In 2014, June 21 was declared as the International Day of Yoga by UN General Assembly (UNGA). For the declaration of the day as one of the most auspicious days to be observed globally, credit must be given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was potent enough to convince the world community about the importance and necessity of yoga for the people as a whole.
“Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise, but to discover the sense of oneness with ourselves, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help in well-being. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day,” thus said the Prime minister while delivering his maiden speech in the 69th session of UNGA, mentioning the efficacy of yoga.
His speech impressed the member nations of UNGA. On 11 December, 2014, India’s Permanent Representative Ashok Mukharjee introduced the draft resolution in UNGA. The text of the draft received broad support from 177 member states which sponsored the text that was adopted without a vote. This initiative found support from many global leaders. A total of 177 nations co-sponsored the resolution, which is the highest number of member co-sponsors ever for any UNGA resolution of such nature. As a consequence of this declaration, June 21 in the next year was celebrated as the International Day of Yoga for the first time ever in the world history by 191 countries except Yemen. Since then the day has been celebrated marking the importance of the invaluable gift of India.
June 21 is the day of the Summer Solstice, when the tilt of our planet’s axis in the northern hemisphere is most inclined towards the star that it orbits – in our case, the earth and the sun. The day is considered the longest day of the year with the sun rising early and setting late for the northern hemisphere. The Summer Solstice is also considered an important day in Indian mythology as it marks an event that could be considered the start of Yogic Science.
When people saw Adi Yogi, they flocked to him for enlightenment, but left as he stayed unaware of their presence. Whereas seven people stayed insistent to learn from him, Adi Yogi Shiva refused claiming that a lot of preparation was to be done. The seven people then sat determined through 84 years of sadhana, after which Shiva took notice of them as the sun was shifting from the northern to southern run, which was the day of the Summer Solstice. It is said that he could no longer ignore them as they were overwhelming with knowledge. When the next full moon arose 28 days later, Adi Yogi transformed himself into Adi Guru and started the teaching of yogic science to his disciples.
At present, science, with its tremendous technological advances, eventually makes for human happiness. Science is supposed to be a very powerful tool in the hands of man, which would make an individual immune to grief and sorrow. It is true that scientific discoveries have helped tremendously in making our life less hazardous, but science obviously is a way of collecting and arranging information, and mere information. It does not and cannot make for an understanding of pain and suffering, which is the fundamental problem of life, however it is arranged intellectually. Had this problem been the result of the forces of nature, perhaps science would have been an adequate tool for overcoming suffering.
It is true that in the name of modernity, we have lost the essence of life. Regarding this idea, Nobel laureate TS Eliot laments, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” This remark is far more meaningful in the world today.
In order to get rid of pain and suffering, the fundamental problem of life, the utmost requirement is the process of a radical transformation of human nature. This process of transformation includes self-discovery, self-realization and self-transformation – all of which enhance the core power of human mind by making human more truthful and non-violent, more intuitive and creative, more sensitive, more aesthetically refined, and more in harmony with fellow human beings and with everything else in nature. The yoga system of India, discovered by sages and seers, which is a priceless contribution to mankind of the world, has been practiced since ancient time with this view.
The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuz, which means to link, to join, to unite or to concentrate. The English word yoke has the same origin. Maharshi Patanjali, who systematized the practice elevating it to a philosophical ideology, defines yoga as “mastery over the modification of mind” (yoga chitta vritti nirodhah). According to Swami Vivkananda, “Yoga is a way to condense the process of evolution.”
Yoga is now universally recognized as the science and art of healthy living – physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially. It is a holistic discipline which takes care of the three basic constituent elements of man – the body, the mind and the soul. Yoga helps in the proper coordination and control of the subtle forces within the body. It brings in perfecting peace and everlasting happiness. The practice of yoga helps bring total calmness of mind at all times. It ensures restful and peaceful sleep, increase in energy, vigour, vitality, longevity, and a high standard of health among people. It frees one from the sorrows and pains of life, from the diseases and fluctuations of mind.
Only when a state of equilibrium is reached between the body and the mind does one become capable of and fit for self-realization. The science of yoga teaches one to attain this harmony of mind and body in a skilful and systematic way.
The yogic practices, particularly the practice of Astanga Yoga of Patanjali emphasise on certain moral principles – yamas (abstinences like non-violence, righteousness, non-stealing, celibacy and non-acceptance of what is not due) and niyamas (observances like purity, contentment, austerity, self-study and surrender to Almighty) – which a practitioner must observe in his day-to-day life. This gives a strong moral foundation to his life upon which builds his physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual superstructure, and one proves himself as a man in the true sense in term.
The asanas, mudras, bandhas, satkarmas and pranayamas prepare one physically by purging the internal body and making the whole body strong, healthy and exuberant. Pratyahara helps in bringing the sense organs under control, withdrawing them from their sense objects in the outside world. Dharana and dhyana (concentration and meditation) bring the mind under control, and release all strains and stresses from the mind-body complex. At the stage of samadhi, mind melts and one goes beyond the state of consciousness to a state of super-consciousness where he realizes the Self, and the individual Self merges in the cosmic eternal Truth-Existence-Bliss Absolute.
Yoga is not a religion, but a way of life. The scientific methodology of yoga makes it possible for one to live in a constant state of happiness, harmony and fulfillment. It provides the sense of inner balance, as the Gita says, “Samatvam Yogah Uchyate,” giving the meaning that “the evenness of mind is known as yoga”.