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
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).
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.”
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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.