Int’l Yoga Day: The Power of Ancient Physical, Mental and Spiritual Practice as a Holistic Approach to Health and Well-Being, and a Powerful Tool for Dealing with Myriad Stresses Brought on by COVID-19

Human Wrongs Watch

The UN celebrates the sixth annual International Day of Yoga on 21 June, recognizing the ancient practice as a holistic approach to health and wellbeing, and a powerful tool for dealing with the myriad stresses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic

Winnie Witt | Jon Witt, a yoga teacher, practicing therapeutic yoga postures in Jersey City, USA.
21 June 2020 — (UN News)* — Yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India and is now practiced in various forms around the world.
The word “yoga” derives from Sanskrit and means “to join or unite”, symbolizing the union of body and consciousness.

Countering depression, anxiety

As the global outbreak of COVID-19 has upended lives across the world, a rise in conditions including depression and anxiety have been seen as people adapt to lifestyle changes.

This year’s observance – organized as an online celebration on 19 June by the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations – will be held under the theme, “Yoga for Health – Yoga at Home”, as precautions taken during the fight against COVID-19 have shut down yoga studios and other communal spaces. Practitioners have turned to home practice and online yoga resources.

“During my missions and the ongoing confinement, yoga has really helped me to stay calm, balanced and focused,” said Silke Von Brockhausen, who is currently based in New York at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and has a career in helping the UN respond to global emergencies.

‘A unique discovery’

Parents may also find it helpful for keeping their children relaxed and physically active while schools and summer break activities are cancelled. “Yoga is a unique discovery,” says Nagaraj Naidu, Deputy Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations. “I have seen it transform me, my family. Yoga has got tremendous benefits to offer.”

The United Nations proclaimed 21 June as the annual International Day of Yoga in 2014 with the adoption of General Assembly resolution 69/131, endorsing a vision set out by India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. “Yoga embodies unity of mind and body, through and action…a holistic approach [that] is valuable to our health and wellbeing,” he told the sixty-ninth session.

Tips for living well in quarantine

The World Health Organization (WHO) has stressed the benefits of yoga from the earliest days of the COVID crisis, recommending the practice as a way to look after physical and mental wellbeing at home.

Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cited it among his tips for living well while in quarantine, during his 20 March media briefing. Yoga also features prominently in WHO’s Global Action plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030, which makes a link between investment in policy actions to increase physical activity and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 3 (good health and wellbeing).

International Yoga Day logo

Global health a ‘long term objective’

“Health no longer applies to the condition of not being sick”, said President of the General Assembly Tijani Muhammad-Bande (Nigeria) in opening remarks during the virtual celebration. It also involves staying well. “Global health is a long-term objective.”

T. S. Tirumurti, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, agreed, emphasizing that the 2020 celebration is a testament to yoga’s global appeal – and to the substantial medical and scientific evidence that acknowledges its efficacy in promoting healthy lifestyles.

The nature of yoga techniques, combined with breathing and meditation, have been shown to easy the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and boost energy, he said.

“This year, our effort has been put together simple yoga modules that can be practiced at home by all individuals,” he said. “Please join us to celebrate this unique gift of India to the world.”

Humanity ‘back on track’

Sadhguru, Founder of Isha Foundation, led participants through a practice of Simha Kriya to boost lung capacity. Especially during a crisis, “it is most important that we, as human beings, function at our best,” he said.

“You cannot afford to create a crisis within you.” Yogic practices have the power to liberate people from this mindset and enhance the immune system. “It is very important that we stay alive and stay physically, mentally healthy,” he said, and that humanity “gets back on track” as soon as possible.



2020 Theme: “Yoga for Health – Yoga at Home”

people practicing yoga at home
Left: Anne Hartkemeyer in “VrikshaVasisthasana” (tree pose on side plank); Centre: Former USA soccer Paralympian and sport for development educator and advocate Eli Wolff doing yoga with his 2-year-old daughter; Right: Germán A Bravo-Casas, President of the UN Staff Recreation Council (UNSRC) Yoga club in “Bharadvajasana” (spinal twist in half-lotus). Photos courtesy of UNSRC and E. Wolff.

21 June 2020 (United Nations)** — While the social distancing measures adopted by countries to fight the COVID-19 pandemic have shut down yoga studios and other communal spaces, yoga practitioners have turned to home practice and online yoga resources. Yoga is a powerful tool to deal with the stress of uncertaintly and isolation, as well as to maintain physical well-being.

The United Nations offers yoga resources to its personnel and others on the Coronavirus portal’s section on Wellness. The World Health Organization mentions yoga as a means to improve health in its Global action plan on physical activity 2018–2030: more active people for a healthier world.

With schools closed and summer break activities cancelled, parents may find it challenging to keep their children physically active. Yoga can help. UNICEF says kids can practice many yoga poses without any risk and get the same benefits that adults do. These benefits include increased flexibility and fitness, mindfulness and relaxation.

2020 virtual event

The Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations invites you to an online celebration of the 6th annual International Yoga Day on 19 June 2020, from 3 to 4:30 pm EST broadcast on UN WebTV.

What is Yoga and why do we celebrate it?

Yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India. The word ‘yoga’ derives from Sanskrit and means to join or to unite, symbolizing the union of body and consciousness.

Today it is practiced in various forms around the world and continues to grow in popularity.

Recognizing its universal appeal, on 11 December 2014, the United Nations proclaimed 21 June as the International Day of Yoga by resolution 69/131.

The International Day of Yoga aims to raise awareness worldwide of the many benefits of practicing yoga.

The draft resolution establishing the International Day of Yoga was proposed by India and endorsed by a record 175 member states.

The proposal was first introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address during the opening of the 69th session of the General Assembly, in which he said: “Yoga is an invaluable gift from our ancient tradition. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body, thought and action … a holistic approach [that] is valuable to our health and our well-being. Yoga is not just about exercise; it is a way to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature.”

The resolution notes “the importance of individuals and populations making healthier choices and following lifestyle patterns that foster good health.” In this regard, the World Health Organization has also urged its member states to help their citizens reduce physical inactivity, which is among the top ten leading causes of death worldwide, and a key risk factor for non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.

But yoga is more than a physical activity. In the words of one of its most famous practitioners, the late B. K. S. Iyengar, “Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.”

chairs on lawn

A new normal requires new habits and some creative thinking about your psychological well-being. Now that many of us are forced to work remotely full-time, need to take care of young and old family members during working hours, are feeling stuck or isolated, are separated from loved ones, and have reduced options for regular physical exercise and social activities, we must think differently and creatively about ways to keep healthy in mind and body.


woman with baby doing yoga

The COVID-19 pandemic means that many of us are staying at home  and sitting down more than we usually do. It’s hard for a lot of us to do the sort of exercise we normally do. It’s even harder for people who don’t usually do a lot of physical exercise. But at a time like this, it’s very important for people of all ages and abilities to be as active as possible. WHO’s Be Active campaign aims to help you do just that – and to have some fun at the same time.

**SOURCE: United Nations.

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