It is an irony that even though yoga is a gift of India to the world, it has been hijacked by the West and other countries and has now become a mega commercial industry. To claim what is truly our heritage, we need to propagate and promote yoga without deviation or diluting its classical essence, says Dr Ishwar V Basavaraddi
Yoga invites us to foster peace instead of panic, cultivate calmness instead of chaos, activate awareness instead of aggression, and experience freedom instead of fear. The International Day of Yoga on June 21, 2022, marks the eighth annual global celebration, the theme for this year is ‘Yoga for Humanity’.
Bharat is the ‘Vishwa Guru’ of yoga. Yoga is our cultural heritage and our ancient and rich scriptures have given us the technology to achieve happiness, harmony, and well-being for all humankind. For this 8th year of the International Day of Yoga, the eight pillars of Ashtanga yoga are a reminder to reclaim our humanity and restore a sense of balance amid challenging times globally.
EIGHT PILLARS OF YOGA
The eight pillars of yoga help us to transform ourselves to reach our highest potential. The first pillar is Yama or ethical conduct of nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation of senses, and non-hoarding. Niyama or personal practices such as cleanliness, contentment, self-study, austerity, and effort, and surrender to divinity constitute the second pillar. Yama and Niyama are the foundation or bedrock of the other five aspects of yoga. The third component is asanas or physical postures which are comfortable to the body and uplifting for the spirit and the mind, allowing us to experience a sense of stillness, stability, and flexibility. Breathing practices or pranayama come next. One experiences a sense of lightness and joy with every inhalation and exhalation and a sense of control to modulate our mood and uncover the light within. The fifth pillar is Pratyahara or turning inward, just like a turtle that withdraws its limbs within, one learns to detach oneself to experience a sense of quietude conducive to reflection and introspection. Dharana or concentration is the sixth pillar. Dhyana or meditation, the practice of remaining still without external or internal conflict is the penultimate. Samadhi, the sense of complete harmony with oneself, with others, and with the universe is the pinnacle of yoga practice, resulting in attaining moksha or complete liberation.
YOGA AS A SOFT SKILL
It is an irony that even though yoga is a gift of India to the world, it has been hijacked by the West and other countries and has now become a mega commercial industry. The commercialization of yoga is phenomenal at a global level. The industry is projected to grow to $250 billion by the year 2027. In this space, India only has a very small slice of the pie. To claim what is truly our heritage, we need to propagate and promote yoga without deviation or diluting its classical essence. In this regard, there is tremendous support under the vision and the leadership of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Inspired by this vision, a three-pronged approach would be optimal. Firstly, we need to continue to enhance training and skill development. There is a systematic effort involving yoga gurus, major institutions, and schools of yoga toward the standardization of yoga through global certification. The process of benchmarking and setting high values and standards for yoga professionals and teachers who are properly qualified to teach is also underway. Secondly, creating employment opportunities to meet the huge demand for high-quality teachers within India and abroad is crucial through institutions that offer higher education in yoga with robust standards. The thrust should also be on producing evidence-based research to support the myriad benefits of yoga. Yoga, as a soft skill can be furthered by encouraging yoga schools to teach in regional languages and harnessing technology to offer courses at a basic, professional, specialization level. Thirdly a sense of community and networking among working yoga professionals, not just within India by across the globe will begin to bridge the distance in communication and differences within the various approaches to yoga as is practiced today.
RECLAIMING OUR HUMANITY WITH YOGA
At a fundamental level, yoga improves our lives through holistic, integrative and sustainable practices. These include proper diet as is conducive to our wellbeing, proper practice of asana, pranayama, and meditation to enhance the quality of our lives and proper relaxation and recuperation to balance our body and mind.
Even though yoga may be practiced as a group, each person takes away what she or he needs depending upon their mental, physical, and emotional constitution. The teacher may be the same, however, the effect that the teaching will have on each person will be different. The transformative nature of yoga helps us to transcend, as master Patanjali says “yogaha chitta vritti nirodha”. Yoga invites us to transform and break the patterns of toxicity. At a very practical level, the technology of yoga can be utilized in myriad ways. For example, when one practices tadasana, (the basic standing posture), it can be performed in many ways depending on the situation and individual disposition. It can be performed with arms raised, as a side bend, or done with a twist while standing. The same tadasana can be modified for children as well as pregnant women, seniors, and those with disabilities. One size does not fit all, and yoga is a classic example of that.
ROAD AHEAD: ASPIRE, PERSPIRE, INSPIRE
With abhyasa and vairagya (discipline or continuous study and a sense of detachment), we can all become more resilient and stronger in our bodies and minds. In this era of uncertainty marked by pandemics and wars, ancient Indian values such as nonviolence, integrity, and truthfulness are more pertinent than ever before. According to the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga is samatvam or a balanced state. May this International Day of Yoga not just be about a day of practice but a reminder to aspire towards our highest altruistic values and to share this light of yoga with others. ‘Lokaha samastaha sukhino bhavantu’ – May all beings in every space experience happiness.
(The writer is Director, Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga, Union Ministry of Ayush)