The 2nd International Yoga Day was observed worldwide on 21 June 2016. It all started when on 14 December 2014, 177 members of the United Nations, co-sponsored India’s initiative to recognise and commemorate 21 June as International Yoga Day and adopted the resolution for the same at the UN General Assembly.
International Yoga Day was first celebrated as a global event on 21 June last year. India took the lead in organizing yoga demonstrations, lectures, workshops and publications across the globe.
This year too, celebrations are taking place in the United Nations and Indian spiritual master Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev will lead the celebrations there, with demonstration and discussions on yoga. Popular British Singer Tanya Wells will be performing live with her rendition of Sanskrit shlokas.
In recognition of the day, the UN building in New York was lit up with a projected image of a yogi in ‘Parvatasana’ posture. Yoga demonstrations are also being organized at the JFK International Airport and Newark.
In the run up to the big day on 21 June, the Indian Mission held ‘Conversation with Yoga Masters’, a seminar where Sadhguru also participated.
Celebrations in India
Back home in India, Chandigarh was at the centre stage to commemorate the 2nd International Yoga Day. As happened last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was once again at the forefront of celebrations, leading the mass yoga session in the morning.
The Prime Minister was accompanied by 30,000 practitioners and yoga enthusiasts, comprising students and youth, along with personnel drawn from military and paramilitary forces.
This year’s highlight saw the participation, for the first time, by 150 ‘Divyangs’, a term coined by the PM, to refer to differently-abled youth, and those from economically weaker sections. Another 10,000 held mass displays at over 100 locations across Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula.
In Delhi, the Ministry of Ayush along with NDMC, organized yoga demonstrations in different parts of the capital including Connaught Place, Nehru Park, Lodhi Garden and Talkatora Stadium.
Genesis of Yogic philosophy and practice
India has been recognized as the spiritual capital of the world and yoga has been at its core, long before religion evolved and political boundaries got established.
Yoga is the evolved science that aims to harmonize body with mind, emotion and energy, to achieve the larger goal of blending individual consciousness with universal consciousness.
The practice of yoga includes the four cornerstones of human existence:
- Karma Yoga – focuses on the body and its actions.
- Bhakti Yoga – focuses on emotions and controlling its outcome.
- Gyana Yoga – focuses on optimizing the mind and its intellect.
- Kriya Yoga – focuses on generating and controlling energy within.
Shiva – Adi Guru
It is believed that the first practitioner of Yoga was ‘Shiva’, who is also referred as the Adiyogi (first yogi) or Adi Guru (first Guru). Sitting on the banks of the holy lake Kantisarovar, nestled within the folds of the mighty Himalayas, Shiva or Adi Guru transferred his profound knowledge of yoga to the ‘Saptarishis’ or the Seven Sages. The Saptarishis then took this knowledge of yogic thought, philosophy and practice to other parts of the world.
Evolution of Yoga
The process of evolution of yoga can be classified under four major periods:
Pre-Vedic Period (3,300 BC – 500 BC)
This was an early phase when organized society was still evolving and where yoga, as a spiritual practice, was central to people’s lives. There is adequate historical evidence to suggest that practice of yoga was central to the people of the Indus Saraswati Valley civilization.
It was during this period that Maharishi Patanjali, a renowned sage, codified the practice, philosophy and thought of yoga, through ‘Yoga Sutras’ and this then passed on through generations of sages, seers and Yogis.
There is no single form of yoga as several streams and interpretations evolved. The followers of Shiva and Vishnu developed their own practices over time.
Vedic or the Classical Period (500 BC – 800 AD)
It was during this period that a lot of literature was written on the practice and interpretation of yoga and its relevance to human life. During this phase, various sages like Ved Vyas documented Yoga Sutras and also saw path-breaking books like the Bhagvad Gita, Mahabharata and Ramayana becoming central to the evolution of Hinduism.
It is the Bhagvad Gita that enlightens one on Gyan Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga – the three paths to attaining the highest form of wisdom.
This was also a time when Lord Buddha’s Ashta Marga or eightfold path was conceived, along with Lord Mahavira’s Pancha Mahavrata or the five great vows that became central to the lives of subsequent generations.
Post Classical Period (800 AD – 1700 AD)
The age belonged to some of the most enlightened Acharyas or Gurus. Famous names like Adi Shankaracharya, Madhavacharya and Ramanujacharya, contributed significantly to the spread of yogic thought and practice and developed large followings.
The period also saw some great writers like Mirabai, Tulasidasa, Surdasa and Puranadasa, all of whom influenced generations through their writings. This was also a time when the practice of Hath Yoga grew in popularity.
Modern period (1700 AD – 1900 AD)
The modern period saw yogacharyas like Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Paramhansa Yogananda and Maharishi Ramana contribute significantly to the development of spiritual thought and enlightenment through yogic practices.
Swami Vivekananda was a pioneer in taking Indian spiritual philosophy and yoga to the West. In the modern age, it was his writings that gave the West an insight into Indian spiritual and philosophical thought.
Contemporary period (1900 AD onwards)
The contemporary period witnessed spiritual gurus like Sri Aurobindo, Swami Rama, Maharishi Yogi, BKS Iyengar, T. Krishnamacharya, Acharya Rajneesh, all contributing significantly to the spread and practice of yoga, beyond Indian shores.
Presently, Baba Ramdev along with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, have a large following in India and overseas. In USA alone, there are over 30 million practitioners of yoga.
Yoga and its relevance to contemporary times
Today, urban living comes with high levels of stress accompanied by unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise and irregular times of sleeping, all of which contribute to poor health and chronic illnesses.
The understanding and practice of yoga can go a long way towards bringing back a semblance of harmony between the mind, body and soul. It is in recognition of this that the United Nations decided to commemorate 21 June as the International Day of Yoga. Let’s make the best of it.
Interesting to Read:
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Profile of Baba Ramdev