International Day of Yoga: Why the Post COVID-19 World Needs This Indian Export

Eric Falt, Director of UNESCO New Delhi, thinks of yoga as a daily practice and a career option younger generations.

3 min read
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Each year on 21 June, the world comes together to observe the International Day of Yoga, a day designated by the United Nations to celebrate the power of yoga in promoting holistic health practices worldwide.

It was India, as the birthplace of yoga, which proposed the establishment of this international day and the overwhelming support it received among UN Member States signaled yoga’s global appeal.

Yoga derives its name from the Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ which means to join or to unite—reflecting a union of the individual to the universal. It symbolises the unity of one’s mind, body, and spirit with the world outside, through a set of exercises that include breathing techniques, physical postures, and relaxation methods.


Yoga During the Covid-19 Pandemic

In yoga, the intersection of the physical with the mental is key to helping all individuals deal with the challenges of daily life, as well as in establishing a more concrete relationship with nature.

We witnessed this transformative power of yoga during the COVID-19 pandemic when a growing number of people embraced the practice to stay fit and to deal with their restricted mobility and isolation. With this situation as a catalyst, India’s education sector elevated the discipline and a number of schools across the country adopted yoga as part of the daily curriculum.

There is no doubt that this measure will contribute to the holistic wellbeing of young learners and that practicing yoga will help students in dealing with the daily tension of scholastic life. Other countries would benefit from taking a similar step.


Inclusiveness of Yoga

For our part and to help students manage the mental strain that accompanied the social isolation brought on by the pandemic, the UNESCO New Delhi Office released a publication entitled ‘Minding our Minds during COVID-19’. The publication’s objectives were to help school children take charge of their mental health and provide examples of physical exercises—like yoga—to better understand the link and relationship between their bodies and minds.

Recognising the role that yoga had played in our lives during the pandemic, and can continue to play in the future, the Government of India has chosen ‘Yoga for Humanity’ as the theme for this year’s commemoration of International Day of Yoga. The choice is a testament to yoga’s ability to transcend national borders and serves as a reminder to all that yoga is not just a national endeavor, but simply a human one.

The theme also emphasises that yoga is not an exclusive activity to be enjoyed only by a select group of people, but rather, as a practice for and to the benefit of everyone. We applaud in particular the key step taken by the Government of India to make the celebrations more inclusive by designing special programmes for persons with disabilities and by including transgender persons in the festivities.


Harnessing the Economic Potential of Yoga

Beyond its symbolic use as a soft power tool, yoga also has significant economic benefits as an underused resource within India’s creative economy. Furthermore, its recognition as a skill will help India’s growing youth find meaningful employment.

Indeed, whether it is dance, music, yoga or the visual arts, these cultural resources remain largely underused and their potential to drive economic activity underdeveloped. The move to enhance yoga’s visibility and ease of access through digital resources will allow for a greater number of younger generations to embrace yoga as a daily practice and a career option.

To enhance yoga’s acceptance by younger generations in India and worldwide, several apps have been developed to learn yoga, such as Namaste Yoga, Y-Break, and the World Health Organization’s mYoga and the Yoga Portal.


Yoga as a Career Option for Youth

Altogether, the Government of India’s policy to recognise Yoga as a skill in a positive and necessary step. As highlighted in “UNESCO’s State of the Education Report for India: Vocational Education First”, digitalisation must be a key element of any planning with regards to skill development.

The efforts undertaken by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and the National Skill Development Corporation to encourage the youth of the country to take up yoga and build awareness on the various career prospects in the field of yoga, will surely help employ many youths, with the added benefit of promoting a healthy lifestyle.

(Eric Falt is the Director of the UNESCO New Delhi Office, which covers Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka. UNESCO is a member of Team UN in India, together helping deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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