The International Day of Yoga is upon us!
Let’s take this opportunity to explain that you do Yoga.
You just don’t know it.
It’s true, I promise.
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This article will help you to understand and celebrate the International Day of Yoga by discussing the following:
- How International Day of Yoga Was Created
- The Origins and History of Yoga
- What Yoga *Really* Is
- How You Are Likely Already Practicing Yoga and Can Continue on a Yogic Path
The International Day of Yoga
The International Day of Yoga is celebrated every June 21.
It aims to raise global awareness about the benefits of practicing Yoga.
The idea for an International Day of Yoga was first proposed by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, during a United Nations General Assembly speech in September 2014.
In his speech, Prime Minister Modi emphasized that Yoga is an invaluable gift from ancient wisdom traditions.
He highlighted how Yoga embodies unity of mind and body, thought and action, restraint, and fulfillment.
He expressed how it can be a holistic approach to health and well-being.
His thoughtful proposal was well received and garnered support from many UN member states.
In December that year, the UNGA adopted a resolution to declare June 21 as the International Day of Yoga, co-sponsored by a record 177 countries.
The date was specially chosen, as it is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, which holds much significance in many world cultures and traditions.
Historically, the sun is associated with life, power, and energy.
So the Summer Solstice, the day with the most sunlight, is linked to a celebration of life and the divine.
The first International Day of Yoga was observed on June 21, 2015.
It has since been celebrated worldwide to encourage people to learn about the meaningful advantages of Yoga.
Origins and History of Yoga
Yoga originated in India.
It evolved over thousands of years to become integral to wellness and spiritual practices for millions globally.
When most people hear the word Yoga, they picture seas of colorful foam mats ridden by people in stretchy pants practicing “lotus pose” and “downward facing dog.”
However, Yoga is actually much more than that.
There is a good chance that even if you’ve never ridden a tranquility wave through Warriors I, II, and III, you probably have practiced Yoga somehow (exciting, right?).
Let me explain
The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root “Yuj” and means “to yolk,” “to join,” or “to unite.”
According to Yogic scriptures, Yoga leads to the union of your consciousness with the Universal Consciousness.
In other words, Yoga perfectly synchronizes man’s mind with nature’s.
Modern science says that everything in the universe just manifests the same cosmic energy.
Therefore, everything is the “same” thing; it’s all one.
Someone who experiences this oneness of existence is “in Yoga,” having attained a state of freedom through Self-realization.
The condition is commonly referred to as enlightenment.
So, enlightenment is the main objective of Yoga.
But Yoga also refers to “inner science,” or science of the soul.
It’s a science comprised of several detailed methods through which a person can realize this union and achieve mastery over their destiny.
Yes, mastery over their destiny.
The idea that there is a science that allows you to orchestrate your destiny sounds pretty great, no?
The fact that it’s a science suggests that no matter how you slice it if it’s done right, the result is the same for anyone.
You don’t have to be remarkable.
You don’t have to be enlightened, a yogi, an intellectual, or particularly skilled.
The only requirement is to follow the rules of the science.
But don’t be fooled by the common misconception of what Yoga is.
You don’t have to join a class, wear a leotard, or learn “Tree Pose” to become a yogi.
Read on for an explanation.
So How Do You Do Yoga If You Don’t “Do Yoga?”
Have you ever desired a glass of wine at noon but decided it wasn’t in your best interest and held off until the end of the day?
You practiced Yoga.
Ever wanted something that didn’t belong to you but didn’t steal it because stealing is wrong?
You practiced Yoga.
Have you ever spent a few minutes contemplating your purpose in life?
Congrats. You practiced Yoga.
Ever deliberately taken a break from screens? Prayed? Cleaned out a messy closet?
Yep, that counts too.
You did Yoga.
This is because Yoga is about way more than physical (Hatha) Yoga.
Dating back thousands of years, Yoga is defined and outlined as an eightfold path.
This means that it’s like a tree with eight limbs, and every limb is important to the tree’s life (the tree represents the practice of Yoga).
Often referred to as Ashtanga Yoga, the eightfold path is derived from ancient Indian traditions and texts.
We can trace its origins to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a fundamental text believed to have been compiled sometime between 500 BCE and 400 CE and, honestly, is one of my favorite books of all time.
It’s essentially a prehistoric textbook on enlightenment.
Patanjali, the “father of Yoga,” arranged and codified yogic practices.
The eightfold path is an integral part of Raja Yoga, or “The Royal Way,” the path to becoming the king or queen of your mind.
Its purpose is to guide us toward spiritual enlightenment and self-realization through disciplined practice and meditation (the rules of science).
The eightfold path includes the following limbs:
- Yama (Ethical Standards or “The Laws of Life”): This first limb involves adhering to ethical and moral standards, including:
- Truthfulness (satya)
- Non-stealing (asteya)
- Non-violence (ahimsa)
- Chastity (brahmacharya)
- Non-possessiveness (aparigraha)
Yama guides us in developing good character and building meaningful relationships based on respect, honesty, and kindness.
- Niyama (or “The Rules for Living”): This includes practices for self-discipline and spirituality, like:
- Purification (tapas)
- Contentment (santosha)
- Self-Study (svadhyaya)
- Surrender to a Higher Power (ishvara pranidhana)
Niyama encourages us to maintain a balanced lifestyle, learn continuously, and foster a sense of purpose and connection.
- Asana (Posture): This limb is about physical postures designed to strengthen and purify the body (this aspect is often the most emphasized, however, further on in the discussion, we’ll talk more about how it was meant to be just a small part of the yogic path).
- Pranayama (Breath Control): this involves controlling the breath to regulate the flow of prana (life force) in the body.
Prana is essential for calming the mind and achieving concentration, which is why many people today use breathing exercises for stress reduction and improving mental clarity.
- Pratyahara (Withdrawal of the Senses): This step is about withdrawing our attention from the external world and focusing inward.
It is essential to developing self-awareness and inner peace, as it helps us detach and find balance in an over-stimulating world.
- Dharana (Concentration): Dharana involves focusing the mind on a single point, object, or idea. It is the preliminary stage of deep concentration, a precursor to meditation.
- Dhyana (Meditation): In Dhyana, we become fully immersed in the object of focus with an uninterrupted flow of concentration.
- Samadhi (The Settled Mind): Samadhi is the ultimate goal of the eightfold path.
What does all that mean?
It is a state of union with the object of meditation or with the Divine where we transcend the physical self.
These limbs are not sequential.
They grow simultaneously, each strengthening the other much in the way that all limbs of the body grow together.
While Yoga is restricted to Hatha Yoga and asanas for many, the Yoga Sutras identify just a few “rules” tied to physicality.
Hatha Yoga is a preparatory process.
It’s a way to release tension and toxins from muscle tissue.
Enabling the body to sustain higher energy levels for concentration and meditation.
The process begins with the body, then the breath, the mind, and the inner self.
Physical and mental health are natural consequences of Yoga.
However, the goal of Yoga is more far-reaching.
Alistair Shearer, a renowned translator of Pantajali’s ancient texts, says this in the book:
“…Hatha Yoga is far more than a system of mildly esoteric keep-fit exercises. Its concern is to purify the gross and subtle levels of the nervous system so they can support the finer levels of neurological activity that is the physical basis for higher consciousness. Hatha Yoga is a preparation for the heart of Yoga: meditation.”
So, you needn’t have ever done a Cobra or a Cat-Cow to have done Yoga.
When you decided to take a break from your phone and computer for an hour that day, you practiced pratyahara.
When you felt immense relief and inner peace from cleaning out an overflowing closet, you practiced saucha.
Or, when you prayed to a higher power for help or direction, you practiced Ishvara pranidhana.
And if you ever refrained from punching an extremely rude person in the face despite your overwhelming urge, that was ahimsa.
Way to go, you.
Continue on the Eightfold Path
In contemporary life, the eightfold path has profound relevance.
As the pace of life accelerates and mental health issues become more prevalent, these ancient practices offer a holistic approach to well-being.
They help us cultivate ethical behavior, physical health, mental clarity, and spiritual growth.
The fact that you are already practicing at least some limbs of the eightfold path means you are on the track to enlightenment, yogi.
Keep doing so in the ways you already do!
Refer to the guide above to incorporate new limbs into your routine.
Knowing you’ve already begun makes it easier to think about jumping on the Hatha Yoga train (if you haven’t already).
Start with simple asanas because they will accelerate your journey toward mental freedom.
Take time to pat yourself on the back on this upcoming International Day of Yoga.
Don’t feel left out.
You are already part of the class, even if you didn’t know it.