A special yoga retreat sponsored by the Center for Buddhist Education at the BCA’s Jodo Shinshu Center (JSC) in Berkeley, California, was a big hit with the participants.
With yoga mats and water bottles, 30 men and women gathered during the weekend of June 9-11 for the retreat, which was conducted by JSC Facilities Manager Bob Matsueda, a licensed yoga therapist and teacher with the government of India.
Recurring themes were Matsueda’s emphasis on yoga for health at any age and physical condition, and how Shakyamuni Buddha practiced yoga as a means to attain enlightenment.
“Simple instructions were introduced, such as why we pay attention to our breath, and were offered in a concise and gentle way,” said Judy Nakatomi of the Vista Buddhist Temple. “Remembering that subtle body movements with breath are deeply beneficial to body, mind, spirit, and that restorative yoga supports healthy and full well-being.
“I’ve been a student of yoga for over 25 years and have attended a wide array of yoga classes, studios, teachers, and training,” Nakatomi continued. “The retreat weekend was the most comprehensive yoga workshop or training I’ve had the privilege to attend, including that of yoga teacher training.”
Many participants were familiar with each other only via the weekly online Zoom yoga group sessions that Matsueda had been offering on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings, so it was a treat to meet in person after more than two years of yoga on Zoom.
Participants enjoyed gentle yoga sessions, a VIP lineup of speakers, vegetarian meals prepared by chef Alan Hirahara and Rev. Michael Endo, massage therapy, and a traditional Indian dance performance.
The workshop began the afternoon of June 9, followed by a welcome address by BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada, who led Nembutsu chanting every morning before the yoga practice, and who himself was one of the weekend yoga students.
Rev. Hitomi Kuwahara, who works in the BCA Development Office and is also an ordained Buddhist minister and yoga instructor, shared the English translation of her book “Nantonaku Wakaru Yoga,” which simplifies the complex precepts and philosophies of the yoga lifestyle.
Each morning began with a 6:30 a.m. gentle yoga session, led by Matsueda, focusing on the importance of deep breathing, gentle stretching, and mobility and flexibility.
On June 10, participants heard from Rev. Patti Oshita of the Sacramento Betsuin and Rick Kawamura, who coordinates the online Saturday yoga sessions for the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple. They shared advice about how yoga and other programs can help grow Sangha membership at temples.
After lunch, Matsueda led the group through Yoga Nidra, which is restorative and relaxation yoga. Despite his instruction to use the time to enter a deep, relaxing, meditative state, some participants became so relaxed that the sounds of snoring were heard.
Rev. Bob Oshita clarified the many connections between yoga and Buddhism during his talk, showing examples of many Buddhist religious objects that have ancient linkages to yoga. He spoke about how impermanence, interdependence, wisdom, and compassion are in many ways similar to yoga philosophy.
Afternoon activities included the opportunity to purchase art and jewelry from Noreen Fukumori, Dana Kawano, and Julie Tsuchiya, and books by Rev. Harada, Rev. Jerry Hirano, and Rev. Bob and Patti Oshita at the bookstore.
After a vegetarian dinner, the participants were treated to a performance by the Labonee & LAIA Dance Company, a troupe that practices traditional Indian dance.
After the final 6:30 a.m. yoga session and breakfast on June 11, the participants returned home to share their newfound knowledge with their own Sanghas. The temples and churches included: Vista, Senshin, Fowler, Sacramento, San Jose, San Mateo, San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Berkeley.
Everyone left the JSC with a greater understanding of a yoga lifestyle, its spiritual similarity to Buddhism, and new friends. But most of all, they were grateful to Rev. Harada, CBE Director Rev. Jerry Hirano, CBE Program Coordinator Judy Kono, and CBE Youth Coordinator Koichi Mizushima.
A special note of gratitude goes to the JSC staff and volunteers headed by Kono and including: Pam Matsuoka, Maya Lawrence, Susan Gabriel, Hiroto Kuwahara, Eight Kuwahara, Rev. Landon Yamaoka, Pat Takeda, Yuki Otake, Emi Nakao, Sam Sunada, and Ray Liu.
“Through practice with fellow yoga followers, meditation, speakers, vegetarian meals, I gained a better awareness of yoga as not just a form of exercise, but a means to better health, mindfulness, and lifestyle,” Mari Nakamura said. “It was amazing to physically and spiritually experience the powerful resonance of the group chanting ‘aum,” very different from what one experiences in solo practice. I learned about the interconnectedness of yoga and Buddhism.
“It was truly a transformative weekend experience and I hope there may be future opportunities for yoga retreats at JSC,” she said.