The UN General Assembly in its resolution adopting 21st June as the International Day of Yoga (IDY) recognizes that “yoga provides a holistic approach to health and well-being”. Yoga, like the Ubuntu and Tao philosophies, believes in oneness of the force linking the self and all creation.
The fact that IDY is the first ever resolution to be co-sponsored by 177 countries testifies its transnational credence and relevance. From the Beatles to Elizabeth Gilbert’s search for meaning in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, yoga and meditation have been two of India’s most successful cultural exports. Yoga has, over the last few decades slipped out of the grasp of Indian mystics and grubby hippies to be popular, accessible and affordable to almost all across the world. Even though yoga is practiced in many forms the world over, the principles of balance, interdependence and oneness form the foundation of all yogic forms.
Much like yoga, the UN has adopted numerous observances that foster a sense of interconnectedness within and with all existence. These encompass varied dimensions of human existence and the ecosystem. For example, the International Day for Vesak (the Day of the Full Moon) acknowledges Buddhism’s contribution to the spiritual dimension of humanity. Likewise the International Day of Happiness recognizes the relevance of the pursuit for happiness and well-being in personal life and in public policies. Similarly observances for values such as Friendship, Charity, Non-Violence, Tolerance all focus on building harmonious relationships with society. The observances for Biodiversity, Mother Earth, Wildlife, Environment highlight the ecological dimension. This is reinforced by the International Day for Nowruz (21 March, marking the first day of spring) which celebrates the indivisible link between constructive action and cycles of renewal in nature. The role of cultures and traditional knowledge systems in the spectrum of relationships between individuals and nature is understood by recognizing the significance of Cultural Diversity and Indigenous Populations. The holistic approach for development adopted by the UN thus seeks to explore the dynamic reciprocal interconnections between the subtle (spiritual) levels of health to the more explicit (ecological) dimensions of existence and their balancing determinants.
It is noteworthy that the first International Day for Yoga coincides with the ‘Year for Global Action for People and Planet’, in 2015, wherein countries endeavor to co-strategize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on the scaffolding of the MDGs. Experts consider sustainable development as the ‘greatest and most complicated challenge’ faced by humanity. It is believed that a plausible solution lies in changing the current resource consumption patterns from a destructive mode to a cooperative mode, while living in harmony with environment. There is an urgency to adopt a holistic vision of sustainable development – a vision integrating economic development, social inclusion and environmental sustainability (as outlined in an interview with Jeffrey Sachs for example). This need for repairing the bonds with nature is reiterated in the outcome document of Rio+20 -the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (2012), which calls for “holistic and integrated approaches for sustainable development that will guide humanity to live in harmony with nature and lead to efforts to restore the health and integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem.”
The above discussion suggests that the model of development adopted by the world economies till now has created sustainability issues concerning life and resources. It also draws attention to the consumerist mindset behind a culture of commodification and overuse of all resources. Interestingly the UN resolution for IDY emphasizes the need for “building better individual lifestyles devoid of excesses of all kinds” to achieve global health. It understands yoga as a lifestyle of balanced living. This seems particularly relevant at a time when the incidence of preventable, chronic diseases, often linked to our modern sedentary lifestyle of plenty, is rapidly rising. Through physical, breathing, sensory, mental and spiritual practices prescribed in Yoga it is possible to maintain the physical and mental well-being of an individual, and thereby bring about a sense of oneness within the larger society.
The International Day of Yoga coincides with the summer solstice, on 21 June – a day often celebrated through festivals and rituals in societies across the world. Yoga is a neutral tool and works well to promote cultural diplomacy. Modi’s call to celebrate yoga has been welcomed almost universally. It once again highlights the need to uncover all the wisdom found in traditional knowledge systems to find clues to the contemporary problems faced by humanity. It is a philosophy in action. Acknowledging yoga under the UN Observances only reinforces the holistic perspective of all creation endorsed by the UN.