Yoga is among India’s most popular cultural exports. People across the globe have adopted the ancient practice for its physical, mental and spiritual benefits. But along the way, yoga has morphed and been adapted to suit the modern gym-going public, leading some yogis to voice concern that it has become little more than a series of stretching exercises, divorced from its roots as a meditative discipline.
June 21st, declared as the International yoga Day by the United Nations has drawn crowds in celebrations around the globe. The International Yoga Day, since its inception in 2015, has grown to be on the most popular cultural mass movements in the world. This year was no different as, from Dehradun in India – where Prime Minister Narendra Modi began proceedings with some asanas, to Kota in Rajasthan which created a new world record for turnout, to Times Square in New York City, where thousands of people swamped the area in bright green mats, the phenomenon was truly dazzling and spectacular to watch.
Some 50,000 people gathered with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 21 in the Himalayan foothills in Dehradun to salute the power of yoga. More than 35 volunteers from different foreign countries participated in the event and performed 21 yoga postures along with nearly 50,000 people who stretched their bodies in the sprawling lawn of Dehradun’s Forest Research Institute lawn surrounded by Shivalik peaks from three sides.
Yoga “is enriching millions of lives all over the world,” Modi said in a speech. He also urged Indians to take pride in their heritage. “The gems of India’s unique heritage, such as yoga, will be respected by the world at large only when we ourselves respect our culture and traditions,” he said. Modi said that yoga has the power to unite individuals, society, the country and the world at large, and has emerged as a major unifying force globally.
Modi said that the world has embraced yoga and this can be seen in the manner in which the International Day of Yoga is marked every year. “In fact, Yoga Day has become one of the biggest mass movements in the quest for good health and well-being,” he said, adding that yoga is beautiful because it is “ancient yet modern.” He noted that International Yoga Day celebrated across the world. “From Dehradun to Dublin, Jakarta to Johannesburg and Shanghai to Chicago people are celebrating yoga day all across the world. Yoga is giving new energy to global friendship, he said.
Modi also marked the day with a video conference address to the International Yoga Day Celebrations at the United Nations in New York. In December 2014, following a request from Modi, the U.N. General Assembly declared June 21 the International Day of Yoga. The proposal had a record number of cosponsors – 177 countries supported it – and was adopted faster than any other proposal in the history of the world body.
Modi was the one who initiated the International Yoga Day, imploring for it to be initiated, at his iconic speech at the United nations General Assembly in 2014. It has become his signature movement, in his first term in office.
Talking of yoga, at the UN, in 2014, Modi had invoked India’s traditions, saying, “It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.” The Prime Minister said that yoga is beautiful because it is “ancient yet modern. It is constant yet evolving. It has the best of our past and present and a ray of hope for our future. In yoga, we have the perfect solution to the problems we face, either as individuals or in our society,” he said.
A highlight of this year’s celebrations was Kota in Rajasthan establishing a world record on Thursday when around two lakh people performed yoga at one place on the occasion of the International Yoga Day. The event took place in the presence of yoga guru Baba Ramdev and Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia at the RAC ground.
Baba Ramdev tweeted that more than two lakh people performed yoga on the International Yoga Day. “Yog is the best way for the students to de-stress themselves. Thousands of students have joined #YogainKota, the education capital of Rajasthan,” he tweeted. Till date, Mysore shares the record where around 55,506 people performed yoga simultaneously at one place on International Yoga Day.
India’s President Ram Nath Kovind participated in the fourth International Yoga Day celebrations in Paramaribo along with his Suriname counterpart Desire Delano Bouterse, Vice President Michael Ashwin Adhin and other dignitaries. Kovind is on a visit to Suriname, which has a large number of Indian expatriates too.
Addressing the gathering, Kovind said yoga is an ancient Indian tradition, but it does not belong to India alone. “It is part of humanity’s intangible heritage. Millions across the world, in every continent and among all communities, have embraced yoga and interpreted yoga in their own way. The practice of yoga has had a beneficial impact on their bodies as well as their minds. Particularly in today’s world of stresses and lifestyle diseases, yoga can help all of us,” he said. Yoga is the ultimate expression of Indian soft power and it has “won us love and affection” among yoga practitioners in all corners of the planet, including in Suriname, he said.
India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj led celebrations to mark International Yoga Day at the European Parliament (EU) in Brussels on Thursday, highlighting the importance of yoga for the modern world. “India believes in the concept that the world is one family. We are also celebrating our shared humanity and acknowledging our shared destiny,” she told the large gathering of EU parliamentarians, EU officials and yoga lovers and enthusiasts at the European Parliament.
She said that yoga represents one of the most powerful means for uniting the world and stated that “it is extremely heart-warming to see that India’s gift to the world has been so heartily adopted by the Europe. Today more than ever the world needs yoga,” she said, referring to the stressful lives people are leading today and added that “yoga restores harmony within. As I speak today, countries around the world are celebrating the International Day of Yoga, thereby, endorsing this holistic approach towards health and wellness,” she added. Shri Shri Ravishankar led a session on yoga at the event.
Here in the US, yoga celebrations began early in the week. In Washington, DC, it was celebrated on June 16 at the iconic US Capitol West Lawn. More than 2,500 people from all walks of life participated in these celebrations with fervor and enthusiasm. India’s Ambassador to the US, Navtej Sarna led the International Day of Yoga in Washington D.C. Welcoming the participants, Sarna noted that yoga is widely embraced by the American people as a survey conducted in 2016 showed that there were 36.7 million Yoga practitioners in the U.S.
The participants also included officials and representatives from the State Department, Smithsonian Institutions, World Bank, academic institutions, think tanks, representatives of various embassies, local representatives of Indian news media and other key local organizations.
Many leaders from the United States issued proclamations and felicitation messages to support and commemorate the 4th International Day of Yoga and spread awareness about yoga. These included Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam, Senator Timothy M. Kaine and Congressmen Don Beyer, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Gerald E. Connolly.
A guided yoga session based on ‘Common Yoga Protocol’ created by Government of India was conducted with the help of yoga demonstrators. The yoga session concluded with Sanskrit shlokas and shantipath.
The Indian Embassy had organized curtain raiser events, in collaboration with yoga organizations and yoga studios, at the India International School, John Hopkins University, Heartfulness Institute in Richmond, Virginia, Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Lanham MD, Chinmaya Mission and Durga Temple in Virginia, North Potomac Community Center. The embassy also acknowledges the cooperation given by ‘Friends of Yoga’ – a group of organizations which support and promote yoga in this region.
The International Day of Yoga was celebrated with enthusiasm and fervor at the historic Governor’s Island on June 16, in New York City. The event organized by the Consulate General of India, New York saw enthusiastic participation from people of all ages.
The historic setting of the event in New York City in many ways exemplified the eternal values of yoga. Governors Island wass a 72-acre island in New York Harbor, approximately 800 yards from the southern tip of Manhattan Island and separated from Brooklyn by Buttermilk Channel , approximately 400 yards. Perhaps signifying the global influence of yoga, the famous skyline of downtown Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty formed the backdrop of the event.
US Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney was the chief guest for the event, in which the Consul General of India in New York Sandeep Chakravorty also participated. While complimenting the organizers, she spoke of the benefits that yoga has on contemporary lifestyles.
“Yoga, which is derived from Sanskrit, means to join or unite and symbolizes the union of body and mind” said Maloney. “It is a unique way to approach an individual’s health and well-being. Practicing yoga has been shown to decrease stress, fatigue, and alleviate chronic pains, as well as improving physical fitness. I know first-hand the benefits of practicing yoga. It is an essential part of my life, I practice it as often as I can, and it helps me to find balance and peace.”
The event featured performances from Hindu Temple, Indian Cultural Association, Mallakhambh Federation, Sam Katz (David Lynch Foundation), Art of Living Foundation, Isha Foundation, World Yoga Community and the Battery Dance Co.
The performances included demonstration of yoga mudra, salutations, common yoga protocol, yogasanas on the pole, transcendental meditation, desktop yoga, yogic music and musical performances from the Salon Di Virtuosi and a dance performance by the Battery Dance Company.
The Consulate General of India in Chicago, in collaboration with the City of Chicago and Delhi Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International rolled out the fourth edition of International Yoga Day, June 16, at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago.
A lamp-lighting ceremony and singing of the National Anthems of India and United States launched the high profile event whose objective was to create a broad-based awareness about the benefits of yoga for all sections of society.
It was one of the mega events in Chicago in which about 100 community organizations and over 1000 Indian Americans and people belonging to other nationalities participated, along with their family and friends, a press release from the Indian Consulate in Chicago said.
Sister Tina from Brahma Kumaris of Chicago demonstrated the breathing technique, and a dance item by the students of Soorya Dance School followed. There was a demonstration of ‘Common Yoga Protocol’ and the event concluded with the recitation of Shanti Mantras.
India’s Consul General in Chicago, Neeta Bhushan, speaking on the occasion, dwelt on the benefits of yoga. She also thanked the office of the Mayor of Chicago for partnering with the Consulate and for enabling the Millennium Park to be used for the event.
Some of the well-known people who participated in the event included Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois; Andrea Zopp, president & CEO, World Business Chicago and former Deputy Mayor of Chicago; Smitha Shah, chair, Delhi Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International, Mickey Straub, Mayor of Burr Ridge, Hardik Bhatt, former chief information officer in the Illinois Governor’s office; Ram Villivalam, candidate for Illinois Senate from District 8; and Alderman Joe Moore.