Yoga not religious; an antidote to violence, conflict: Swaraj

Yoga not religious; an antidote to violence, conflict: Swaraj

India today said Yoga should not be seen as belonging to any particular religion and the ancient spiritual practice can serve as the "perfect antidote" to stem "negative tendencies" and move humanity on the path of peace in a world beset by violence and conflict.

Addressing the first International Day of Yoga celebrations at the UN, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said, "The entire world is one family, and we can unite it with Yoga".

"At a time when ethnic conflicts and extremist violence are threatening to destabilise societies, Yoga can serve as the perfect antidote to stem such negative tendencies and move us on the path of harmony and peace," she said.

"I am confident that Yoga can also become a potent tool for the United Nations to promote the message of brotherhood and amity in the finest Indian tradition of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam'," she said.

"It is not often that both occasion and location match each other in scale. Here, in this historic place that was built to protect succeeding generations from the scourge of war, we gather to celebrate an ancient treasure – India's own gift to the world.

"Yoga literally means to join, to unite, and we see the International Day of Yoga as the perfect platform to bring the world together in a spirit of unity and harmony," Swaraj said.

"Yoga is neither a religion, nor should it be seen as belonging to any particular religion. It is a science, the science of well-being, the science of integrating body, mind and soul, the science of actualising our true potential.

Yoga began in India some five thousand years ago. But it was given the ultimate seal of international acclaim only last year by the UN, she said.

The gathering at the UN included Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, Sam Kutesa, President of the General Assembly, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

"And this is the place where it all began," Swaraj said recalling that on the September 27 last year when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi had first made the proposal in the UN General Assembly to have an International Day of Yoga.

"I should, first and foremost, thank all the 192 other member states for their full support which allowed our Resolution declaring 21 June as the International Day of Yoga to be adopted by consensus.

In particular, I thank the 176 other member states who, by co-sponsoring the resolution, took equal ownership of the initiative. That the resolution was adopted within 75 days of Prime Minister Modi proposing it bears evidence to the fact that it was an idea whose time had come," she said.

In his message on the occasion, the UN chief Ban said, "By proclaiming 21 June as the International Day of Yoga, the General Assembly has recognised the holistic benefits of this timeless practice and its inherent compatibility with the principles and values of the United Nations".

"Yoga offers a simple, accessible and inclusive means to promote physical and spiritual health and well-being. It promotes respect for one's fellow human beings and for the planet we share," the UN chief said.

"And yoga does not discriminate; to varying degrees, all people can practice, regardless of their relative strength, age or ability. I discovered this for myself on trying to do my first asana, a tree pose suited to beginners," Ban said.

"I am hoping that if yoga promotes physical dexterity, it can also promote diplomatic dexterity. In my job as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have to be agile all of the time!," Ban said.

Ban and his wife, wearing special track suits with Yoga symbols, also joined students and yoga practitioners for a yoga session conducted by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

In her address, Swaraj thanked Ban for providing "immediate and unstinted support" to India's proposal. She also thanked Kutesa for the leadership he provided.

"In a world increasingly divided by what the great poet Rabindranath Tagore called 'narrow domestic walls', Prime Minister Modi had a vision of India's ancient treasure that would do the opposite – that would, through the notion of holistic health, and a conscious search for the self, seek to bring us all together.

"In my own country India, Prime Minister Modi led the largest yoga class in history when he addressed more than 35,000 people at Rajpath a few hours ago. This truly is a confirmation of the international character of Yoga as well as its convening power.

"By celebrating the International Day of Yoga together, we celebrate our common humanity. We are recognising that we have shared opportunities. We are also acknowledging our sense of a shared global fate," Swaraj said.

"The United Nations is about nations living in harmony with each other. By celebrating the International Day of Yoga at the United Nations, I believe we send a powerful message about men and women living in harmony with each other and also in harmony with nature.

"On this First International Day of Yoga, let us join our breaths, let us combine our strengths, for a safer, happier, healthier world," she concluded.

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