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Ikigai Spotlight Series: Mai Sato, Mindful Movement Coach

Updated: May 17, 2023

Mai: We can't make up Ikigai...

Ikigai is a concept that is very much integral to Japanese culture. The word 'Ikigai' can be roughly translated to your 'reason for being', or purpose and is not confined to the ‘Venn Diagram’. More on its authentic definition can be explored here.

While Ikigai is essential to one's well-being, the true beauty is that it does not have a fixed equation and can change over time.

At Mogami, we would like to highlight this nuance with our 'Ikigai Spotlight Series'

This month's featured guest is Mai Sato, Mindful Movement Coach currently based in Los Angeles, USA.

Tell us your story.

I grew up in Tokyo and I started ballet training when I was 3 years old. I stopped training at age 18 and pursued my career as a graphic designer. But I’ve always had a passion for dancing, so I started training in pole dancing as a hobby at age 27. I saw an aerial silk performance in a Cirque du Soleil show when I was 28, and I decided to try it. After I won the Pole Dance World Championship in 2009, I got the chance to perform for the Cirque du Soleil show in 2010 when I was 30 years old. Since then, I have performed for Cirque du Soleil shows for 10 years, 3 different shows, with more than 4,000 shows in total.

Currently, I use all my experiences to create my original method “Moving Meditation -Hikari Mau-“ (Light Dancing) and share my knowledge on how to maintain mental and physical health to be able to express one’s authentic self.

When was the first time you remember coming across the concept of Ikigai?

After I moved to the US, I found a book about Ikigai and my friend here also asked me about what Ikigai meant. That was the first time I started thinking about its meaning.

What has been your personal journey with your Ikigai(s) or reason for being?

It may seem like I’d been living a life of Ikigai to some, but I didn’t feel that way. I worked hard and trained hard to achieve my goal, but the core reason for that was that I wanted to be successful, accomplish good results, or to be recognized.

After working for Cirque du Soleil and meeting amazing artists from all over the world, I realised that I view life differently from them. I felt like they knew who they were, what they love, and what they can bring to the world.

Since then, I started seeking who I am and what Ikigai is for me.

I listed out what I was passionate about and reflected on my past. I found that my Ikigai wasn’t about career, titles, or skills, and that instead, I'm always searching for and following the "beauty" in things. Anything beautiful – a beautiful line, shape, colour, movement, word, or behaviour. I love to choose things based on beauty.

How does your life today reflect your authentic self and life priorities?

When I’m connected to nature, I feel like I’m connected to myself too. When I’m in a state of no ego or fear, I fully feel like myself.

Can you walk us through a time in your life when you felt lost? What ideas or tools helped you overcome this period?

I had a panic attack at the end of 2021. I was very shocked because I thought I was pretty healthy. I was away from my family and felt alone, and it was the most difficult time I've ever had. But at the same time, it was the biggest chance to change my life. I went to counselling and faced my past life memories and issues.

The most effective training for me was Tai Chi. Counselling helped me to understand myself, and Tai Chi helped me to actually change my consciousness and improve my health physically and mentally.

What would be your advice to anyone struggling to live a life of Ikigai?

Please never deny yourself. Even if you make a mistake or fail, please show love to yourself by saying for example, “I’m sorry. It is sad, but it happens sometimes. Everything will be fine. You are still doing your best.”

Do anything that makes you happy or feel good every day, even the very little things. You will find the way if you keep doing it. The true Ikigai for me arose when I created the light not to make others happy, but for myself. I believe that after reaching that place, the things you love make you purely happy, will naturally also make others happy too.

Please start to make yourself happy 100%! I think we can’t make up Ikigai, it’s something that our soul already knows. You will feel it when you let go of everything else and what society thinks about who you are. It may take time but do not give up.

Saori's reflection

Are you feeling in awe? Because I am. It is no coincidence that I listened to the DOAC Podcast episode with Professor Dacher Keltner that talks about the power of everyday awe this morning before reading Mai-san's interview.

I've had the pleasure of getting to know Mai-san over the past year through our monthly "Champagne Tower - the Power of Self-care" Instagram Lives hosted for our Japanese-speaking community, and her Ikigai story fills my soul. Reading Mai-san's journey reminds me of the importance of connecting to nature and letting go of the notion of being validated by external labels. Seeing Mai-san's work and authentic beauty in her photos gives me a sense of wonder and connection to my soul. Grateful to have a powerful, elegant, and authentic soul such as Mai-san in our community, inspiring us to find our inner beauty.

*san is an honorific suffix used in Japanese

Do you want to learn more?

For more of Mai, you can find & support her work here:

The reflection and journey of the other pieces guide us to a life of Ikigai. Ikigai is a journey, not a destination. It is the outcome of being able to live as your authentic self in your everyday life.

What did this story bring up for you? Comment below.



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