Yoga Time with "Butthole Sensei": Cheap Tokyo Yoga Classes at Community Gyms

Selena Hoy

tokyo yoga class in tatami roomHeyyy all my Tokyo yogis (Tokyogis? No? OK, we’ll let that one go). Do you like to stretch it out but balk at the price of all the schmancy studios around town? Sure, you can always downward-dog it up in your bedroom or practice tree pose in a park on your lonesome, but as for me, I need a bit more of a kick in the pants to put on my yoga pants.

Enter my local city gym. “Cow pose!” the instructor calls. “Ok, now point your butthole at the floor as you move into cat pose.” I unsuccessfully try to stifle a snort and glance around surreptitiously, but no one else seems amused. Butthole sensei takes us through a few more cycles.

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My yoga class is held in a large classroom with padded tatami-like flooring, and the class regularly hosts around 70 students, all attracted to the gentle lesson and the bargain price. It costs 400 yen to attend a class here: 300 yen for using the gym and 100 yen for the supplementary lesson fee. There are no designer workout clothes here, just a lot of folks who are interested in keeping limber and working out the kinks.

Butthole sensei is graceful and strong, with a low, soothing voice. Even though my Japanese is decent, I still learn new words and poses every time I go to class. When I first started doing yoga and Pilates in Japan, I learned a lot of body vocabulary and movement verbs. It’s thanks to this practice that I know how to say “pelvis” (こつばん), “breathe in” (いきをすって), and “point your butthole at the floor” (おしりのあなは、ゆかにむけてください).” After doing a few more strenuous floor exercises, Butthole sensei directs us to do “cockroach” (ごきぶり)pose, lying on our backs and shaking our hands and feet in the air.

Yoga is offered at my city’s gym a few times a week. A few minutes ahead of the start time, I arrive and put my 400 yen in the ticket machine. Classes at my gym are drop-in: no sign up is required, and no ID is checked (policies vary at each facility, and some do charge a slightly higher fee to those who do not live or work in the area). I go down to the classroom, remove my shoes, and hand the tickets to the person at the door. No one brings a mat to class; the spongy tatami-esque flooring is soft enough, and after class the whole class pitches in to dry mop the area. Gym towels and water bottles, however, are common.

Butthole sensei plays calming music from a boom box in the front of the classroom. Sometimes it’s Enya, sometimes classical. Once it was an ethereal Christian music CD, though I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who understood what was happening in the lyrics. As the music plays, she goes around the room doing corrections, and saying a few encouraging words. The students in my class range from their 20s to 70s and even older, but most tend toward their 40s to 60s.

Photo by Mel used under CC

In Tokyo yoga classes are also offered at a variety of city gyms. If yoga isn’t your thing, you may like aerobics, kickboxing, or jazz dance.

After a nice relaxing savasana, Butthole sensei has us shake out and wake up our limbs using “tantrum pose,” then sweetly sends us on our way. Best 400 yen I’ve spent all week.

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Below are a few municipal gyms that offer low-cost yoga classes, but be sure to check with your local gym for their offerings and procedures too.

Machida City, Tokyo:

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Minato Ward, Tokyo:

Ota Ward, Tokyo:

Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo:

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