Mr. Keishin Kimura, President of Japan Yoga Niketan – Yoga in the Land of the Rising Sun

by Abha Gupta, Ph.D., YSN Editor-in-Chief
(YSN Vol. 3, No. 1 – Jan. 2015)

Recently, I had the good fortune of meeting two distinguished ambassadors of Mr. Kimura, President of JYTSyoga from Japan — Mr. Keishin Kimura and Mr. Hiromi Mori, who are the president and the executive director, respectively, of the Japan Yoga Therapy Society and were visiting the Sattvic Space Yoga Studio in Portsmouth, Virginia. The Japan Yoga Therapy Society has more than 2,500 members and trains nearly 1500 certified yoga therapists every year. With more than 3 million people practicing yoga in Japan, I was very curious about how yoga is perceived and practiced in the Land of the Rising Sun. Mr. Kumura, who is also the current president of Japan Yoga Niketan, kindly accepted my request for a skype interview. He has been teaching and practicing Raj Yoga and Yoga Therapy for more than four decades in Japan. In the early 1970s, he first visited Rishikesh, India, at the early age of 27 years. There, he met Swami Yogeshwarnanda Maharaj, the founder of Rishikesh Yoga Niketan and one of the greatest yogis of the 20th century. Mr. Kimura received his training in Raj Yoga, which emphasizes meditation for self-realization. He continues to practice Raj Yoga even now, and reports that he cannot imagine his life without it.

In the course of our conversation, I was deeply impressed by Mr. Kimura’s broad knowledge ranging from current research in yoga to the ancient scriptures of yoga such as the Taittirya Upanishads and Patanjali’s yoga sutras. A brief summary of our exchange follows.

How popular is yoga in Japan? 

Based on a recent estimate, the number of yoga practitioners in Japan is approximately 3 million out of a total population of 130 million. A majority of the practitioner demographics involves women between the ages of 40 and 70 years.

What kind of yoga is most popular in Japan, for example, is it vinyasa yoga, hath yoga, Bikram yoga, Iyenger yoga, or some other local variation? 

All of these yoga methodologies are practiced in Japan; however, we mostly focus on an easy and therapy oriented yoga known as isometric breathing yoga.

What are some of the novel or unique aspects of yoga in Japan?

We are teaching yoga therapy via several platforms including nursing homes for the elderly, psychiatric hospitals, palliative care centers, and drug addiction treatment facilities. We are also teaching yoga to the survivors of the recent tsunami in 2011 and the victims of Fukushima nuclear power plant.

What is the accreditation process for yoga therapy training in Japan?

Our yoga therapy training consists of the Yoga Therapist Instructor’s Course (YTIC) that involves a total of 210 hours.  Yoga teachers attend classes on yoga therapy assessment theory and yoga therapy counseling theory once a month over a total of three years.  Those who complete the training successfully are awarded a certificate of Yoga Therapist 200.

We focus on training yoga teachers to be yoga therapists. We teach background theory, how to diagnose patients from the perspective of yoga, and how to treat them using various yoga techniques. This is rather new in Japan. We use panchkosha theory from Tattriya Upanishad and Katha Upanishad and human structure theory from those Upanishads.  The therapists first diagnose old memories and whether their koshas are functioning correctly or not and, following the diagnosis, they work in consultation with the psychologists and physicians practicing western medicine. We are also collaborating with the sVYASA university in India for Yoga Therapy Certification.

What kind of yoga research is being done in Japan? What are the major educational institutes conducting research in yoga?

There are a number of medical universities and institutes that are conducting yoga research in the fields of medicine and psychology. As an example, Kyushu University from the western part of Japan is conducting research in psychosomatic medicine. One of the leading researchers from the university, Dr. Chiharu Kubo, who is also the former president of the Asian College of Psychosomatic Medicine will be presenting current research at a symposium on integrative medicine at the upcoming 23rd World Congress on Psychosomatic Medicine in Glasgow, Scotland.

What is the general perception of yoga in Japan? Is it associated with religion? Is there a focus on all of the different aspects of yoga, as in ashtanga yoga? How about the spiritual aspects of yoga? How does it fit in with the Japanese culture and beliefs?

The majority of people in Japan hold Buddhist beliefs and, in general, the level of interest in yoga is rather low, especially among the older generation. While yoga is becoming increasingly popular among the younger generation, the people in their 20’s and 30’s are mostly interested in their physique and, hence, they lack interest in the mental and spiritual aspects of yoga.  While three percent of the Japanese population is now practicing yoga, most of them expect improvement in their physical health and mental health, but are not concerned about the improvement of their spiritual health.

Are there other yoga associations/organizations besides yours? Do they hold regular conferences? How do yoga practitioners connect with other practitioners in the country as well as with other stakeholders in the world?

There are many yoga organizations, but they are not academic and they are not connecting with medical and psychological researchers. We (i.e., the Japan Yoga Therapy Society) are the only organization that holds an annual academic conference in Japan. Other yoga organizations provide training classes and advertise yoga seminars but they are commercial in nature.

Are there any universities offering educational and training courses related to yoga, like sVYASA in India and Taksha University in the USA?

Unfortunately, no. However, we would certainly like to establish a yoga college in future.

Lastly, what do you tell those who may read or hear about yoga but for some reason are hesitant to try it?

Yoga is great because a simple practice of Asanas and Pranayama can help one overcome even a severe level of stress, and enhances not only mental and physical strength, but also one’s spiritual well-being.  Therefore, we encourage people all the time to just jump into any field of yoga and relish the sweetness of this new offering on the plate, which may at times turn out to taste like curry or a bit spicy, yet delicious.