Dear PM Modi, What’s the Point of Yoga Day When Our Air is Toxic?

How can one practice yoga in Delhi’s toxic air?

4 min read
Hindi Female
How can one practice yoga in Delhi’s toxic air?

It was 6 AM, and a usually quiet Lodhi Gardens was swarming with people on International Yoga Day. The Prime Minister’s message from Uttarakhand, on the benefits of yoga, was being live-streamed. The video showed hundreds of people with Modi. In comparison, my yoga group was quite small. And we wanted to do things a bit differently.

My students and I put on white masks and began to practice, as we also wanted to send out the message that yoga and air pollution don’t mix well.

Deteriorating Air Quality

We were being stared at because of our masks, as though we were part of a fancy dress parade. Some curious people did walk up to us and questioned us. I was given disapproving looks when I explained the reason for our white-masked yoga protest. Many seemed apathetic to our cause, which made me wonder about people’s understanding of the severe consequences of breathing highly polluted air.

The International Yoga Day experience was interesting. A week before the event, the air quality in Delhi had deteriorated severely with PM 10 levels reaching upto 1263 microgram/ cubic meter. The Indian Institute of Tropical Metrology had advised people to stay indoors and refrain from activities like running and cycling.

I remember stepping out of my house and finding it hard to breathe despite practicing yoga daily, which should have strengthened me.

The air quality was 10-12 times worse than the prescribed WHO levels and too toxic to breathe. 

In fact, the IITM stated that the air quality at the time, which was between above 400, at at such hazardous levels that it could cause respiratory issues even in a healthy person.


Living in a Gas Chamber

I had barely gotten over the madness of Delhi’s toxic air and the lack of political will to mitigate it, when I heard the mindless decision of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, to cut down 16,500 trees across South Delhi.

It was clearly not enough that Delhi-walas were already coping with highly toxic air. The most affected areas would be Sarojini Nagar, Netaji Nagar and Nauroji Nagar, where 66 percent of the trees were to vanish for the construction of flats by the NBCC Limited.

The worst part was the Ministry justifying their move, claiming that they would increase the green cover as tree planting will be done in the ratio of 1:10.

A bit absurd isn’t it? Considering that the felling of trees in the first place, would remove more than 50 percent of South Delhi’s green cover, which includes trees that have taken years to reach their full size.

Air pollution has now become a yearlong problem in Delhi, not limited to only the winters. We have seen no responsible action or any citizen awareness drives by the government. Considering this apathy, how can anyone trust the Ministry’s statements?


Yoga & Clean Air Go Hand In Hand

In 2017, the Indian State of Forest report released by the government, clearly stated that while in the last 2 years there has been a 0.25 percent increase in forest cover (that is restricted to open and scrub forests), the dense and medium forest cover (which controls CO2 levels) have actually reduced in Delhi.

The light at the end of the tunnel though, is that common folks got out of their cosy homes, in the scorching heat, to protest against the arbitrary felling of trees. I was witness to one such gathering in Sarojini Nagar where people were holding placards and peacefully protesting against the government’s decision. People of all age groups had thronged to the protest.

We stood in the hot summer night with sweaty palms, holding placards for nearly five hours, but it was worth it.

Seeing these protests, I was convinced that through such awareness and protests, we can yield results.

On International Yoga Day, people were made aware of the benefits of yogic science, but no one paid heed to the fact that the practice requires a clean environment, and that there has been no such effort to achieve it.

If only the Prime Minister had spared a few minutes to touch upon this issue!


Concerned citizens will continue to resist the government’s decision for as long as it takes, but given that each citizen has a stake in this decision, it should be mandatory for governments to consult with the public on a matter as important as this.

Additionally, the government should issue public advisories on air quality that allows people to make informed decisions. While development is a good thing, one must look at it from a sustainable point of view, and the environmental impact of the same.

(Neha Saigal is a concerned citizen and a yoga teacher. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. She tweets at @NehaSaigal24. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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