June 21 marks the fourth annual worldwide celebration of yoga and its origins. First declared a day of observance in 2015 by the United Nations, the day recognizes the South Asian origins of the practice and the fact that “yoga provides a holistic approach to health and well-being.”
We’ve rounded up everything you need to know about the International Day of Yoga.
The History of the International Day of Yoga
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi first proposed creating the day during his United Nations General Assembly address in 2014. “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition,” he told the General Assembly. “It embodies the unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony 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 the nature.”
Modi then called on the gathered representatives to adopt an International Yoga Day to honor what he dubbed “an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition.” He advocated for the annual day to be on June 21 because of the significance of the summer solstice in several cultures.
The draft resolution was then introduced in December of that year and received the support of 177 nations as co-sponsors, the highest number ever for the creation of a United Nations Day.
Controversy about the day’s purpose
But while India’s United Nations delegation was an integral part of the day’s creation, the concept of an International Day of Yoga was controversial both inside and outside of India itself. After the day was created in 2015, several leaders in India’s Muslim community spoke out against the push to officially connect yoga to India’s history (and, by extension, Hinduism.)
The Washington Post reported that many groups specifically pointed to the inclusion of poses like the Surya Namaskar, in which yoga practitioners salute the sun. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board declared that the Surya Namaskar “is against our religious beliefs and should not be forced on our children,” noting that many schools had mandatory International Day of Yoga programs.
Extraordinary turnout of over 2700 at 4th #IYD2018 at Nairobi graced by Kenyan FM Amb Monica Juma, CAS @AbabuNamwamba, @UnonDg Sahle, #Somali dignitaries & Indian diaspora. @narendramodi @SushmaSwaraj @moayush @IndianDiplomacy @MEAIndia @ForeignOfficeKE#ZindagiRaheKhush pic.twitter.com/RJDDwk7al0
— India in Kenya (@IndiainKenya) June 17, 2020
As with all United Nations days, each International Day of Yoga has an annual theme. This year’s is ‘Yoga for Harmony and Peace.’
How the day is celebrated
Washington, D.C., Chicago and other cities in the United States commemorated the International Day of Yoga last weekend, while the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations hosted its annual yoga session on the North Lawn of the United Nations on Wednesday. The Indian delegation is also sponsoring a discussion with yoga masters on the concept of yoga for piece on the day itself.
As for what readers can do on their own, you can check out our roundup of unconventional yoga practices here.