This article originally featured in the October 2020 issue of Connect.

by Multiple Contributors

How People are Keeping Fit Through the Pandemic

Kayla Francis (Tokyo)

With the coronavirus lurking worldwide, now has never been a better time to focus on our health. However, as gyms, classes and most physical activities are difficult to socially distance within, it can be very challenging knowing what to do. That’s why we at CONNECT have compiled a list of suggestions from people living across Japan on what has helped them stay fit at home. Hopefully, this will help you too!


Erasing Borders Through Online Yoga

Katie Ehrlich (Tokyo)

When the whole world went into emergency quarantine periods around March and April because of the coronavirus, like many others I turned to my online community on support with maintaining my lifestyle as normally as possible. At that moment I wondered if it would be possible to see my old yoga instructor, Jenny Linares from Armonia Studio (Instagram: @jennylinaresyoga and from when I lived in Peru because she was the best teacher I ever had. I was so sad to lose her when I moved away.

I am so grateful that from the grace of her huge heart she offered free online yoga lessons three times a week at a time I could attend, even with the time difference from across the world.

The reason why she resonates with me as a teacher since I began learning at her studio in 2019 is that she makes a clear mind and body connection. Her classes always begin with a mindfulness meditation where we focus on where we are emotionally and physically at that moment, followed by an opportunity to focus on a mental health goal we wish to achieve. She would always talk us through her own mental struggles and the emotions she was going through at the time as well. It was so incredibly helpful to feel that common struggle together with her and my classmates.

Some of the words she has said to me that stand out the most were that we will always be put in uncomfortable situations, and we need to face and accept them; we need to find comfort even in discomfort. These words usually come to my mind when I am in those kinds of situations. She always showed that she cared deeply her students, and was even one of the first people to wish me a “happy birthday” when I turned 30, taking her yoga class in the morning in my house. She was such a crucial component of my mental health during that time, and I am forever thankful to her.

Katie is a Tokyo Metropolitan public school JET from Colorado, USA. She is a language-learner, hiker, biker, Tokyo tiny kitchen chef, and artist.


YouTube workouts: Chloe Ting, Fitness Blender and Boho Beautiful

Elsie Tay (Hokkaido)

Living in Hokkaido means you’ll be frost-bound for nearly half a year, and I quickly had to adapt to working out at home. One of the most important things to arm yourself with for home workouts is definitely a good yoga mat. If you’re on a budget, filling empty bottles with water also makes for a good alternative to weights!

Being someone who gets distracted easily, I find that playing a YouTube fitness video is a good way to keep me focused on a workout. Some of my favourite channels are Chloe Ting and Fitness Blender, as they offer a wide variety of workouts that range from quick, beginner exercises to HIITs (High intensity interval training) and even hour-long sessions. With such an extensive list, you’ll be able to find something that suits your needs. If you live in a creaky, rickety building like me, or have past injuries, there are even low impact or no jumping workouts available on YouTube. Just make a quick search!

Don’t forget about stretching exercises, as they can greatly help to improve your posture, relieve body aches, and reduce the risk of injury. A yoga channel I recommend is Boho Beautiful. Their videos are wonderfully produced, with clear verbal instructions and demonstrations of yoga postures, and are often filmed against stunning natural backdrops. Other than yoga, you can also take your pick from their videos on pilates, meditation and even vegan recipes. With a strong focus on positivity, the calming and inspirational effect from doing their workouts can do wonders to your body and mind. They’re perfect for kick-starting the day with or sweating out to after a long day of work.

Working out at home has its own perks too. It’s cost-efficient, time-saving, and water is available anytime you need it.

As the tagline for Boho Beautiful says, “Your decisions today will define your tomorrow.” Get working on it today!

Elsie Tay is a second-year ALT who hails from the Little Red Dot. She is currently sandwiched within the beautiful mountains, rivers and scenery of Hokkaido and loving it. When not figuring out the intricacies of the English language with her students, she writes and draws in her free time. She is also a herbivore that’s always on the lookout for plant-based meals. Do follow the HAJET Polestar magazine for more Hokkaido adventures.


Podcasts and Pilates: My Quarantine Routine

Samantha Harris (Tokushima)

The gym used to be my first stop after work, but that changed when I moved to Japan. I don’t have any particular reason for stopping beyond being too lazy and cheap to go through the process of signing up for a gym in a foreign country. Ironically enough, that laziness prepared me to overcome the Netflix-and-futon temptations of the “Stay Home” era by forcing me to figure out how to keep up a fitness regime in a Japanese apartment.

I invested in a yoga mat and a few free weights (purchased at Hard-Off—check out their sports section for some decent discounted gear) and dove deep into the sea of free workout routines offered via YouTube. It’s easy to get lost out there amidst the wanna-be influencers and sponsored swole bros. I’ve found two channels that I stick to: one for physical workouts, and one for mental wellbeing.

Blogilaties—which, you may have guessed, is a pilates channel—has gotten me through three apartments all while improving my balance, flexibility, and strength with fun and easy to follow exercises. There’s a great mix of beginner and advanced workouts on her channel. I’m a big fan of putting on a podcast and working through her monthly calendars.

Yoga with Adriene is more than just another yoga channel. The instructor is funny, down to earth, and, as corny as it sounds, genuinely feels like a friend. If you’ve wanted to give yoga a shot but are worried about it being too “woo-woo” or forcing you into a pretzel shape, seriously check out her channel.

One word of warning, though: if your workout space has shoji screens, be extra careful during your downward-facing dogs.

Samantha Harris hails from the tiny mountain town of Boone, North Carolina in the United States. She has been living and working as a highschool ALT in Ishii, Tokushima since 2018. When not teaching, she is either writing, wandering around her beautiful inaka prefecture, or playing Animal Crossing.


How one semi-inaka JET stays active

Madeline Yochum (Kyoto)

My go-to hobby for the greater part of this past year has been fitness. Although I prefer a gym membership, I decided to opt-out of joining a nearby club and created my at-home fitness routine. Although living in a one-room studio has its challenges, I’ve been able to create a workable space.

I practice yoga regularly, but high-intensity workouts and interval training videos are what helps me stay motivated. Some of my favorite certified trainers with free videos on YouTube are Millionaire Hoy, Fitness Blender, and Laruga Yoga.

Millionaire Hoy has a variety of high intensity, interval training videos that are great for those who’ve been working out for a while, as well as beginners. He works out with you in real-time and provides easier modifications on screen. I dare you to complete his 1000-calorie burn challenge without breaks.

The Fitness Blender channel is a married duo of certified personal trainers that publish interval training videos with a soft voice over. I like their videos because they’re calm and simple, but motivating.

Laruga Yoga is an ashtanga yoga instructor that has free full videos of the ashtanga half primary series, full series, along with tutorials on pose variations.

I like these three online trainers because they are all certified within their genre of fitness and have years of experience. Their taglines are not gimmicky and they keep me motivated in different ways to stay active.

Additionally, I am into pole dancing. I was heartbroken when I had to leave my pole in America, but I was able to order one of similar quality online and install it safely in my studio.

Because I lack space, I rarely do spinning tricks on the pole, but I practice my static climbs, along with doing some flexibility training and other strength-training exercises.

Here is a rundown of my home studio gym:

  1. Pole
  2. Yoga mat, blocks, strap
  3. Cloth resistance bands
  4. Light dumbbells

Before joining the Kyoto prefecture as a high school AET, Madeline worked as a barista and bartender. You can typically spot her taking long bike rides and buying conbini beverages in Kameoka.

Photo: Madeline Yochum (Kyoto)