Barefoot Body guest tutor, Aki Omori, tells us how her yoga practice has evolved, what she's learned from savasana, why honesty and kindness are the key to living, and her secret mince pie eating habit.
Aki is an explorer of movements and the living body-mind. Having practiced and taught several yoga styles over 30 years, she now mainly teaches a slow, mindful vinyasa style of yoga that is informed by her knowledge of somatic practices.
Aki’s classes are known for their explorative nature and are fun and light yet profound. She encourages her students to practice active inquiry as a means to find a path that is honest and true to themselves.
Aki is also a registered somatic movement therapist, a developmental / relational trauma therapist, and a guest tutor for Barefoot Body specialising in embodied anatomy, developmental movement, embryology and restorative yoga.
How did yoga find you?
Back in 1987, I met a man who said “do you wanna do yoga?” And I said “Yes, OK, sure” without knowing anything about yoga (not many people practiced yoga during 80’s).
So I met up with him a few days later and had an Ashtanga session. I found it very hard work!! I only found out later that he was an internationally well known teacher.
I didn't have follow-on sessions with him but a few years later, I started to attend some classes here and there including Iyengar, Sivananda. And around mid 90’s, I started practicing every day.
How would you describe your yoga practice and how has it evolved over the years?
Oh, it has changed so much over decades. And still going.
When I realised that yoga was a spiritual practice through the body, I got really hooked. Asanas in those times were simple and slow with a lot of holding and breathing, being with sensations. It was beneficial to me.
Then I met a teacher called Clive Sheridan who taught a stronger asana practice (closer to Ashtanga style) with tons of pranayama and meditation, and powerful advaita / non-dual / tantra teachings. I also had a very good Iyengar teacher called Glenn Ceresoli and did a lot of practice with him too. So my asana teaching was much stronger back then.
In the meantime, I went to train with Erich Schiffmann in LA whose book I was influenced by. Dedicated to Scaravelli approach and practiced that with John Stirk for seven years. I also became interested in Somatic Movement and Donna Farhi was my first teacher who showed me her way of integrating Body-Mind Centering® with yoga.
So at this point, I was spending weeks on intense yoga retreats each year with Clive, practising with Glenn on many intensive trainings and retreats, attending an ashtanga class, an Iyengar class, a Scaravelli class, a movement / contact improvisation classes every week back at home, reading and experimenting with BMC materials, Feldenkrais etc and forming my own style of practice and teaching. I am still doing that.
My classes are explorative in nature and change from week to week, year to year. Largely, it is a slow vinyasa style - gentle yet strong with plenty of developmental movement influences and experiential anatomy integrated in.
Along the way, I also trained in structural yoga therapy and I learnt restorative yoga with Donna, Judith Lasater and another BMC influenced teacher from the US. and have been teaching restorative for more than a decade.
On top of that, I needed to explore various forms of therapeutic work, including talking therapy, somatic movement therapy and developmental trauma therapy and I am now a trauma therapist and a BMC teacher too. And all of this reflects in what I do on the daily basis.
What’s the most valuable lesson yoga has taught you?
Through savasana, yoga has showed me how to let go of thinking for the first time in my life and it changed something in me.
Community - friends to share practice and life with is important.
Yoga was also probably the first thing that taught me about myself and the universe from the body and observing of my own mind - it has given me a basis to go on exploring life and also founded a basis for my work as a therapist.
Who or what are the most inspiring influences in your life?
Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. My friends and colleagues. Sky - whenever I look up.Trees and rivers and lakes. London parks.
What’s your philosophy for living?
Very simple. To strive for honesty and kindness through whatever means available and useful.
It takes strength, courage and cultivation of wisdom to face things and know oneself. So we can live as a whole person with ease and a sense of empowerment. It is a life-long quest, and although it's simple, the process itself can be very messy. That’s how it is.
Tell us something about you that we wouldn’t know...
I only eat the outside of a mince pie and leave the mince… it's bad manners, I know.
If you could recommend one yoga-related book or resource for the Barefoot Body community, what would it be?
Yoga: Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann, one of my teachers from the past.
Sensing, Feeling and Action by Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen. It's a good life long read!
Also there are some good books about trauma, which can be helpful for those who come to yoga for self healing. These broaden your perspective and enable you to use yoga more effectively and appropriately.
What are we not talking about enough in the yoga community?
This might depend on each individual community and its culture. It's good for all communities to be able to learn to communicate with one another. This comes down to my earlier comment about honesty, kindness and healthy boundaries.
Yoga alone doesn't necessarily teach such boundaries. So it is a real “human” endeavour for each person to learn to listen and express and find ways to remain connected with one another as a community.
Since the rise of social media, it appears that everything is talked about by somebody somewhere. I tend to stay away from discussions on social media as I find it draining. While it can be a wonderful space to be able to exchange, in many cases, it can also cause major misunderstanding which cannot easily be solved because we're not face to face. Or views might not be as balanced due to the influence of a dominant person in the circle.
"Now and again, it is necessary to seclude yourself among deep mountains and hidden valleys to restore your link to the source of life. Breathe in and let yourself soar to the ends of the universe; breathe out and bring the cosmos back inside. Next, breathe up all fecundity and vibrancy of the earth. Finally, blend the breath of heaven and the breath of earth with your own, becoming the Breath of Life itself" - Morihei Ueshiba
Aki is a Barefoot Body guest tutor and will be running an upcoming three-day course on Embryology, Movement & Enquiry in February 2020.