I was privileged to attend ‘Vibrant Gujarat’, a high profile event in Gandhinagar, the capital city of Gujarat State of India, in January this year.
It was here that I heard the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi thank the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who was present there, for declaring June 21 as the ‘International Day of Yoga’.
As I heard Prime Minister Modi say those words, a strange sense of pride, rekindled the Indian inside me.
I felt a special thrill to hear that the ancient Indian tradition of Yoga, which is so much more than just an exercise of body and mind, is finally getting a global platform to showcase its greatness.
Partially, the cause for my excitement was the fact that listening to the importance of celebrating ‘Yoga’ – at that seventh edition of ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ Summit, a flagship biannual programme of Gujarat government – were also some of the world’s best leaders.
Attendees included US Secretary of State John Kerry, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, and Prime Ministers of Bhutan and Macedonia. Also present were industrialists and billionaires from India – including the Ambanis, Birlas and Adanis – and from notable industrial houses of Japan, Australia, USA, and other countries.
So, today, as we celebrate the International Day of Yoga, I think it is pertinent we look at this ancient Indian tradition which gives people a sound mind in a sound body.
What is Yoga? Is it a just set of poses we adopt while exercising?
No. It is much more than those poses. Derived from the Sankrit word “yuj” which means “to unite or integrate”; yoga is a 5000 year old Indian body of knowledge.
It is all about harmonizing the body with the mind and breath through the means of various breathing techniques, yoga postures (asanas), and meditation.
Though Yoga was practised in India for thousands of years, it was, perhaps, only in the last 100 years that it became popular in the west.
The fact that Yoga has gained enormous popularity in the west is clear from the fact that I came across an article on BuzzFeed website titled “43 Celebrities Who Swear By Yoga” compiled in Feb 2014. It was published long before UN declared June 21 as the ‘International Day of Yoga’.
I cannot list the 43 celebrities who say that Yoga is one of the main reasons for their success. But just a quick look, at some of those names, is enough to convince us of its growing popularity.
Look at these names. Charlize Theron, Demi Moore, Reese Witherspoon, Naomi Watts, Robert Downey Jr., Vanessa Hudgens, Colin Farrell, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Ashley Tisdale, Madonna, Renee Zellweger, Heather Graham, Russell Brand, Kate Hudson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Matthew McConaughey, Drew Barrymore, Brooke Shields and Nicole Kidman.
These are just a few who say that a strict regimen of ‘Yoga’ is what they would always vouch for.
The credit for the current upsurge in attention to Yoga, worldwide, must go to the Prime Minister Modi who gave it a fresh new thrust this year, making it rise to a global level.
More than 35,000 people are expected to perform yoga today, June 21, 2015, for 35 minutes on the stately Rajpath (King’s Avenue), in Delhi, with an aim of setting a new Guinness World Record. The Guinness people have been invited to document the largest yoga class at a single venue.
In Bahrain too, several events are being planned, and the largest will be held at Bahrain Keraleeya Samajam from 8.30 pm to 10.30 pm tonight, thanks to the initiative of the Embassy of India and the Art of Living Bahrain Chapter.
In his message announcing several such worldwide events, Modi said this: “Yoga is an invaluable gift of ancient Indian tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature and a holistic approach to health and well-being.
“Yoga is not about exercise but about discovering the sense of oneness with ourselves, the world and Nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us to deal with climate change. Let us work towards adopting the ‘International Yoga Day’”.
Personally, I believe that despite the controversies surrounding yoga – with some saying that Christians and Muslims should not do Yoga as it is rooted in Hinduism – it is an amazing, proven form of exercise of body and mind that helps people the world over.
And therefore, celebrating it all over the world, for a day, is definitely worth it, for everyone.