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International Yoga Day: Celebrating the Art and Science of Yoga

Yoga as a practice originated in India over 5,000 years ago. It is rooted in the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, with the earliest references found in the Rig Veda. Thereafter, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, written around 400 CE, systematized the practice of yoga into eight limbs, forming the basis of modern yoga practice.

International Yoga Day 2024: Celebrating the Art and Science of Yoga By Vineeta Hariharan AJR
First Published Jun 21, 2024, 1:53 PM IST

By - Vineeta Hariharan

(Author is a public policy exponent and a public figure. She is the Vice President of BJP Kerala Mahila Morcha - women’s wing of BJP)

International Yoga Day is celebrated on June 21 each year, a date chosen for its significance as the summer solstice—the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. This day holds a special place in many cultures due to its astronomical importance, symbolizing light and knowledge. The idea of an International Day of Yoga was first proposed by India’s honourable Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in 2014 which received overwhelming support, and in December 2014, the United Nations proclaimed June 21 as International Yoga Day.

History and Origin: Yoga as a practice originated in India over 5,000 years ago. It is rooted in the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, with the earliest references found in the Rig Veda.  Thereafter, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, written around 400 CE, systematized the practice of yoga into eight limbs, forming the basis of modern yoga practice. The practice spread to the West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, gaining global popularity for its physical, mental, and spiritual benefits.

Different Schools: Through time as Yoga as a practice evolved, several methods came into being through a variety of schools, each with its own unique approach and emphasis. Some of the noteworthy schools are Hatha Yoga, which focuses on physical postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama) to prepare the body for meditation. Kundalini Yoga, aims to awaken the dormant energy (kundalini) at the base of the spine through meditation, pranayama, and asana; Ashtanga Yoga is a rigorous style of yoga involving a set sequence of postures linked by breath. The Iyengar school of Yoga, emphasizes precise alignment and the use of props to perform asanas correctly, Vinyasa Yoga is a dynamic style that links movement and breath, often referred to as "flow" yoga.

Benefits of Yoga: As is widely recognised Yoga offers numerous benefits for the mind, body, and spirit such as

- Physical Health:  Improving the  flexibility, strength, and balance; enhancing cardiovascular health; aid in weight management.
-Mental Health:  Reduces stress, anxiety, and depression; enhances mental clarity and focus.
- Emotional Well-being: Promotes relaxation, improves mood, and fosters a sense of inner peace.
- Spiritual Growth: Encourages self-awareness, mindfulness, and a deeper connection with oneself and the universe.

Presence of Yoga in India and Worldwide: Yoga has a profound presence in India, where it is deeply embedded in the cultural and spiritual fabric of the nation. It is practiced widely across the country, from urban centers to rural areas. Globally, yoga has found a significant following, with millions of practitioners in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Notably, the United States has one of the largest yoga communities outside India, with yoga studios and wellness centers thriving across the country.

Steps to Integrate Yoga into School Curricular:Integrating yoga into school curricula can have numerous benefits for students, including improved concentration, reduced stress, and better physical health. Steps to achieve this may include:

1. Curriculum Development: Create age-appropriate yoga programs that align with educational goals.
2. Teacher Training:  Provide specialized training for teachers to effectively deliver yoga instruction.
3. Resource Allocation: Ensure schools have the necessary resources, such as yoga mats and space.
4. Policy Support: Advocate for policies at the educational and governmental levels to support yoga in schools.
5. Community Engagement: Involve parents and the community to foster a supportive environment for yoga education.

Government of India's Efforts to Promote Yoga: While we reflect on Yoga and it's evolution, it is important to recognise that The Government of India under the leadership of Shri Narendra Modi has undertaken several initiatives to promote and to reignite the practice in India and internationally. Some of the key initiatives being 

- the setting up of a separate Ministry of AYUSH:  to develop education, research, and propagation of indigenous alternative medicine systems, including yoga.
- Celebrating International Yoga Day on June 21 every year.
- Setting up a Yoga Certification Board:  Provides certification for yoga professionals to ensure quality and standardization.
- Wide Inclusion in Education: Encouraging the inclusion of yoga in school curricula and physical education programs.

"Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self." - The Bhagavad Gita

Preserving Yoga as an Art and Science: To preserve yoga as both an art and science, it is essential to:

1. Maintain Traditional Practices;  Honour and promote traditional yoga practices while integrating modern scientific research.
2. Encourage Research: Support scientific studies on the benefits and applications of yoga.
3. Foster Education:  Provide comprehensive yoga education that includes philosophy, anatomy, and practical application.
4. Cultural Preservation:  Protect and promote the cultural heritage of yoga through museums, archives, and cultural events.
5. Global Collaboration: Engage in international collaboration to share knowledge and best practices.

Conclusion: International Yoga Day serves as a global platform to celebrate the ancient practice of yoga and its numerous benefits. As yoga continues to gain popularity worldwide, it is crucial to preserve its traditional roots while embracing modern advancements. Through collaborative efforts, yoga can be integrated into educational systems, promoted by governments, and cherished as a valuable art and science that enhances the well-being of individuals and societies.

"The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in." - B.K.S. Iyengar

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