Why Aya Itakura, remedial massage therapist and yoga teacher, is also a confirmed Pilates enthusiast

An interview with Aya Itakura

Meredith Brooks, PAA Treasurer, recently interviewed one of her clients, Aya Itakura, to discover why despite already being a successful remedial massage therapist and yoga teacher, she’s also become a firm Pilates enthusiast.

How would you introduce yourself?

I’m a bilingual yoga teacher (English and Japanese) and a remedial massage therapist.

Most of my students are multilingual and come from other cultural backgrounds and are business men/women working at their desks. We work on stress release and balancing their posture/movement in yoga class.

What drew you to doing yoga and then teaching it?

While at high school I was involved in competitive rowing and over training for this sport left me with damage to my legs, lower back and left hip. I turned to yoga and acupuncture in 2001 to assist in the rehabilitation process and, following the success of my rehabilitation, I continued to practice yoga.

I took my first teacher training just because I wanted to deepen my practice and eventually started teaching in 2006 at the gym and studios. I was fortunate to also take on a role as an interpreter for expert and renowned yoga teachers for more than 25 teacher training courses and retreats around the world.

What do you get out of your yoga practice for yourself and what do you get out of teaching it?

Turning inwards and connecting to the breath.


Aya Itakura with instructor Michelle Duggan  (Image credit: Sharon Hickey Photography)

Aya Itakura with instructor Michelle Duggan  (Image credit: Sharon Hickey Photography)


Why did you decide to train as a massage therapist in the first place?  What do you get from it now that you have done it for a while? 

I needed a visa to stay longer in Australia and decided to learn massage which complements yoga well.

Funnily enough, before taking the diploma course I didn’t like getting a massage because I’d injured my left hip receiving hands-on adjustment in warrior 2 pose; I found it hard to relax when receiving touch. But the more I experienced the benefit of touch in the course, the more I liked both receiving and giving massage.

I finished the diploma of remedial massage 2017 and have been working at a physio clinic for 5 years while teaching yoga at studios and online during the pandemic.

What made you decide to start Pilates? How does it complement or inform your yoga practice or teaching? 

I actually started mat Pilates during my work placement in 2006 when I was assigned to teach a basic mat Pilates group class at the gym where I worked.

I tried equipment based studio sessions just a couple of times way back in 2007. I met a Stott trained Pilates teacher where I worked and did some Private sessions with her after she observed my shoulder alignment issues. I enjoyed the sessions but I just couldn’t afford to do private studio Pilates as regular exercise at that time.

I restarted Pilates in the studio several years ago in semi-private sessions after one of my massage clients made a remarkable recovery when she did sessions with Meredith at Wellcentred in North Sydney. I contacted the studio the next day and still continue weekly sessions with her and Michelle Duggan (at Pilates on George in Sydney).

As for complementing yoga, I get lots of inspiration on how to break down poses into component parts (movement and anatomical break down) to teach and offer variations to my students. For my personal practice, having springs brings both support and challenges to how I move. I love having a belt and spring at the hip to do Chaturanga Dandasana (push up) to focus more on my shoulder alignment.


Aya Itakura (Image credit: Sharon Hickey Photography)

Aya Itakura  (Image credit: Sharon Hickey Photography)

Does doing Pilates inform your massage work?


You refer some clients to do Pilates too – what makes you think that it’s the right thing for them? 

It’s because they need to both release tension and to address their weaknesses for a long term solution.

Studio Pilates involves the voluntary/conscious activation of their own muscles, an especially great way to relearn how to move the body more effectively in the area of concern. Whereas massage is mainly passive – although remedial massage has some active releasing elements where the clients move their body parts themselves while the therapist gives them assistance to enhance the release. We move consciously connecting with the breath in yoga, but I found that Pilates has much more focus on local readjustments.

Pilates can be very gentle exercise and also quite challenging. I think it is the prerequisite for dynamic movement and sports, such as running, weight training, golfing, and surfing. Even yoga.

Many of my clients and students ask ‘which should I do yoga or Pilates?’ I recommend them to do studio Pilates then yoga. It is not yoga or Pilates, but Pilates then yoga.

When you refer clients, what do you tell them to expect?

I refer them to Meredith because she (and Michelle, and Nigel, who I also worked with at Wellcentred) are exceptional for their level of body reading and subtle corrections.

I say to my clients that it’s not just doing movement, more how you move. You might find ‘Pilates exercises themself are “boring”, simple movement to move the limbs. You can easily lift your arm and leg. But if you activate the correct muscles and connect throughout the body properly, you feel much more free. If you use “here” (with touching) too much and too soon, then the muscles next to it take it easy and get lazy. You can learn how to activate and move consciously.  “Here” keeps getting stronger and tighter and “there” gets left behind and you develop more imbalance and feel more pain.

What is great about professional studio Pilates, is that all new clients at the studio go through the one-on-one initial assessment. You fill out 2-3 pages of full case history, before meeting a ‘Pilates teacher, advising all your previous/current injuries and conditions and fitness goals.

You will get a thorough assessment of your posture and movement then the teacher will tailor your exercises depending on your goals.  You could move to a small class which is maximum 3 people or stay with private sessions.

What do you find most useful/enjoyable/challenging in a Pilates session?

  • I love going deep in the details of HOW I move and readjust, which muscles and how much energy to use in basic movement.
  • Building more kinetic linkings

What do you get from working with different teachers? Or, what does your ideal teacher do?

I love working with all my teachers. Everyone has different strengths and styles. Some focus on releasing and realigning and the other is more on strengthening. One might focus on the local activation and the other might work more global kinetic chains. Some take a good amount of time in set up, the other challenges me by correcting subtle misalignments.

The processes are so unique even when all of them work on the same theme, e.g. my left hip. My body feels also so different even when they offered me very similar exercises with similar sequences. I’m curious to see what is minimum challenge to bring maximum benefits.

Having multiple teachers expands my teaching, too by breaking down the same exercises in different ways.

I also point out that having multiple teachers at the same time gives me courage to be me and stick to my style of teaching. They have different ways of delivery and I love them all. It’s a good reminder to stick to my style.


We’d like to thank Aya for sharing her answers and Michelle Duggan for helping with photos.


Aya Itakura

Aya Itakura with instructor Michelle Duggan  (Image credit: Sharon Hickey Photography)

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