Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Japanese Yoga

The primary and most vital area of study at the Sennin Foundation Center for Japanese Cultural Arts is the practice of Japanese yoga (Shin-shin-toitsu-do). This art, inspired by the teachings of Nakamura Tempu Sensei, includes stretching exercises, seated meditation, moving meditation, breathing exercises, healing arts, and health improvement methods. The goal of these techniques is the realization of one's full potential in everyday life through the unification of mind and body.

In Japan, a number of time-honored everyday activities (such as making tea, arranging flowers, painting, and writing) have traditionally been examined deeply by their proponents. Students study how to make tea, perform martial arts, or write with a brush in the most skillful way possible--namely, to express themselves with maximum efficiency and minimum strain.

Through this efficient, adroit, and creative performance, they arrive at art. But if they continue to delve even more deeply into their art, they discover principles that are truly universal, principles relating to life itself. Then, the art of brush writing becomes shodo--the "way of the brush"--while the art of arranging flowers is elevated to the status of kado--the "way of flowers." Through these "ways" or "do" forms ("tao" in Chinese), the Japanese have sought to realize the way of living itself. They have approached the universal through the particular.

Yet grasping the ultimate nature of life--the principles and way of the Universe--is seemingly a large-scale undertaking. (The Universe is infinite after all.) For this reason, it isn't difficult to understand the traditional emphasis on approaching the universal via a profound, ongoing examination of a particular way. Still, we must wonder if it isn't possible to discover the essence of living, and universal principles relating to all aspects of life, directly?

In 1919, Nakamura Tempu Sensei, upon returning from studying yoga in India, began to share with others principles and exercises that he felt were universal and not dependent on a particular art; that is, concepts relating to all activities and all people regardless of age, sex, or race. Methods that have observable and repeatable results, along with principles and exercises that can withstand objective scrutiny, were of primary importance to him.

These concepts and techniques were created to encourage humanity to see into its true nature . . . to realize that life is art. And just as a sculptor or painter can shape clay or brushed images into their own vision of beauty, we can shape our lives. But, just as an artist needs certain qualities to create a painting or a piece of music, we also have the same needs.

No art takes place without inspiration. Every artist needs an effective knowledge of his or her tools. (Does a certain brush function well with a particular kind of paint, etc.?) What's more, an effective technique for using your tools is indispensable. Likewise, to express ourselves skillfully, with maximum efficiency and minimum effort, we also need to investigate the most effective ways of using our minds and bodies . . . since our minds and bodies are, in the end, the only tools we truly possess in life.

Nakamura Sensei wrote that upon examining what we see taking place in daily life, it becomes clear that people need certain qualities to adeptly express themselves in living:

Tai-ryoku: "the power of the body," physical strength, health, and endurance
Tan-ryoku: "the power of courage"Handan-ryoku: "the power of decision," good judgment
Danko-ryoku: "the power of determination," willpower for resolute and decisive action
Sei-ryoku: "the power of vitality," energy or life power for endurance and perseverance
No-ryoku: "the power of ability," the capacity for wide-ranging ability and dexterous action

Yet most importantly, he came to realize that as the mind and body represent our most fundamental tools, if we are to artistically express ourselves in life, we must be able to use these tools naturally, effectively, and in coordination with each other. It is this ability to effectively use and unite our minds and bodies--the most basic parts of us--that allows for freedom of action and skilled self-expression.

It is common knowledge that the mind moves and controls each part of the body. Of course, in the instance of the lungs and various internal organs, this regulation is being exerted unconsciously through the autonomic nervous system. In essence, the mind directs the body, with the body ultimately reflecting one's mental state. Through the medium of the autonomic nervous system, the mind and body remain unified, and it is essential to realize this if one is to learn any activity, including Japanese yoga, effectively. However, because of the relationship between the mind and the body, the mind can positively or negatively influence the built-in mind-body connection. (When this tie is weak, one may observe a Japanese yoga exercise demonstrated by a teacher, or in a book, fully comprehend it mentally or intellectually, and still fail to physically respond in the proper manner.)

Realizing the relationship between the mind and body, Nakamura Sensei envisioned his basic principles as being a means by which people could discover for themselves how to coordinate their two most basic tools in life, and additionally, learn how to "regulate and strengthen their autonomic nervous systems." Using his background in Western medicine (he obtained a medical degree while studying in the USA), Nakamura Tempu Sensei conducted biological research dealing with the human nervous system, and the unification of mind and body, to accomplish this goal. The result was his Four Basic Principles to Unify Mind and Body:

Four Basic Principles to Unify Mind and Body
1. Use the mind positively.

2. Use the mind with full concentration.
3. Use the body obeying the laws of Nature.
4. Train the body progressively, systematically, and regularly.

The Four Basic Principles to Unify Mind and Body are the broad means by which Nakamura Sensei aimed to aid people in uncovering for themselves their true potential and freedom of expression in life. They are a way of discovering that life can be lived as art. At the same time, he realized that by training in exercises based on these concepts, men, women, and children had an opportunity to cultivate the previously mentioned six qualities and other important character traits.

H. E. Davey Sensei, Director of the Sennin Foundation Center for Japanese Cultural Arts, is believed to be the sole American member of the Tempu Society. He has studied under several of Nakamura Sensei's top students, including Sawai Atsuhiro Sensei and Hashimoto Tetsuichi Sensei, who act as special advisors to the Sennin Foundation Center and the Sennin Foundation, Inc.

Hashimoto Sensei has practiced Japanese yoga for over 40 years, and in 1994, he wrote:

"H. E. Davey has shown great diligence in his study of the Shin-shin-toitsu-do method of Japanese yoga. As an expert in the arts of Japan, particularly classical brush writing and the martial arts, he has thoroughly researched the relationship of Shin-shin-toitsu-do to these skills."

He also commended Davey Sensei for his attainments and indicated his wish to "fully endorse him as an educator." In 2001, Stone Bridge Press published Davey Sensei's book Japanese Yoga: The Way of Dynamic Meditation. It is now out of print, but new and signed copies can still be purchased from the Sennin Foundation Center for Japanese Cultural Arts. To get your own autographed copy, go here: