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For the uninitiated, yoga looks so complex. I can imagine my favorite author P G Wodehouse describing it as people tying themselves in knots. Yet kids are taking to it just as their elders. Black, white, brown or any color in between, in nearly 200 countries, big and small, people are taking to what might be, at least in India for sure, the most inexpensive way to managing good health. They are practicing it with vigor and unprecedented enthusiasm from San Francisco, Ca touching the Pacific Ocean,  across the US mainland, Europe, Africa, and Asia to Yokohama in Japan on the other side of the Pacific.  From the capitalist United States to communist China, yoga is taking the world by storm. 

Today, June 21 we celebrate International Yoga Day. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had advocated this when he spoke at the UN General Assembly last year. His suggestion that the UN celebrate this day was accepted. In that speech he made reference to Swami Vivekananda who by the way lectured on yoga and its universal applicability in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago way back in 1893.

Tradition has it that yoga evolved from India’s spiritual gurus thousands of years ago. Whether it started 5000 years ago or 10000 years ago is a matter of debate but it is certain that this body of knowledge came to the fore in the North of India in the Indus- Sarasvati civilization of that period. Our ancient Rishis captured the essence of yoga and its forms of practice in the Upanishads. It finds a place in the Bhagvad Gita as well.

Yoga is best described as a combination of physical and mental exercise which helps you to regulate your speed of breathing. It makes your body more supple and your mind less cluttered. The Art of Living Foundation lists the following as key benefits of practicing yoga. As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who founded this institution in 1981 says, “Health is not a mere absence of disease. It is a dynamic expression of life – in terms of how joyful, loving and enthusiastic you are.”  The Foundation believes “postures, pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation are a holistic fitness package. ”

Today it is estimated that there are over 300 million practitioners of yoga the world over. This figure is literally growing by the minute . More people are becoming aware of its benefits, largely through the shared experiences of those who have found it to be of immense value in our dog-eat dog always on the run world. There are many different types of yoga, supposedly more than 50 of them. In today’s age of Do It Yourself (DIY) and self -help it is tempting to grab a book or see a video on YouTube and dive into yoga. I would recommend that it is best to invest in a course after you have read up on the subject and researched the trainer.

Yes, a massive amount of commercialization has taken place in teaching yoga over the decades especially in the Western countries. Yoga is today considered a multi-billion dollar business. Like in all walks of life, you need to choose carefully to satisfy your needs in a market of plenty. There are yoga schools all over the place but not all of them are necessarily really well-equipped. In order that you don’t cause harm to your body or your well-being, take time to learn what suits you best before you sign up.

The list of celebrities from the worlds of entertainment, sports and even politics who practice yoga makes for impressive reading. Prime Minister Modi at age 65 is setting a scorching pace for his team. What keeps him so fit? Yoga has been the secret of his success.

Addressing thousands of yoga enthusiasts today in an event to celebrate the second International Yoga Day, Prime Minister Modi said, “Yoga gives health assurance at zero budget….anyone can do it anywhere.” Sure, they can. Thousands gathered in New York’s Times Square to do just that.

 

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