Cat Easterbrook

International Yoga Day – beyond the spin

The first ever International Yoga Day is here. Having been on the fringes of society for thousands of years, it’s quite a landmark for yoga, for the holistic health world and for India.

Meditating on the banks of the Ganges, Rishikesh, India

Meditating on the banks of the Ganges, Rishikesh, India

“Yoga is an invaluable gift of our ancient tradition. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change.”

Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, addressing the UN General Assembly

For anyone new to yoga the idea of it ‘dealing with climate change’ might seem like quite a leap, but change starts with us and increasing the wellbeing of individuals is key. Through individual wellbeing we access clearer thinking, more capacity for caring  and more energy to make better choices.

But not everyone is happy about the arrival of International Yoga Day…

“We won’t be part of the International Yoga Day celebrations as we are not interested in drum-beating about it,”

Indian State of Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat

I understand the cynicism. Anything coming from the top down is often very questionable for its ulterior motives and very annoying in the way it is handled. By all accounts there are plenty of ulterior motives and it’s being handled pretty badly.

It isn’t just people in politics who are anti International Yoga Day though and I understand the arguments: yoga isn’t about promotion, yoga isn’t a public performance, yoga isn’t ‘doing poses’, yoga isn’t about money, or politics or fame or a Guinness world record attempt.

Yes. This is true. At its essence yoga is about something deep and pure. It slowly and skillfully enables us to move deeper, to go beyond our superficial layers of cultural conditioning, assumptions, delusions, habitual thoughts and faulty beliefs.

It allows us to cut through the surface static to connect to what lies beyond and below that. And what lies beyond and below that is anything but political or showy or public.

But we can’t just rock up at this pure experience of yoga. We need to have paths there and these paths need to exist and function within our showy, political, public, modern societies… because that’s where we are.

My personal route into yoga was a DVD. Oh the scandal. I was looking for more energy, better health – nothing particularly deep. But that DVD set me off on a new journey and I found a lot more besides, going on to experience yoga classes and retreats and even studying yoga in India.

Funnily enough, I studied yoga in the very state that is refusing to take part and is dismissing International Yoga Day as a ‘drum-beating’.

But would I have made it to India without all the ‘drum-beating’ along the way? I doubt it. It’s unlikely I would have woken up one morning, got on a plane to India then wandered off into the Himalayas in search of a guru. I started by getting on Amazon and having a DVD put through my letterbox.

I needed yoga to be that accessible. But don’t most of us? And don’t we all deserve a route in, and a chance to experience its essence no matter where our starting point – be it a Himalayan cave or an inner-city gym?

I think it’s vital that we make sure that yoga has wider access than to the Himalayan cave crew, because let’s face it, they aren’t the ones that are causing all the wars, the economic and environmental catastrophes and the public health crises.

“By proclaiming 21 June as the International Day of Yoga, the General Assembly has recognized the holistic benefits of this timeless practice and its inherent compatibility with the principles and values of the United Nations.

Yoga offers a simple, accessible and inclusive means to promote physical and spiritual health and well-being. It promotes respect for one’s fellow human beings and for the planet we share.”

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon.

So I wholeheartedly welcome the arrival of International Yoga Day and the fact that it will raise more awareness of yoga and the benefits that we can all enjoy – individually, collectively.

In London there is free yoga for anyone who wants to join. I’ve had the pleasure of practising with two of the teachers who are teaching in London – Andrea Everingham and David Sye.

Andrea and David are that rare breed of teacher who can make yoga both accessible and deep. They are immensely capable, utterly committed and totally non-preachy. It would make for quite an introduction to yoga.

And that’s just two teachers in one city.
192 countries are taking part.
35,000 will be joining a class in Delhi.
30,000 practising in Times Square in New York.

The world will be practising yoga and beyond the spin that’s something worth celebrating.

It doesn’t matter whether you join a crowd of thousands or you roll out your mat on your living room floor. Connect with heart and with intention, enjoy your practice and keep on exploring.

Happy International Yoga Day!

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