really saw no benefit in joining a studio that offered English. Especially if its a monthly fee, I won't necessarily have time to join the ones in English. Which means no matter where I join, I will have to be ok with yoga instructions in Japanese. And in that sense, it didn't matter where I joined.


I decided to take a look at a huge chain called LAVA. They were doing a campaign in June (probably to attract new members after the state of emergency), so I decided to at least take a look at how its like even if I decide not to join.


You can sign up for a trial lesson on their website. It's a pretty easy process. You fill in your personal information, pick the location where they have a store, the lesson you are available to go to on their scheduler, and you show up.


Before the trial lesson at LAVA, they tell you that you essentially don't have to bring your mat, towel or even water. Just your yoga clothes. You can rent the mat and towel free at the trial, and they provide you a 2L bottle of water for during the lesson. I thought that was pretty nice for beginners, especially if they aren't sure if yoga is something they are into.



Signing Up


When you arrive at the studio for the lesson, your yoga instructor will guide you through the procedures and show you around their facility: locker room, yoga studio, shower room. With LAVA, at least the one (or ones) I frequent are ladies-only - so its not as clear cut where the locker room starts and ends, if any. Which is kind of nice for the ladies who are looking for ladies-only facilities.


After the lesson, the yoga instructor that you had a lesson with will walk you through further procedures if you wish to sign up and join for monthly membership. I decided to join, so I got changed (hot yoga is sooooo. much. sweat!) and sat down to chat with the yoga instructor about the plans they have.


With LAVA, they have a few levels of membership. They have a 4 lessons per month plan, and you can only visit one "main" studio (your home studio, if you will). That is their cheapest plan. Their next level is a biweekly lesson option, and you are not locked down in just one studio. The last option is there kind of free-for-all plan. You can sign up for as many lessons in a week as you like (up to two a day), and you can visit any of their chains nation-wide.


When I signed up, they were doing a campaign for the free-for-all plan - free for 3 months. This campaign is not longer available, but I thought it was a good way to test and see which "home" studio I wanted to settle on. I can switch to a "lower level" plan once the 3 months is up, but I needed to switch in a very specific time frame, or otherwise I will be charged full for the free-for-all plan. If I cancelled my membership, there would be a cancellation fee involved. The longer I have my membership, the less this will cost (which makes sense so people don't just bail immediately after the campaign).


The process was not overly long. I just had to listen to some explanation in Japanese, sign a few papers, give them my payment information and I was done in about 30 minutes. Since they already had most of your information from the online sign-up, there was less back and forth trying to extract information from me.


Overall a very painless sign up, in Japanese standards.



The Lessons


I'm just entering into my 3 month with LAVA. To be honest, because of COVID19, I really haven't been using my membership too much. I've been to a few classes in different locations, and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I did notice that the pattern of lessons are pretty similar.


On their app which you can download and log into, you can schedule lessons on it. They have different types of yoga classes at varying difficulty, but within the lessons themselves, they don't really cater to the students. It's all very generic to whatever the type/theme is.


However, if you struggle with Japanese, this might be a plus. Since most instructors do their lessons in a strict format, you can easily memorize the lesson flow. You don't really need Japanese to follow through the lesson. In the beginning of course, if you struggle, you will probably have to watch what your neighbour or instructor is doing (which could be awkward depending on what position you do... haha). But otherwise, I think it's a good way to get moving and exercise. Especially if you're like me and need a bit of "group motivation"... if you will.


All lessons are one hour.


Some lessons have a 10 minutes pre-lesson or after lesson "tutorial/feedback" session, if you will. You can join/stay behind and learn some yoga basics, or get feedback on posture - whatever your instructor decides to do.



COVID19 and the Studio


Again, like I said, I'm not here to debate whether or not I should be doing yoga in a "public" space. However, I would like to share what my experience has been during this time with this particular yoga studio.


Upon entering, everyone needed to do a temperature check and sanitize their hands. The sanitizer they use seem to be the hypochlorous acid kind, which I have my doubts about... but I personally always wash my hands no matter what I touch at the studio. They give every studio-goer a bottle of this acid water to spray their locker, and to use during the lesson.


Since studio goers all have to check in, they have recently simplified the check-in with their app. All you have to do after the temperature check is to scan your membership ID from your phone. This eliminates the use of the membership card.


The studios themselves... At my initial "home" studio, the studio itself was rather small and catered to residential crowd. It had one studio. That said, this means they cannot run a lot of classes here. And the classes they had, they tried to fit as many people into the studio as they could. You were still able to keep an arm's length away from the people around you, but I didn't feel safe at that studio. Even though the floor is marked to tell studio goers where to put their mats, it's clear that people there were not following the rules. And the instructors were not enforcing it. So I chose to try a different studio.


The studio I frequent now has two smaller studio rooms. Of all the times I've been so far, only once has there been more than 10 people in the studio (it can easy fit 20, I think). The floor is very clearly marked to tell studio goers where to put their mats to give people space, and the instructors seem to be pretty good at enforcing this.


Air ventilation. To be honest... it's one of my main concerns as this was hot yoga. It means that air flow will be restricted in order to keep the room warm. Instructors at my current locations try to air out the room more now. Which means the hot in hot yoga isn't exactly true, but a sacrifice probably every yogi at the studio is willing to make during this time.


Masks are optional for all yogis except the instructor. Another reason why I have not been going too often to these lessons.


Since the cases have been on the rise recently, I try to pick a time on weekend mornings when probably most people don't go.


And that's about it. I hope you all keep safe, and while things are still risky with COVID19, try to be kind to people. And be kind to yourself! See you all next blog. :)

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