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Yoga uniting nations, cultures and communities through wellness

Rohan Giri / New Delhi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on a three-day state visit to the United States of America where he will lead International Yoga Day congregation at United Nations headquarters in New York.


Introduction of Yoga to America can be traced to late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when Indian philosophers and spiritual leaders like Swami Vivekananda and Paramahansa Yogananda visited the country. They shared teachings of Yoga, philosophy, and meditation, igniting curiosity among a small group of intellectuals and seekers. However, during countercultural movement in1960s and 1970s, Yoga gained significant attention.

Yoga has its origins in India as a science of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. United Nations designated June 21 as International Yoga Day in 2015 in recognition of its potent contribution to humanity in present days of conflict, suffering, pain and economic instability. Now, Yoga practitioners can be found across the world.

This year, on the day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lead the yoga practitioners globally with his participation from the United States where he’s on a state visit. In last eight years, growing tribe of yoga practitioners across geographies demonstrate the impact and transforming potential of cultural interchange and diplomacy.

Cultural Bridge

Presence of Narendra Modi at the helm of the International Yoga Day celebrations in the US also reflects the growing importance of Yoga as a cultural bridge between the two countries. It represented the acceptance of Yoga as a universal practice that crosses borders, faiths, and ideologies. Inclusive nature of Yoga, creating unity, harmony, and mutual respect among many cultures and communities is a message this centuries old practice has signaled.

Health & Well-being

Of late, the world has witnessed renewed focus on health and well-being as lives got trickier and heal care costs surged getting beyond reach. The two-year long fight against COVID-19 pandemic also highlighted the importance of maintaining physical and mental wellness. With its holistic approach, Yoga offered many benefits including stress reduction, enhanced flexibility, improved posture, robust immune system and a calmer mind. Narendra Modi\’s leadership on Yoga Day 2023 in the US also serves as a timely powerful reminder of global significance attached to Yoga.

Yoga Diplomacy:

In the present day context, Yoga has also evolved as a powerful tool of smart and soft power projecting India\’s cultural influence and values to the world. The positive image of Yoga has become bedrock several public diplomacy events internationally in respective countries bid to resolve knotty issues. For India, Yoga is a medium showcase her cultural heritage, emphasizing peace, unity, and holistic well-being. This form of public diplomacy strengthens a nation\’s soft power and creates avenues for dialogue, cooperation, and mutual understanding among nations. India’s thrust on Yoga is also due to its belief in the age old practice’s potential to contribute positively for the humanity that needs a soothing balm.

Diplomacy which has usually been connected with political talks and agreements has found a new expression in the practice of Yoga. Owing to Prime Minister Modi\’s participation in the Yoga event, it has to lead to improvement in India\’s cultural diplomacy and deepened ties with the United States. Strengthening people-to-people contacts, increased understanding, and setting up friendship bridges between the two countries is something Yoga has done and is likely to achieve for communities internationally.

Legacy of Yoga

Yoga has a rich legacy. Practitioners have handed over the beliefs and practices through generations carrying profound wisdom and teachings. Emphasizing Yoga\’s past and reinforcing its eternal relevance in a rapidly changing world is something that annual Yoga events are bound to reinforce.

Indian diaspora in America played a vital role in promoting, preserving and evolving Yoga as a cultural and spiritual practice. They have shared their cultural heritage with the broader American society through passion, knowledge, and dedication. Yoga has also turned into a powerful tool connecting the Indian diaspora to their roots while providing a means for personal growth, community-building, and cultural exchange. As the Indian diaspora continues to shape the narrative of Yoga in America, their contributions bridge cultural divides, celebrate diversity, and cultivate a deeper understanding of Indian and American identities.

Narendra Modi\’s leadership of the International Yoga Day celebrations in United States this year is a milestone in global adoption of Yoga. It symbolized the power of Yoga to transcend cultural boundaries.

(Author is operations manager at Centre for Integrated and Holistic Studies, non-partisan think tank based in New Delhi)

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