Thousands of breaths unite as one as life continues- unhalted as a sound of distant humming paints the background with hues of oneness and peace in the city of Dehradun. Last year, on 21 June 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led over 50,000 people on the grounds of the Victorian Forest Research Institute in the performance of the age-old Indian tradition of Yoga. Today, a year later, the city of Ranchi along with the rest of the country will witness the synthesis of millions of breaths into a singular whole displaying an act of remarkable unity.
Yoga, unarguably one of the greatest gifts of India’s rich culture, has now gained recognition from the international community in form of International Yoga Day. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been the driving force behind this feat, as can be seen from the fact that the Indian delegation was able to rally 175 members in favor of this cause. This is the highest number of signatories that any UNGA resolution has ever obtained, and it is quite fitting that so many countries became a part of this resolution considering that yoga means unity. It is worth mentioning that it was Mr. Modi’s first term when this issue was raised in the United Nations General Assembly. The resolution marking 21 June as International Yoga Day was passed on 11 December 2014, making this the 5th year when the day is being observed.
Although it is certain that yoga originated in India, the exact period when yoga began cannot be ascertained. There are many theories regarding the conception of this practice. Some scholars date it back to 15,000 years, when a yogi appeared in upper Himalayas. Nobody knew where he came from, he came and sat still, unmoving. People quickly lost interest in this foreign yogi who did nothing but sit except seven people. When the yogi realized that these people were watching him he taught them a rudimentary step and asked them to practice it. The next time the yogi took notice of the men was 84 years later when the sun was crossing into the southern hemisphere and by this time they were brimming with knowledge, impressed by their unwavering determination the yogi agreed to become their guru. Since the identity of this Yogi is unknown we call him the Adiyogi, often associating him Shiva and the seven men, the saptrishis responsible for imparting the knowledge of Yoga far and wide. This story, no matter how intriguing, does not have a rigorous historical basis. Thus, it is widely accepted that Yoga originated 5000 years ago in the Indus valley as is corroborated by seals depicting yogic postures.
An interesting detail from this story that often goes unnoticed is the exact time that Adiyogi noticed the men. The Adiyogi paid heed to the men when the sun was crossing into the southern hemisphere also known as Dakshinyana. The day of Dakshinyana is the day of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, which is 21 June. This is indicative of the deep considerations that were made while selecting a date for international yoga day. The day of Dakshinyana is said to be the beginning of yogic traditons in the Indian subcontinent.
This year International Yoga Day will focus on climate change as the theme. How yoga can help us in controlling climate change is highlighted in Patnjali’s Yoga Sutras. Patanjali highlights eight steps to acghieving purification and oneness and these can also be effective in controlling climate change. The first step is that of Yama and Niyama, that emphasizes the practice of moral and ethical principles such as non-violence, truthfulness, discipline and self-surrender. Living our lives in accordance with these principles can significantly help us in reducing our carbon footprint by encouraging a minimalist living. The next two steps of Asana and Pranayama help us in controlling our bodies and change our behavior. The three steps of Prataharya, Dharana and Dhyana enable our minds to become calm and still and to control our emotions, which in turn results in lower levels of consumption among humans. Yoga is a practice that is meant to unite, and together we can overcome all odds. Today, we at Caucus urge you all to introspect, to rethink the lives that we have been living and to ask ourselves the question ‘is this necessary?’. We urge you to take a few minutes and consider the impact that you as an individual have on climate change and decide to take one small step that may help. We urge you to include at least one yogic principle to lead a healthier and cleaner lifestyle- for the environment and for the world .