Editorial Articles

volume-11, 15 - 21 June 2019

YOGA: INDIA'S Best Gift 

To The World


S.B. Singh

Every year on June 21, International yoga day is celebrated the world over after the   United Nations (UN), recognising yoga’s universal appeal,   passed the Resolution No. 69/131 on December 11, 2014. The resolution received co-sponsorship of 173 member nations and all the five permanent United Nations Security Council (UNSC) members backed it. This point to the global appeal yoga holds to the world community today. Recognising that “yoga provides a holistic approach to health and well being” it was felt at the UN that wider dissemination of information about benefits of practising yoga would be beneficial for the health of world population. The fifth international yoga day, being celebrated on June, 21 this year has as its theme: "CLIMATE ACTION". This theme is most timely as the whole world is battling climate change which is upon us now in a very real way and which threatens the very survival of the planet and the humanity itself. When we are faced with sixth mass extinction due to anthropocentric activities, yoga can show us the way by regenerating human faith in a natural lifestyle.

PM Modi highlighted the importance of yoga at UN in these words "Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well being."

Why on 21st June? This day was chosen because it happens to be a day of summer solstice with the longest day of the year and holds special significance in Indian mythology.

What is yoga?: According to UN, Yoga is an ancient physical,mental and spiritual practice that originated in India. The word yoga is derived from Sanskrit and means to join or to unite, symbolising the union of body and consciousness.

According to Prof. A. L. Basham, a great Indologist, yoga is a word closely connected to the English word' yoke’. It means spiritual discipline or application. Yoga was one of the six schools of salvation in ancient India known as Sadadarshan. Yoga emphasized psychic training as the chief means of salvation. The basic text of yoga is the Yogasutra of Badrayana belonging to 2nd century B.C. In  this text, the following eight stages of yogic training is prescribed:

  1. Yama: self control- it involves following the five moral rules viz; non violence, truthfulness, not stealing, chastity and avoidance of greed
  2. Niyama: Observance - The regular and complete observance of the above five rules.
  3. Asana: Posture - It involves sitting in different positions e.g; padmasana
  4. Pranayama: Control of breath - Whereby the breath is held and controlled and the respiration is forced into unusual rhythms with great spiritual and physical values.
  5. Pratyahara: Restraint - Whereby the sense organs are trained to take no note of their perceptions.
  6. Dharana: Steadying the mind - By concentrating on a single object such as the tip of the nose, the navel, an icon or a sacred symbol.
  7. Dhyana: Meditation - When the object of concentration fills the whole mind
  8. Samadhi: Deep meditation- When the whole personality is temporarily dissolved.

Thus, contrary to the popular belief, yoga is not merely about physical exercise based on certain asanas to tone up the body, it is a wholesome approach to life itself.  Its regular practice paves the way for inner peace and harmony by giving us a choice to live a meaningful, happy life. It promotes within us the virtues of right conduct, right thinking and right action. These virtues are cardinal principles of Buddhism and Jainism also. It helps in greater management of our thoughts, desires and greed and navigates us towards a virtuous life based on ethical principles. Thus, yoga has both an individual relevance as well as social relevance.

The former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon has endorsed yoga in the following words.

"Yoga can contribute to resilience against non-communicable diseases and can bring communities together in an inclusive manner that generates respect. Yoga is a sport that can contribute to development and peace and can even help people in emergency situations to find relief from stress."

No doubt, yoga brings thought and action together in harmony while demonstrating a holistic approach to health and well being. The multi faceted advantages of yoga in enhancing social and spiritual well being of an individual with long term benefits for leading a good life has made it popular across the globe. Apart from this, through multi-disciplinary research in different fields, yoga has attained therapeutic importance and people look at yoga in preventing and maintaining various ailments.

Changes in  lifestyle, food consumption patterns and sedentary habits have added to the disease burden which has taken its toll in the health and finances of the people. Also, at a time when there is so much attention on division and conflict, yoga  comes as a powerful force to heal our differences and bring harmony. At a time in our society when  much of the focus is on how different we are from each other in race, colour and creed, yoga offers an opportunity to experience and celebrate the fact that we all belong to one race- the race of humanity.

Scientific evidence of benefits of yoga:  Real time research on yoga has confirmed its benefits on health. By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga modulates stress response systems. This decreases physical arousal e.g. reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and easing respiration. There is also scientific evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body's  ability to  respond to stress more flexibly. For many patients dealing with depression, anxiety or stress, yoga may be a very appealing way  to better manage symptoms. Indeed, the scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied but are essentially equivalent. The evidence is growing that yoga  practices is a relatively low risk high yield approach to improving overall health.

A leading American journal, Scientific American has credited ancient Indians for  the understanding of yogic sciences. The journal noted the contribution of pranayama thus,

"Pranayama (breath retention)  yoga  was the first doctrine to build  a theory around respiratory control, holding that controlled breathing was a way to increase longevity."

Yoga as India's soft power: In the  1990s, Joseph Nye, an American scholar came up with the concept of soft power. According to him, power is the ability to alter the behaviour of others to get what you want, and there are basically three ways  to do that,

  1. Coercive (sticks)
  2. Payments (carrots)
  3. Attractive ( soft power)

According to Nye, the soft power of a country rests primarily on three resources

a.its culture

  1. its political values
  2. its foreign policy

Thus, soft power is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather through coercion or payments. In other words, soft power is the ability to affect the behaviour of others through persuasion.

India practices value based foreign policy that lends it credence and respect.  To boost itself as a soft power, India has  leveraged its advantages and uniqueness in cuisine, art, culture, films, songs etc.  With the declaration of yoga by UN as an international day, our soft power has received a further boost and today the world is not only getting benefited by yoga but  is also showing  its gratitude to India for offering a natural alternative to good health and well being.  More and more people around the world, irrespective of their race, religion or creed are turning to yoga to find inner peace and harmony in life. In a world torn apart by violence, terrorism and climate change, yoga  provides the healing touch.  The defining features of the modern civilisation are: a rapidified, accelerated life style based on mindless extraction and consumption of  the limited resources of the earth. Nationalism is driving hatred towards others. Pursuit of narrow self interests on the part of nations  is driving humanity towards disaster. Global terrorism is expanding its tentacles. Yoga offers  a solution to these grave challenges confronting humanity today. As Vivekananda rightly said long ago: India is destined to conquer the world spiritually.  Yoga, being a part of our spiritual tradition,  is poised to conquer the world and give  India a lead role in contributing towards  a better world for  the entire humanity. Seen thus,  yoga indeed is India's best export to the world.

( S B Singh is a noted acade-mician and commentator. He can be reached on his email: sb_singh2003@yahoo.com)

Views expressed are personal.

(Image Courtesy : Google)