The first International Day of Yoga is being celebrated around the world today following recognition by the United Nations General Assembly that the holistic benefits of the ancient Indian practice and its inherent compatibility with the principles and values of the UN.
The inaugural Day has been be marked this morning with an outdoor event at UN Headquarters in New York that was webcast to thousands in New York's Times Square.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has praised yoga for promoting respect for one's fellow human beings and for the planet we share, spoke this morning at the event, which also featured a yoga demonstration.
“I am hoping that if yoga promotes physical dexterity, it can also promote diplomatic dexterity. In my job as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have to be agile all of the time!” he said in front of the crowd.
Quoting Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, he stressed that “yoga is not just about exercise; it is a way to discover the sense of oneness, with yourself, the world and nature”.
Also attending the UN event was the President of the 69th session of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa.
In a message issued in advance of the International Day, Mr. Ban recalled how he had had the opportunity to practice yoga during a visit to India this year.
Produced by UN Radio. Photos by Stephanie Coutrix, Mark Garten and Victorine Sandkuyl. Credit: UNTV
His first 'asana', or pose, he said was the tree pose, “suited to beginners.”
“It took a moment for me to gain my balance but once I did, I appreciated the simple sense of satisfaction that yoga can bring,” the Secretary-General said.
“Yoga offers a simple, accessible and inclusive means to promote physical and spiritual health and well-being,” he said. “It promotes respect for one's fellow human beings and for the planet we share. And yoga does not discriminate; to varying degrees, all people can practice, regardless of their relative strength, age or ability.”
“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 UN chief said.
The annual day was established in 2014 by the UN General Assembly, which recognized “that yoga provides a holistic approach to health and well-being.” The draft resolution establishing the day world was proposed by India and endorsed by a record 175 member states. The proposal was first introduced by Prime Minister Modi in his address during the opening of the 69th session of the General Assembly.
The resolution notes “the importance of individuals and populations making healthier choices and following lifestyle patterns that foster good health.”
On the eve of the International Day of Yoga, the Secretary-General met with the Minister for External Affairs of India, Ms. Sushma Swaraj. They both noted the broad support and appeal for this particular event.
The UN Chief and the Minister discussed the challenges of climate change and sustainable development, and the need for India's strong leadership in these fields. They also talked about the newly released Report of the High-Level Panel on Peace Operations, with the Secretary-General noting India's generous contributions in this area.
Mr. Ban and Ms. Swaraj then exchanged views on a number of regional issues, including Nepal, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Pakistan.
And today, the Secretary-General met with Yang Jiechi, State Councilor of the People's Republic of China. Their discussion touches a number of key issues, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, climate change, and the financing for development agenda.
Mr. Ban commended China's "constructive role" around the reducing tension in the Korean Peninsula and encouraged the country to support United Nations humanitarian work in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Mr. Jiechi and Ban also exchanged views on the critical situation in Yemen and Syria, as well as on the Iran nuclear issue and on the need to counter violent extremism.