The Yoga Saga

H. R. Bapu Satyanarayana

June 21 is declared International Yoga Day.  As we know, this was on the initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  In his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 27, 2014 he stressed the importance of yoga: 

“Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition.  This tradition is 5000 years old.  It embodies unity of mind and body, thought and action, restraint and fulfillment, harnessing 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 life style and creating consciousness, it can help in well-being. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.”

The declaration of June 21 as International Yoga Day received full support from 177 UN member states.  The draft resolution was unanimously adopted by the UNGA on December 11, 2014.

The first Yoga Day 2015 or World Yoga Day (as it is commonly referred to) set two Guinness World Records.  It was a celebration of sorts for India when a large number of dignitaries from 84 nations gathered at Rajpath in New Delhi.  Over 35,000 people performed yoga asanas with the PM in the lead.  It was the largest yoga class ever held which brought together people of different castes, creeds and nationalities.  Nowhere before had so many people and nations come together for this peace initiative.

This brings to my mind Neil Armstrong’s words when he landed on the moon on July 20, 1969 – “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Modi’s initiative will, in many ways, support embracing humanity and spreading peace and harmony in the world wrecked by the menace of terrorism.

Interest in yoga gains momentum 

World Yoga Day 2016 too saw a large number of people across the world enthusiastically performing yoga asanas.  To interest more people, especially the young, Mr. Modi announced two awards for excellent contribution in the field of yoga – one for the international audience and the other for an Indian.

The Mysore Connection

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, father of modern yoga who was guru to both, K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar – sadly none of them are with us now – are all in some way linked to Mysore.  They have been instrumental in teaching the art and science of yoga to famous personalities and shaping the destiny of many others who have made a mark in their professions.

Yoga and Sports

The greatest basketball player of all times, Kareem Abdul Jabbar was influenced by K. Pattabhi Jois to practice yoga.  Jabbar read about yoga when he was 14 and got hooked to it.  Attributing his basketball stint of twenty years to yoga, he remarked:

“There is no way I could have played as long as I did without yoga.  My friends and teammates think I made a deal with the devil.  But it was yoga that made my training complete.”

Jabbar found in yoga, the eastern discipline’s emphasis on suppleness, concentration and breathing rather than sheer physical strength which he felt could benefit him in his game, particularly the technique of breathing.

“Basketball is a sport of endurance and you have to know how to control your breath, the very essence of yoga too.  I consciously began to use the technique in my practice and playing.  Once I started practicing it, I had no muscle injury during my career.  Yoga can help any athlete with hip joints, muscles, tendons and knees.  Plus, it keeps you in touch with the body.”

Germany wins 2014 World Soccer Finals

B.K.S. Iyengar’s yoga facilitated Germany’s win at the Soccer World Cup 2014.  Mario Gotze who scored Germany’s winning goal and his team players attended yoga sessions at the team’s World Cup base camp in Brazil.  The team trained under Patrick Broome, the only yoga teacher at the base camp.  Commenting on his preparing the World Cup champions of 2014, Broome attributes their win to the yoga practice they underwent.

“Yoga benefits a soccer player at a professional level in many ways.  For a starter, it helps them prevent injuries because it makes the body more flexible.  It helps to build stronger muscles which they usually don’t use.  The most important thing is that it helps to have more awareness in what they do and helps them to relax.  Especially, with the tournament like the World Cup, when the players used to get out of the stadium, they used to be really nervous and there was anxiety in their body.  During an intense atmosphere like that of a World Cup, even if the team wins there are endorphins in the body and helps the players with easy sequences and relaxation to calm down.”

Yoga in prisons of South Africa and elsewhere

 Since 2010, the ‘Prison Freedom Project’ has introduced Yoga classes in prisons all over South Africa, a country that has the third highest ratio of prisoners to population in the world.  More than 100 inmates are enrolled in the classes.  The aim is to create an environment conducive to the peace, well-being and wholeness achieved through mindful awareness.

“All I could see in the world was violence, jealousy and anger” says Bradley Hess, a prison inmate and participant in the video Eyewitness News.  “We learnt about the body, mind and soul.  To me, because I came from a really harsh background, it really wasn’t something that I learned from my parents or from my society in general.”

The yoga instructor of the prison found that with regular practice, the inmates develop self-awareness, forgiveness and personal enlightenment.  It becomes a source of happiness in their dull and shady lives.  It helps to bring about a feeling of empathy for the effect that their words and actions have on others.

Yoga Transcends Cultures, Countries, Continents

Ninie Ahmad, a Malaysian Muslim practices and teaches yoga.  She prays and chants and meditates during her practice in any language, but she makes it a point to know its meaning.  “I see God in all of his creation – with my head covered or not, in my clothes revealing or not.  My religion teaches love, respect and kindness, hence yoga is in every religion, at least in mine.”

Jacob Parit Noomek, a Maasai warrior learnt yoga through the “Africa Yoga Project” and now teaches at the foothills of Kenya’s Mount Kilimanjaro.  He spreads yoga to different villages in the region.  He calls himself a “warrior” as it has a strong connection to where he comes from and holds a great desire to move forward, just like a warrior would.  He stresses the importance of yoga by saying that “it’s not just yoga when you’re on the mat; yoga is in you”.

Patricia Hudacsko teaches yoga at Morganville, New Jersey, USA.  Her take on yoga is this – “There is a saying that you’re only as old as your spine is flexible.  To expound on that, I will say you are only as old as your spine and your mind are flexible.  Yoga provides the means to realize our true nature, which is love.”

Closer to home, our little master of cricket, Sachin Tendulkar practices yoga.  Guru Iyengar’s yoga helped him immensely in his glorious career.

While Modi’s initiative has created a yoga revolution in the world, in our own country, he sets an example of a person who possesses an amazing capacity for hard work and despite keeping punishing schedules looks fresh at all times and does not exhibit any signs of strain or fatigue.  He owes this to his daily practice of yoga which he learnt at Arogyadhama at Jigani, Bengalaru District under the tutelage of Dr. R. Nagendra.

NOTE:  Information sourced from various websites.

Mr. H. R. Bapu Satyanarayana is a freelance writer based in Mysore.  E-mail:

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