Beyond the International Yoga Day – Potential and Benefits of Yoga and its Popularity for India
News articles and reports on Muslim and Christian religion practitioners in India being concerned with the observance of Yoga Day on June 21st were in media recently. I am not an expert in religious studies and hence I do not understand the negative impact of Yoga on any world religions. However, I have experienced good things with the practice of Yoga and I know of evidence based studies of this ancient Indian practice being tried and tested in clinical trials of some of deadliest diseases challenging human species currently. Introduction of this day on World calendars has opened enormous opportunity for India to make meaningful contributions and partnerships in the health science and well being space.
I personally believe that observance of a day in a year does nothing more than introducing awareness of existence. You may have experienced this with the World Heritage Day, the Human Rights Day so and so forth. If introduction of a day could raise mass awareness we should have seen lesser and lesser filth around the world heritage sites and lesser and lesser violation of human rights in the society. That clearly is not the case. International Yoga Day like many of these days is also an introduction to the awareness of practice and benefits of Yoga.
The practice and popularity of Yoga has potential of reaching the remotest person because of its need for minimalist infrastructure and investment. This is where the introduction of International Yoga Day should go beyond the Jun 21st celebration at Rajpath. Celebrations are a part of healthy society and an annual celebration of introduction of a day that we closely relate to is great. However, beyond that with an introduction of a global day like this, India has silently promised the world to share an idea and a philosophy that it has. Transferring physical items is easy; sharing a philosophy requires impacting action. In this context in addition to sharing there is an opportunity to export.
Yoga is already popular around the world and with an introduction of a day like June 21st, its awareness and following is bound to increase. The question is whether India can meet the increasing demand for knowledge about Yoga; its ancient philosophy that it believes will benefit humankind for millenniums to come? The Yoga that is practiced in most parts of World is very different than indigenous ‘Yog’ practiced in India. For some reason, the western world has selectively extracted the physical aspect of Yoga. It is either the inadequacy of quality teaching resources, education and research or convenient filtering that has left the spiritual aspect in the strain.
If India considers itself capable of sharing ‘Yog’ with its philosophy and benefits to the world, it needs to make the resources available to current and aspiring followers in India and abroad to practice ‘Yog’ and practice it right. This includes making the literature on ‘Yog’ and its philosophy available to read and research. This will need fostering of ‘Yog’ education and research institutes that are able to teach beginner to advanced levels of ‘Yog’ in accordance with regulatory guidelines. There are currently no guidelines for ‘Yog’ teachers in India. Anyone can practically teach anyone. The regulatory guidelines need to draw quality guidelines on who can impart ‘Yog’ education and what the standards of that education should be.
Added research infrastructure will uncover the science behind lifestyle, medical and spiritual benefits of ‘Yog’. It will enhance partnered research and provide data to support many theoretical claims and observations we have had so far. The prospect for ‘Yog’ tourism (I am borrowing this term from medical tourism) and partnered research will be enormous for India. If the health and well-being claims made by many ‘Yog’ practitioners and teachers are true then that would mean healthier and productive population. At large, an investment like this will benefit India and world will nothing but thank India for this contribution.
Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga currently funded by certain departments of the Government of India was established in 1998. The facilities are clearly limited in their capacity and need to be enhanced. A connected network of institutes needs to be established to support education and research in multiple parts of the country. A consortium of various private ‘Yog’ institutes with experienced masters should to be established to exchange knowledge with its sources. This conglomerate can contribute towards guiding and training teachers, researchers and students. As a need of time, more research papers need to be published and presented; more patents need to be filed. Partnered research needs to be done with other institutes in India and abroad in the field of Yog, health sciences and lifestyle.
Moreover, a productive research infrastructure if established will open the possibility of raising funds for researching ancient Indian principles of Ayurveda, their marriage with the Yogic principles and its impact and contribution to the modern medical science.
In the background this also raises potential of quality teachers teaching ‘Yog’ the right way with adequate physiological and philosophical knowledge. India has lead the way for the world to celebrate International Yog(a) day; never mind that we call it “International Yoga Day” instead of “International Yog Day”, India still owns the responsibility to pass on authentic knowledge in its right spirit to the world. Like all philosophies the ‘Yog’ philosophy will transform through time but the onus of imparting the true grain of this intriguing knowledge source remains with the place of its origin.
People both in India and abroad who are exposed to Yog have realized its benefits. Each section of population practices it differently. However, there are clinical trials conducted around the world to study the effects of Yog/Yoga on various disease conditions and disorders. The results are encouraging to say the least. Add to this the marriage of true Indian philosophy and western research and development infrastructure. I think the opportunity for India to make time stamping contribution is immense.
In addition to making worldly contribution and in return learning from the world, India as a country can reap quality benefits of this practice very much at home. A country that reports 22% increase in suicide rates over 2002-2012 definitely has a reason to popularize its indigenous philosophy in-house. Moreover, practicing ‘Yog’ does not need a lot of space and machinery. It can become every poor man’s tool to mental and physical sanity.
Associating practice of ‘Yog’ with religion would be undermining its potential for benefiting mankind. Typically a religion is what we are born with but our life will be what we make of it. One of the world’s leading cancer research centers in United States, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has an Integrative Medicine Program that studies the effects of Yoga and other alternatives like Music Therapy on Cancer patients. I am happy to say that in one of the studies they did, Yoga was found to reduce stress level in breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy. I don’t know the religion of those patients but I am proud that a philosophy and practice that originated in the sub-continent that I belong to has helped these women reduce the treatment side effects while fighting one of the most difficult diseases on earth. Practicing Yoga/’Yog’ will not interfere with world religions, it might make us humans better equipped to understand them and apply their principles for betterment of this earth and its earthlings.
The words ‘Yog’ and ‘Yoga’ have been used interchangeably in the article to indicate the original and transformed form of the word in the context of the matter written