Considering the fact that this official day of celebration has only been around since 2015, it’s not surprising that some people would wonder, “What is International Yoga Day?” To understand its purpose and importance, it helps to learn about its inception, its meaning, its development over recent years and its impact on society and the world.
Also known as the International Day of Yoga, World Yoga Day or simply Yoga Day, this day of observance takes place every year on June 21. Its intention is to recognize and celebrate the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of yoga and meditation; and to promote the vibrations of good health, unity, peace and harmony throughout every nation.
The introduction of an official Day of Yoga was proposed at the United Nations General Assembly in 2014 by Narendra Modi, the current prime minister of India and a yoga enthusiast himself. The UN acknowledged that this ancient Indian discipline of overall well-being is consistent with their own values of non-violence and oneness. And they recognized these values to be the foundation on which positive developments in areas such as climate change, diplomacy and peaceful resolution can be achieved. On December 11, 2014, with the backing and endorsement of 175 countries, the United Nations declared June 21 of every year as The International Day of Yoga.
On June 21, 2015, the UN Secretary-General at the time, Ban Ki-Moon stated, “On this first-ever International Day of Yoga, let us see the benefits of this practice in terms of individual well-being as well as our collective efforts to improve public health, promote peaceful relations and usher in a life of dignity for all.”
The results were nothing short of remarkable. Yoga events, demonstrations, seminars, mass public classes, trending hashtags and an exceptional social media presence came to life in over 190 countries around the world. In New Delhi alone, an outdoor yoga session on the Rajpath attracted almost 36,000 participants of 84 different nationalities. It broke two Guinness world records for the largest yoga class and the greatest number of nationalities in one yoga lesson.
“By practicing Yoga, a spirit of oneness is created – oneness of the mind, body and the intellect. Oneness with our families, with the society that we live in, with fellow humans, with all the birds, animals and trees with whom we share our beautiful planet… this is Yoga.”
— Narendra Modi, 14th Prime Minister of India
Significance of June 21
June 21 marks the northern hemisphere’s summer solstice when the daylight hours are longest, and the southern hemisphere’s winter solstice when the daylight hours are the shortest. The word solstice comes from the Latin sol, meaning ‘sun’ and sistere, meaning ‘to stand still’ and is considered to be an auspicious time of the year in many cultures, religions and traditions around the world.
- In Hinduism, the summer solstice signifies the start of Dakshinayana, a phase of the year in Vedic astrology which is favourable for spiritual development and optimizes the benefits of yogic practice.
- In Chinese and Taoist traditions, the summer solstice celebrated femininity, honoured the Earth and observed the Yin aspect of the Yin and Yang philosophy.
- Certain Native American tribes, particularly the Sioux, performed spectacularly dramatic sun-dances around the 21st of June, signifying regeneration, renewal, rebirth and the circle of life.
- The Stonehenge of ancient Britain, which was said by Celtic Druids to have been a place of spiritualism and healing, consists of structures that were remarkably aligned to the sun during the June solstice, as if to direct and harness its powerful energy.
- Scandinavian, Germanic, Celtic and other European traditions welcomed the solstice, also known as Midsummer, with dancing, singing and huge bonfires to cultivate the sun’s energy and to ward off negative vibrations.
- The Sun Festival, or Inti Raymi, in Peru and other indigenous cultures of the Andes celebrates the Incan sun god, Inti, with 9 days of colourful and vibrant dances during their June solstice.
The official logo for the International Day of Yoga symbolizes peace, harmony and oneness that characterizes the soul of this 5000-year-old system of physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
The blue colour of the yogi silhouette represents the fluidity, softness and purification of the Water element. The brown leaves represent the stability, sustenance and fruitfulness of the Earth element. The green leaves portray the fertility and abundance of nature. The large yellow sun embodies the concept of energy, enlightenment and inspiration. The globe behind the head or behind the crown chakra indicates the state of pure consciousness radiating to every individual and every nation of the world. And the hands placed together in Anjali Mudra personifies Yoga: the union of body, mind and spirit.
Yoga Day: Today and Tomorrow
Each passing year, Yoga Day is being celebrated in greater numbers and on grander scales. More and more people, communities and nations are participating in this special day that is dedicated to observing, appreciating and celebrating the gifts of yoga and meditation. In 2016, the theme focused on spreading awareness of yoga to today’s youth and younger generations. In 2017, the celebrations revolved around a ‘Yoga for Health’ motif, emphasizing its holistic benefits for both body and mind. And in 2018, with all the tumultuous world events, it is most appropriately themed ‘Yoga for Peace.’
From prison yards to corporate offices; from the deck of a naval aircraft carrier to an Arctic base camp; from Times Square to Angkor Wat, the masses of people radiating the spirit of wellness make headlines every 21st day of June. And just for a day, the world’s attention is utterly and whole-heartedly turned toward positivity, peace and the essence of humanity.
“Two billion people around the world practice yoga, fundamentally, because it works. Every human being can have a pleasant and peaceful life experience if they fix themselves from the inside. And while it is true that one might not be able to teach yoga lessons in a war zone, war itself is a manifestation of what is happening in human minds. So we can’t start with the outside, we have to start inside.”
— Yogi Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev