A Yogi in Japan – a travel diary

As a Yoga teacher I’ve spent the last five years travelling around the world, from one mountain town to the next, hunting out powder and new adventures. If you’d asked me how I’d most like to combine my passion for teaching yoga with my love of snowboarding, I couldn’t have dreamt this up. Yet there I was in January 2020, waiting for the first of three flights taking me to Japan, and pinching myself to check I wasn’t dreaming.

A few months earlier I’d received a phone call from Winter Olympic medalist Jenny Jones, asking if I’d like to be the team Yoga teacher on one of her trips. Jenny’s multi-day workshops take place in top resorts around the world, the one she’d asked me to join would combine classic deep powder snowboarding with “apres-Yoga”, a good dose of sake and of course the legendary onsens (Japanese hot springs, dreamy!). Jenny is a strong advocate of yoga, using it regularly as a tool to aid her riding. I was excited to be working in tandem with someone already so familiar with the benefits of taking the time to stretch and strengthen after a day of riding. Living in Morzine I practice this philosophy first hand, and have seen so many students reap the rewards of a regular Yoga practice to enhance their mountain pursuits. Not only physically, but being able to close down your senses to everything else and focus entirely on the moment, allows you to enter a different state of being. Getting there when you’re in powder? It’s like floating on air.

6am. In a haze of jet lag and sheer excitement, I stumbled out of bed, into my thermals and complimentary slippers (underrated!) and went on the hunt for food. Today was our first day riding Japow! Our guide, Neil Mcnair, of Mcnair Shirts (if you haven’t checked them out, you probably should), has been guiding as long as I’ve been walking. Our boards were waxed, gear ready and whilst I could have grazed my way through the entire breakfast buffet, the mountain was calling.

“Suddenly being reminded we were riding a volcano, it hit me – I’m in freaking Japan!”

As we walked directly on to snow from the hotel, I realised how awesome ski in/ski out is. Having not been on a ‘winter holiday’ in so many years, this felt like absolute luxury. Wearing approximately 20 layers to combat the sub-zero temperatures, we jumped on our first lift and headed up the mountain. The team were absolutely frothing to ride with Jen, and who wouldn’t be? Our GB Winter Olympic medalist casually riding in Japan with you – it’s not an experience you’ll forget!

Day after day the snow gods answered us and we were swimming in that dreamy Japow. I’ve ridden mountains from NZ to Canada, but one thing I’d never experienced before was getting bamboo whips while navigating through trees. After quickly adjusting to the terrain, the stoke was high. With Jenny and Neil leading the way, transceivers were on as we headed out of the gates, and into gullies of deep powder. Suddenly being reminded we were riding a volcano, it hit me – I’m in freaking Japan!

Coming off the mountain, high from our first big powder day, I welcomed the weary-bodied riders onto their mats and we dropped into our post-snowboard yoga session. Some of the group were regular yogis whilst others had never practiced Yoga before, so I felt unbelievably lucky to introduce them to the practice in this setting. It was inspiring to see people of all levels embrace the balance that Yoga can bring to snowboarding. The next morning I was greeted by notions of thanks (and disbelief) at how their bodies didn’t feel the aches and pains normally associated with big days of riding, instead feeling limber and ready to get back out there! Awesome.

Each day seemed better than the last and with snow coming in throughout the week, tracks were continuously filled, leaving us oodles of snow to play in. The vending machine coffee stops became little havens of warmth, accompanying you on your next lift along with salutations of “Arigatou gozaimasu” from the lifties. When there’s powder to be had, there’s no time to stop. Some mornings we’d jump in the van, drive around the base of the volcano to avoid queues and start at the next resort over. Exploring this endless playground was addictive. Every time Neil took us to a new secret spot, heading off into the unknown with shouts of “take your own line, meet me at the bottom,” followed by Jen’s whoops and hollers, you knew it was going to be rad.

“A shift in mindset on the mat can translate into a change in attitude on the mountain”

There were also moments when you saw fear creep in as we hiked into unknown territory, approaching big open faces, or tight trees. I knew that I’d pour this into the evening Yoga session, encouraging the group to open up to their fears, whether through inversions and more challenging poses, or visualisation exercises. A shift in mindset on the mat can translate into a change in attitude on the mountain. Being in the right mindset for riding into deep powder can make or break your experience, and I wanted everyone’s riding to be oozing with confidence. Overcoming fear on the mountain is huge, if you let it hold you back, you’ll never reach the best pockets of powder, or feel that sense of embodied flow.

The onsens were the unsung highlight of the trip. After a day of powder, stripping down to nothing together really brings a sense of comradery to the crew! Whilst male and female onsens are usually separated, the mixed outdoor onsen we found one day was suitably hilarious. Girls were given pink dresses to wear (oh yes), and men a modesty towel the size of a yoga block. It wasn’t long before the challenge was set to roll around in the snow butt naked and jump back in!

Yoga brought us so much on this trip, not only the release of physical tension held in the body, but also the space to process everything. Truly a once in a lifetime trip to a far flung country, snowboarding down volcanos, apres-yoging, team bathing, sake drinking, goodness, led by incredible people within the field of snowboarding (who it turns out are relatively normal but happen to rip real hard) and all shared with an awesome crew.

And all of this in the name of work… It’s not a bad life!

With the views of Mount Yotei etched in my mind, I left Japan exhausted, but filled with stoke, gratitude and incredible memories. Yotei will have to wait until next time – and there will be a next time – but for now, I’ll be here hanging out in my little corner of the Alps.

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