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National Yoga Day celebrations in Mumbai will overshadow solstice celebrations today. Another 191 countries in addition to India are expected to celebrate with exercises, stretches, and deep breaths in what the United Nations has declared as the first National Yoga Day. The proposal to make this day recognized worldwide came from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of India. Mr. Modi said that National Yoga Day is not just a celebration, but also the beginning of an era of peace and harmony.
Prime Minister Modi led the beginning of the day’s celebration with a massive demonstration in New Dehli at Rajpath, which included 450,000 attendees. Organizers of Rajpath’s event have applied to set a Guinness world record, replacing Vivekananda Kendra’s record that was set on November 19, 2005, in Gwalior, India with 29,973 yoga participants. Solstice can mean, “standing in the sun” which is a theme that represents the fulfillment of a cycle that began with the winter solstice and begins again a journey into the winter. Appropriately yet coincidentally, National Yoga Day falls on the same day as the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and is a day symbolic of reflection and change for both celebrations.
Army soldiers held yoga demonstrations at Chennai and hundreds have gathered at different town centers to participate in this ancient practice in unison. Chief Minister Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis praised the efforts of Prime Minister Modi and argued that yoga should be separated from politics and religion. Later in the day, Rajnath Singh said, “Yoga is India’s biggest gift to the world – it cannot be tied to a particular religion, caste or sect.” Today in India, yoga was purposefully practiced in schools, hospitals, fields, convention centers and sports arenas despite the continuous on-and-off rain.
Yoga originated in India and is a holistic way to approach wellbeing and health. The practice has spiritual, physical, mental and emotional components, different forms of practices and has been influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Started in the third-century B.C. yoga has been heavily centered on meditation, consciousness, control of the self, focus on goals, as well as the traditions and philosophies of yoga. In fact, yoga has different meanings and can include the physical practice, as well as the philosophical traditions and principles.
Yoga is being practiced beyond Rajpath today and celebrated by many world leaders including, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Delhi political heavyweights, and Parliamentarians. Because of the way that the sun rotates around the earth, National Yoga Day celebrations had not yet begun in the West, yet it is likely they will overshadow Solstice celebrations.
Today, the largest segment of yoga followers are in America, where 25 million people practice yoga and collectively spend $27 billion dollars. While the commercialization of a tradition that is over 5,000 years old is concerning to some, yoga is bringing positivity to those who practice it. Yoga is said to have set roots in the United States in New York – specifically on Boerum Hill, in Brooklyn in the late 1970s. The fact that a practice that is focused on stillness has captured the attention of overworked Americans is note-worthy. National Yoga Day could not have arrived at a better time than now when America is reeling from yet another source of violence with remnants of its history of racism and hate. Prime Minister Modi encourages practitioners of yoga to focus on how to live a tension-free life while on the path of peace – despite how challenging this may be.
By Olivia Uribe-Mutal
The Hindu – Live: Yoga Day celebration kicks off at Rajpath
Alabama.com – International Day of Yoga 2015 quotes, inspirations, photos for June 21 celebration
CNN – India ties itself in knots over International Yoga Day
Huffington Post – How Yoga Became A $27 Billion Industry — And Reinvented American Spirituality
Image Courtesy of BMW Guggenheim Lab’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License