When the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi proposed to the United Nations General Assembly that one day of the year be set aside for yoga, he could not have known quite the effect it would have. As the UN says, it was “endorsed by a record 175 states”, which was a tribute to its “universal appeal”. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon promptly allowed himself to be photographed as he tried to do his first asana, a tree pose suited to beginners. Across the world, people limbered up to set records – or break them – with one UAE yoga instructor revealing that he would attempt the longest headstand. Thousands said they would assume yoga postures in Dubai. Meanwhile, Mr Modi urged his countrymen to turn out in force for a brisk workout in central Delhi on Sunday morning in order to set a new Guinness World Record for the largest yoga class at a single venue.
There were some ructions too over the day that was billed as one to promote “harmony and peace”. It struck a controversial note with some Muslim organisations in India, who complained that yoga is essentially a Hindu religious practice and Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist government was sneakily promoting the values of one faith. But eventually, the muttering subsided and it would be fair to say that the world’s first Yoga Day was largely a success. People of different faiths and from different parts of the world got busy with bending and breathing exercises. According to reports, the day was marked in some way or the other in 192 of the UN’s 193 member countries; the exception being Yemen because of the conflict there.
This is hardly surprising because yoga, a discipline that unites physical exercise with mental and spiritual control, is now a global phenomenon (and a big business too) for all that it originated in India thousands of years ago. As has often been said, the type of yoga performed around the world today is a modern postural sequence of exercises that contributes to flexibility, fitness and a general sense of well-being. It belongs to no country or culture now, but is a holistic part of the health and wellness industry and we all are the better for it.