International Yoga Day: Footprints of Yoga across the globe and changing perception of Bharat
Yoga is one of India's most significant cultural exports. Many countries which do not know our culture or traditions are now connecting to India through Yoga. The present Indian government led by PM Modi is the first to truly honour India's soft power and proudly share it emphasising India's cultural gifts to the world, and aimed to strengthen their connections. Worldwide acceptance of Yoga is a manifestation of this soft power.
It is the fifth year when the world will celebrate the International Yoga Day. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while speaking at the United Nations (UN), appealed that the UN declares an 'International Day of Yoga.' In his speech at the UN, Prime Minister Modi's reference to Yoga was made in the context of climate change and going back to basics.
He said: "Yoga … embodies the 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 yourself, the world, and nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change."
Much criticism had started flowing in from the usual quarters after he gave his speech. A couple of months later the UN General Assembly announced 21 June as the day for celebrating the International Day of Yoga. It was overwhelmingly co-sponsored by 177 nations, including 46 Islamic countries, which is the highest number for any resolution in the Assembly.
Yoga is an ancient practice, rooted in Indian philosophy. It began as a spiritual practice but has become popular as a way of promoting physical and mental well-being. Yoga is not about bending and twisting one's body or holding your breath.
Yoga is a relaxed, yet powerful technique for relieving stress through its multi-dimensional effects on the body. With specific Asanas, when appropriately performed, Yoga also aids improvement in digestion, circulation, respiration, autonomic functions, and certain neurological conditions can be achieved. Yoga can help control diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
However, good health is more than just the absence of disease.
Yoga helps one feel healthier and more energetic. It can increase vitality by rechanneling energy for better physical and mental strength and healing. With a multi-dimensional practice of Yoga, there is increased peace of mind, clarity, alertness, and concentration.
Yoga is not merely Asanas and Pranayama. Yoga helps purify and fine-tune the body and mind to become more transparent for the inner light. Meditation is another component of Yoga, which is a state of 'awareness of one's inner being.' It can help bring fulfillment and complete inner joy, and hopefully, a meaningful purpose in our lives.
There is no debate that Yoga is deep rooted into Sanatan (Hindu) Dharma. Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Yuj,' which means 'union with' implying merging oneself with the real Self or the Divine. It is a distinct holistic philosophy that provides an efficient path toward realising the oneness in all human beings by combining physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation.

 Yoga is being practised the world over today. Its acceptance has increased substantially after the initiation of IDY
Ever since exponents of Yoga began teaching to the western world, there has been a movement to disengage the deep spiritual value of Yoga from its source. This movement has also tended to negate the relationship between Yoga and Hindu Dharma.
Our ancient Rishis have given this incredible knowledge free to everyone. However, there is a lack of gratitude that our spiritual forebears were inspired to formulate this holistic system that proves scientifically to benefit body, mind, and soul.
India's civilisation's influence declined during the Islamic and colonial eras. Under the British, Hindu Dharma had been consigned to superstition and backwardness. In the cultural battle, the English media and colonial academia harshly criticised Hinduism and poorly represented India's civilisational views that extended to attacks on vegetarianism and denigrating Yoga practices.
The denigration occurred in the case of Paramahansa Yogananda in the '30s and later to most of the gurus from India in the late twentieth century, starting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Not surprising that it persists even today, given the prejudices that remain against India in general and Hinduism in particular.
Starting in 1893, Swami Vivekananda ignited a significant resurgence of Indian thought throughout the world. Swami Vivekananda's famous talk at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 was an epoch-making revival and global expansion of Yoga, Vedanta, Hinduism, and India as part of a single, profound message for all humanity. He represented India's vast ancient Dharmik Civilisation to the world.
Speaking as the Hindu Monk, Swami Vivekananda demonstrated that true spirituality is not a matter of belief or even charity and ethical conduct, but extends to individual practices of Yoga and meditation, so that we can experience the Divine within ourselves. It was something unheard of to the world hungry for a more profound knowledge that it had been deprived of for centuries — the word 'Yoga' stuck in the minds of people as representing the new global spiritual awakening.
His Yoga-Vedanta teachings quickly spread throughout North America and Europe and became the basis for the new experiential spirituality of the modern age. His book Raja Yoga, written in Manhattan in 1896, had a significant impact on Western understandings of what Yoga was. He made Yoga appealing to both science and spirituality, taking it far beyond the old constricting boundaries of religious discourse.
The world Yoga movement continued to expand through the twentieth century. Over the coming years, more teachers and disciples of Indian gurus would travel to Europe and America. Wherever Hindus have migrated in the world, Vivekananda's work and promotion of Yoga have provided them an identity worthy of respect. Today hundred million people in the world practice some form of Yoga.
During this spread of India's spiritual and cultural traditions, India's Government did nothing to support Yoga nationally or internationally. India's left-leaning academia did little to encourage, protect, or to benefit from it. They have been happier denigrating Hindu and Buddhist thought than producing any more in-depth scholarship that Yoga followers could appreciate.
Yoga now enjoys an increasingly large and growing fan following in China. China-India Yoga College is planning to spread its offerings to more locations to meet with the increased demand.
Yoga, though practised in the United States typically emphasises physical postures, yet it has gained overwhelming acceptance, and the practice and praise of Yoga are continuously increasing, making it a part of the US culture.
In recent times the credit for a tremendous boost to Yoga as a health practice in India goes to Swami Ramdev who not only established the most important centre for Yoga and Ayurveda at the outskirts of Haridwar, he also conducted many Yoga Shivirs (camps) across India. He travelled tirelessly through the country for several years teaching Yoga and explaining its benefits to help change the negative image of Yoga in India.
It is imperative that India expands its culture as its soft power and civilisational strength to attain the proper place in the world for its great heritage.
The present Indian Govt. led by PM Modi is the first to truly honour India's soft power and proudly share it emphasising India's cultural gifts to the world, and aimed to strengthen their connections. This Government understands that cultural power is perhaps the main diplomatic power in this era of global travel and the global economy. It must form an integral part of any realistic foreign policy.
Breaking from prior cultural lethargy, it marks a new era, a New-India that honours its millennial civilisation and strives to share it. Yoga is one of India's most significant cultural exports. Many countries which do not know our language, our culture or tradition, are now connecting to India through Yoga. Today India draws more considerable international attention towards Indian spiritualism and, of course, Yoga.
India has continuously used 'Yoga' in the broadest sense of the term - as a way of bringing welfare to humanity. The International Yoga Day celebrations must be seen in this context. Yoga is an excellent gift of India to the world, which through its footprints across the globe is changing the perception of Bharat.