International Yoga Day: India's Soft Power
Organiser   21-Jun-2018

Yoga as a unique intellectual sapling emanated from the soil of Bharat for the spiritual enlightenment of the humanity at large

Dr Karanam Nagaraja Rao & Dr Aswathi Nair



“ By declaring June 21 as the International Day of Yoga, the General Assembly has recognised the holistic benefits of this timeless practice and its inherent compatibility with the principles and values of the United Nations”, declared Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of United Nations Organization in 2015. The word, ‘Yoga’ is derived from ‘Yuj’ dhatu in Sanskrit which means, to unite. It is the way of uniting body and consciousness. Yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India.

What is Yoga?

Yoga dates back to time immemorial with Patanjali (around 900 BC) as its chief patron codifying the aphorisms. Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari perceives yoga as the coordination of the human faculties and emotions towards a realisation of reality. Many people who perceive yoga and interpret yoga as performing ‘asanas’ (body postures) miss the spiritual link that is unique for India. In fact the Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali talks of eight unique aspects of Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.

Yama connotes social discipline and talks of the following:

Ahimsa (non-violance)

Satya (truthfulness)

Asteya (non-stealing)

Brahmacharya (celibacy)

Aparigraha (non-covetousness)

Niyamas connote self-regulation and talks of shaucha or purity, santosha or contentment, tapas or austerity, swadhyaya or self-education, and Iswara Pranidhana or surrender to the Almighty.

All of us know about Asanas which are postures of the body aimed at staying in a position firmly (sthira sukham asanam – Patanjali Yoga Sutra 2-46).

When the yogi moves from physical plane to subtler level, he moves beyond the asanas to perfecting breathing, maintaining balance and calmness and thus moves from body to mind frequency. Pranayama talks of inhalation and exhalation techniques and Pratyahara talks of denying the senses of their food or controlling the senses from craving towards objects of pleasure (Yogaschittavritti nirodhah). All these from Yama to Pratyahara are Bahiranga Yoga process. Dharana, dhyana and Samadhi constitute Antaranga Yoga. Concentrating the mind on single thought (dharana- focusing), meditation (dhyana – de focusing) make one ready for attaining the status of Samadhi where the seer, the seen and the seeing get merged (samyak adhiyate iti Samadhi).

The aforesaid brief description of yoga conclusively proves the yoga as a unique intellectual sapling emanated from the soil of Bharat for the spiritual enlightenment of the humanity at large. The fact that the yoga survived for generations of human existence is a vindication of brilliant Indian intellectual legacy. It is being imported to plethora of countries in the spectrum of the globe with different names and forms. But what is missing in them is the spiritual quotient. Beauty, when not expressed, is boring. Yoga without spiritual quotient is also boring. India alone possesses this expression and it is its soft power. Joseph Nye, who coined this term, ‘soft power’ in the late 1980s defines it as the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion. Soft power rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others. It is the way of asserting India on the global stage. India and its culture are beacon lights for the countries of the world to look at with awe. As early as 7th century AD, Hiuen Tsang wrote that “People of distant places with diverse customs generally designate the land that they admire as India.”

Further no one can label yoga as non-secular as it dates back to Christianity or Islam and aims at merging the seer with the seen and the seeing. By introducing yoga as curriculum, we make our future citizens a genre of equipoise and compassionate human beings. It is also secular in the sense that it talks to eliminate all seeds of diseases – restless mind, stress, unbridled speed etc (Aaadhis) which usually lead one to indulge in wrong actions – like eating unwholesome food, untimely work habits, nurturing anger and evil thoughts which breed physical diseases also called as vyadhis.

Our role on this International Yoga Day

We may not be good citizens if we remain mute spectators glued to the idiot boxes that broadcast a few events of yoga. Neither it is desirable to condemn yoga as non-secular without trying to understand the true spirit of yoga. What is required is an organised show of our strength and project India’s soft power to the world at large. There is a trend to perceive anything connected to ancient Indian system of philosophy with disdain by neo secularists. It is time to stand up and inform all those so-called secularists the inner meaning and import of yoga. Any country glorifies its icons and celebrates its cultural moorings to inculcate a spirit of pride in the citizens of the country. A nation with no pride of its own can boast of nothing to represent in the global spectrum. On the eve of this International Day of Yoga, let us understand the concepts of yoga, read them, remember them and proclaim to the world that we are a civilisation who has mastered the science of body and mind for the good of the community and health of the world as a whole.

(The writers are Assistant Professors, Alliance University, Bengaluru)