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This year, on 21 June, the world will celebrate International Day of Yoga.
By Sophie Leaver
Certified Yoga Teacher
This global celebration is due to a resolution introduced by India's Ambassador to the United Nations, Asoke Mukerji. The resolution was met with resounding support, with 175 nations joining as co-sponsors, the highest number ever for any resolution in the UN General Assembly.
The idea was to encourage wider populations to adopt a yoga practice, to share ideas about yoga, and to begin to reap its many benefits. The Indian Prime Minister had described yoga as a practice that "embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well being." He even went as far as to suggest that by changing lifestyles and creating consciousness, yoga can shift the way we see and treat the world.
So can yoga change the world? I believe it can. Yoga is often about striking a delicate balance between two opposites. It allows you to feel grounded to the earth, but explore new heights and spaces. It gives you a space for inner reflection, but provides you with a vibrant community of others doing the same. It encourages you to move, but at the same time find a sense of stillness. It requires strength, and power, at the same time as lightness and agility.
Most of all, yoga calls for a presence of mind, and builds an awareness of oneself, and others. The more aware we become of ourselves, our bodies, our thoughts, and our surroundings, the more we begin to notice and respect others. Yoga teaches us to slow down and appreciate little details we may otherwise overlook. It gives us time to confront thoughts we may have previously buried in the back corner of our minds. It gives us space to let go and find forgiveness, to be vulnerable and powerful all at once.
The beginnings of Yoga were developed in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. Yoga was slowly refined and developed by mystic seers who documented their practices and beliefs. The most renowned of the Yogic scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gîtâ, composed around 500 B.C.E. In the pre-classical stage, yoga comprised various ideas, beliefs and techniques, sometimes conflicting each other. The Classical period is defined by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sûtras, the first systematic presentation of yoga. Patanjali organized the practice of yoga into an "eight limbed path" containing the stages towards obtaining Samadhi, or enlightenment. A few centuries after Patanjali, yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They developed Tantra Yoga, with radical techniques to cleanse the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence. This exploration of the physical-spiritual connections and body centred practices led to the creation of the yoga we recognise in the West today: hatha yoga. In the 19th and 20th Centuries, yoga masters began to travel to the West, and by the 1940’s yoga slowly started to become popularised across the world.
Today, it is practiced by people of all ages and backgrounds, in a range of different and ever-evolving styles. There are classes in hatha, vinyasa, iyengar, buckram, power, yin, pre-natal, broga… the list goes on!
But that what’s so exciting: yoga can mean something different to each person that shows up to a class, steps onto a mat, studies the philosophy, or simply closes their eyes and breathes.
Yoga has become increasingly popular for one main reason: people love it. It challenges you to leave your ego at the door, to explore, and to have fun. It helps keep us healthy and active, and it transcends language and cultural barriers, allowing people to connect. So if you’re new to yoga, or know somebody who is, then let June 21st be the perfect occasion to wake up and salute the sun!