Yoga Day: A golden opportunity

Yoga Day: A golden opportunity

Yoga is again in a controversy. Accepting a proposal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the United Nations General Assembly adopted June 21 as International Day of Yoga.

Following the UN resolution, it is expected that this 6000-plus years-old physical, mental and spiritual practice, which has its origin in India, will be gaining support from the governments of various countries.

India is going to lead the world to mark the Yoga Day. On this day, from 7 am to 7.35 am, about 50,000 people from all walks of life are expected to participate in a mega yoga camp at the ceremonial Rajpath in New Delhi. 

Even the state governments and all Indian missions abroad have been asked to conduct similar programmes. The Centre has invited diplomats from 152 foreign missions for the mega event. The UN’s celebration of the event will be shown at New York’s Times Square.

The celebration of the Day is a golden opportunity for India to showcase its ancient culture and philosophy. Yoga, with the holistic science behind it, is a great contribution of our sages. 

The world is now gradually realising the value of yoga and the role it can play in keeping the world population healthier in a cost effective way. Unlike other exercise regimes, yoga connects the mind and the body to enhance one’s total well-being to attain inner peace.

It is in this backdrop that the effort from some quarters to politicise the event has to be seen. The Congress says the prime minister’s pushing of yoga is “just a show off, photo op and event management exercise by the government.”  Some minority communities have recently criticised yoga saying that it is incompatible and inconsistent with their faith.

The word ‘yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit ‘yug’ meaning, to control and to contemplate. The origin of yoga could be traced to pre-vedic Indian traditions. Yoga in its original form is a holistic science whose function is to integrate personality at all levels of existence. 

The main philosophical logic behind yoga is that through it, our body and soul learn to co-exist with nature. Yoga is one of the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy.

It was Swami Vivekananda who introduced yoga to the western world. Though initially, yoga was considered mainly as spiritual practice with religio-philosophical underpinnings, by 1980s, it became popular as a system of physical exercise across the western world.

Western interest

Now, to many, the benefits of yoga are only at the body level and they fail to realise the potential benefits of yoga in uniting the body, mind and breath. Besides the physical benefits like a strong and confident body, regular practice of yoga provides us mental, psychological and neurological benefits. Yoga enhances our intuitive and creative capabilities.

The renewed western interest in yoga is mainly because of its health potentials. While the practice of yoga focusing on its physical postures continues to rise in contemporary American culture, adequate knowledge of its spiritual and philosophical dimensions do not. 

President Barack Obama has reiterated that yoga has become a universal language of spiritual exercise in the United States crossing many lines of religion and culture. 

The Americans practice yoga to improve their health and overall well-being, focusing on its meditative and spiritual dimensions, but yoga is not turning out to be a way of life there. 

Even the American College of Sports Medicine supports the integration of yoga into the exercise regimens of healthy individuals as long as properly-trained professionals deliver instruction. The college highlights the benefits of yoga as a form of stretching, as an enhancer of breath control and of core strength.

It is time to understand the spiritual dimensions of yoga. Yogic spirituality is not just about healthy living. As Rev Joseph Pereira, a Mumbai based catholic priest and proponent of ‘Iyengar Yoga’ says, most people have reduced yoga to acrobatics. But, he says, yoga is not just a work out, it is a work in.

The approach of some religious organisations considering yoga to be incompat-ible and inconsistent with their faith should not be a reason for diluting the true nature of yoga.

(The writer is Bengaluru-based professor of economics)

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