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Letter from the Director

John Kepner Like many of you, I have long been a fan of the writings of Georg Feuerstein and have followed with great interest the evolution of Yoga Research and Education Center (YREC) and the International Association of Yoga Therapists, a division of YREC. As I became interested in therapeutic applications of Yoga, I began to enjoy the International Journal of Yoga Therapy and the wide-ranging perspectives it brought, both theoretical and practical. Eventually I tried my own hand at writing-sometimes stimulated by Georg's thought-provoking editorials-and I greatly benefited from the support and encouragement of Trisha Lamb. Increasingly, we engaged in sidebar discussions on how Yoga might best serve our modern society with respect to both the traditional aims of Yoga and the growing interest in what is now commonly called Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) or Integrative Medicine. It was thus almost like meeting old friends when I visited YREC for the first time in November to discuss our goals and plans for the future of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

IAYT has had an influential history with the pioneering work of Larry Payne, Richard Miller, and many others. I also believe Yoga therapy has a bright future, with the capacity to provide much needed holistic support for health and healing that explicitly allows for moral support and spiritual growth coupled with the personal relationship foundations of Yoga. Yoga has many practical teachings, tools, and methods to work with all dimensions of the human being, including harnessing the transformative elements of purification, self-inquiry, humility, gratitude, and perhaps even guidance from a higher force.

Defining Yoga Therapy?

In my own work I often use the panca-kosha or five-dimension model to guide the focus of an evolving personal practice for students. For example, a student may initially come "just" for back care, so attention is primarily on the body. If the pain subsides with âsana practice, he or she may become more interested in improved breathing and in starting prânâyâma, perhaps to counterbalance a tendency toward anxiety or depression, or to support clear thinking. As the practice continues to evolve, we may begin to add elements of meditation on a personal theme completely unrelated to back care. It might be related to a different troubling element in the student's life, or it might be linked to an individual aspiration. If the relationship continues to develop, under some circumstances we may begin to talk about volunteer service opportunities as part of his or her practice. This is but one set of possibilities for Yoga "therapy" incorporating different dimensions, which could be multiplied by a large matrix representing our members and their many traditions.

So when does Yoga "therapy" become simply Yoga? In my view at least, Yoga therapy is a broad, deep, and creative orientation to practice that remains first and foremost Yoga and hence ultimately revolves around addressing the root causes of suffering. It also contains many launching pads for personal growth. If Yoga therapy is viewed as everything and anything, however, it becomes nothing. It is difficult to define, but I believe that in order to be better recognized as a bona fide therapy, we should try to define it, at least pragmatically, for the external integrative health care community and the public at large, but in such a way that it remains acceptable to Yoga practitioners steeped in the diverse and creative heritage we call the Yoga tradition.

I welcome your feedback and suggestions and can be contacted at

John Kepner