It was none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi on whose behest the United Nations decided to declare 21 June 2015 as ‘International Yoga Day’.
Export of Indian spirituality to the West started with Swami Vivekananda’s historic speech at the Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893.
It was followed by setting up of a Vedanta Society in New York in 1894, in Northern California in 1900 and in Boston 1910. Thereafter many respected sages visited the US — for e.g. Swami Turiyananda/Swami Trigunatita of the Ramakrishna Mission Order, Paramhansa Yogananda, Swami Prabhupada, Mahesh Yogi, Swami Rama, Swami Vishnudevananda and many others who planted the flag of Vedanta and Yoga in North America.
Depression in the 1930’s and World War II brought an overemphasis on material advancement. But soon the tide turned again as disenchantment with the existing forms of worship, the desire for healthy and joyful living, and the rise of the hippie generation of the 1960-70’s resulted in Americans seeking refuge in eastern spirituality. Many visited pilgrimage towns – including Steve Jobs, who went to Kashi.
In this century, Baba Ramdev broke man-made barriers to bring Yoga into our homes. He used TV and shibhirs (camps) to make it immensely popular worldwide.
So what is the importance of this unique initiative?
One, as Swami Vivekananda said, “Life is expansion, and if you stand against it, you become decadent or you die. It is the sign of our recovery of the spirit of ancient India – that we have begun to send representatives of our culture to foreign lands with the gift of our rich traditions.” Selfless sharing of her philosophy and spirituality has always been part of India’s Svadharma. India is once again getting closer to its true nature.
Two, the internationalisation of Yoga will aid harmony and peace. India’s expansion has never been fuelled by conquest of nations or the power of the sword. The high regard that resident Tibetans, Thais, etc., have to this day for India’s spiritual heritage proves the non-aggressive nature of India’s interactions. Yoga is timeless and there is something that today’s entrepreneurs can learn from India’s past.
In a deeper sense the practice of Yoga brings balance, inner peace and contentment. It reduces conflict in human interaction, promotes creative thinking and innovation. As its practices and thoughts take root in humankind, an era of transformation can take place worldwide.
Three, it is known that India is the home of Yoga. With this new global zeal towards Yoga, its origin and association with Sanatan/Buddhist/Jain Dharmas now stands reinforced.
Four, Yoga Day also refers to the various schools and the eight limbs of Yoga before instructions are given for asanas. It dispels the often held belief that Yoga is only asanas.
Every nation is like a brand and has to be associated with key attributes. For example Italy is known for Nostradamus/pizza, Russia for Tolstoy/vodka, Japan for zen/cars, China for Confucianism/low-cost products, Germany for Marx/engineering, etc. So also India’s attribute is spirituality among other things.
Five, just like the Y2K problem did wonders for India’s IT industry, International Yoga Day could position India as the spiritual capital of the world. This could lead to renewed interest in spirituality and has huge employment potential. There would be a greater demand for Yoga instructors and possibly teachers of Darshanas (schools of Indian philosophy).
Six, the government must play the role of facilitator for more training schools and improve infrastructure in pilgrimage towns. For example a school for yoga instructors in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur would give locals a skill that makes them employable worldwide.
Seven, for probably the first time, Indian embassies worldwide are tuned to promote India’s rich spiritual tradition. There is no denying that improving the well being of people is a great way to connect and bond.
It is well established that numerals originated in India but are called Arabic numerals. June 21 will ensure that Yoga cannot be appropriated by any other nation as its own. What is left unsaid is that 177 of the 193 countries in the UN General Assembly supported a India-sponsored move to celebrate International Yoga Day for the benefit of mankind. The jingoistic must not believe this support will get us a Security Council seat!
Should India market Yoga like a product? The moment you hardsell something it runs a danger of rejection. People discovered Yoga through word of mouth, liked it and spread the word.
Indians must become messengers of harmony and peace and not Yoga evangelists. We must accept that the world will first turn to Yoga for its physical benefits. Those who chose to delve deeper might discover Indian spirituality. The key is to let the user discover at his or her pace what yogha has to offer, just as Sanatana Dharma is meant to be, a journey of self-discovery.
Now, a few points on impact in India.
One, wholehearted celebration of the International Yoga Day was a Allah-given opportunity for Indian Muslims to put behind the bitterness of the Ayodhya movement and reconnect with the ‘Followers of Dharma’ at a deeper level. Protests against Surya Namaskar meant the conservatives have won once again.
Can someone tell Muslims that the posture in which namaz is offered is Vajrasana. It is surprising that a secular Yoga became a problem for some religions.
Nevertheless a closer look at a picture of Muslim girls doing Yoga at an Ahmedabad school shows their fingers are in Gyan Mudra pose. Once a child knows this mudra is good for ‘stresses and strains, insomnia, emotional instability, indecisiveness, idleness, laziness, indolence, increasing memory and IQ’, she will be keen to follow it.
For too long have Indian Muslims viewed the followers of dharma through British and Arabic eyes. They need to reflect and realise that dharma is beyond the religious concepts they are familiar with.
Two, popularity of Yoga in urban India is due to its practice in the West and channels like Aastha. June 21 has ensured that lakhs of Indians, across government offices and homes, take to Yoga and realise its benefits in everyday living.
Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev put it nicely, “Yoga means to be in perfect tune with yourself—your body, mind and inner nature are in absolute tune. When you fine-tune yourself to such a point where everything functions so beautifully within you, naturally the best of your abilities will flow out of you.”
Practice of Yoga is inclusive and will help every Indian realise his or her potential. Spiritual progress invariably leads to material progress.
Proponents of Yoga must emphasise its scientific basis and call for Yoga departments in medical colleges and business schools.
Yoga points the road to peace and harmony, and a shloka is instructive.
Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah,
Sarve Santu Nirāmayah
Sarve Bhadrani Paśyantu,
Maa Kascit Duhkha Bhāgbhavet
Om Shantih Shantih Shantih
(May All become Happy, May All be Free from Illness.
May All See what is Auspicious, May no one Suffer.
Om Peace, Peace, Peace)