Kneeling on my shins as I press my hands between my breasts, I’m trying in vain to find the “sweet spot” my teacher says is definitely there. “It’ll feel like a bruise,” Lyn Keogh instructs the class, of the heart constrictor meridian.
Just as I’m beginning to think that: a) she’s wrong, or b) I don’t have one; there it is, a sore spot tucked in the depths of my front rib cage. Following her instructions, I begin alternately stretching my arms out and pressing the heart constrictor point, aiming to energise it to allow my chest to open.
“You’ll feel the tingling down into the meridians of your fingers,” says Keogh. She’s right again, I do. It’s not the only thing different going on in a Ryoho yoga class. It’s 20 minutes before we strike a traditional hatha pose, Downward-Facing Dog, and I am back within my comfort zone. But within minutes we’re moving between Down Dog and Upward-Facing Dog, at pace. My arms are feeling it, but just as I feel I’ve had enough, Keogh steps things up.
“Ten more!” she says. “Up, down, up, down,” leaving me puffing on the floor like a novice. I may know what I’m doing in hatha, but this is all new. Weak points give me away in a Baddha Konasana-style pelvic lift; my wrists protest as they get a much needed stretch near the end of the class; and I’m delighted when Janu Sirsasana makes an appearance so I feel less like a novice. Here, every posture is used to benefit the functioning of the organs by tapping into a meridian (rather than the nadis, or energy lines, spoken of in hatha). It’s yoga, but not as I know it, but for many that’s the attraction.
Ryoho Yoga Explained
Ryoho was certainly the therapy that Lisa Telford needed. “I was completely stressed [and] weighing over 110 kilos. I ended up at Ryoho yoga and felt so different. After eight months I chucked in my corporate job and started training [as a teacher],” says the owner of Yoga for the Seasons.
“We work with organ functions and harmonising the meridians.”
Although Ryoho is taught as a type of therapy, Telford believes the word “therapy” scares people. “Ryoho is aligned with shiatsu. We work with organ functions and harmonising the meridians,” she says.
The original roots of the style come from Korean Masahiro Oki. “He did lots of non-yoga related things, but ended up in an ashram studying with Gandhi. He saw what could be done with the energy of the body, and went back to Japan and put it together,” says Telford.
Ryoho was developed by Australian-based Andrzej Gospodarczyk, who created the style in the 1980s (Ryoho means “appropriate”) after studying with Oki in Japan. “Oki was quite severe; our training [Ryoho] was more appropriate to modern society, [and it] still used shiatsu’s understanding of energy,” says Telford.
Today, while Oki is also taught in some European countries (as well as Japan), Ryoho is only taught in Australia. However, if you have trouble finding a Ryoho class, Google more broadly. Gospodarczyk has chosen not to further accredit the style, so teachers will often call this “Japanese yoga”, “meridian-based yoga” or even “therapy yoga”. Ki and Oki are related styles, so you might want to give those a try, too.
What To Expect In Class
Classes are tuned to the seasons, the five elements and the meridians. “It’s hatha yoga-based, but with a combination of oriental therapies,” says Telford. “Meridians run throughout the body and gather the energy systems. It’s holistic,” she adds.
In spring, expect a lot of twisting, “it’s the season of the wood element, with a focus on the liver and gall bladder,” she says, acknowledging that asanas are not the only part of Ryoho practice hatha practitioners might find different. “We don’t use pranayama as such, but there’s a lot of breath [work]. We breathe out as we move, it’s the reverse of most yoga. It’s a strengthening and contracting breath… it generally takes three classes to get used to,” says Telford.
“It keeps me present, moving and in my body. I love this stuff.”The tailoring of a Ryoho class means that the practice won’t only change with the seasons, but also with what’s happening with your body. At The Yoga House, where I take my class, sessions are run grouped by conditions (such as digestion) or areas of interest (such as women’s health).
“We get massive changes. Our pregnancy rate booms for a start; there are people who’ve failed [with] IVF who’ve come here,” says Lisa Masters, who co-owns the studio with Keogh. She’s found Ryoho helps students with everything from chronic back problems to vertigo. “All the things doctors say are too hard to fix,” she says.
For Telford, who has tried hatha, vinyasa and ashtanga, there’s no doubting she’s found her practice in Ryoho. “I do it when my back’s out, I [use Ryoho] to put it in. If I feel a bit flat, I work on my lungs. It keeps me present, moving and in my body. I love this stuff,” she says.
Sue White is a Sydney-based freelance writer and long-time hatha yoga practitioner.