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18 December 2014, Gateway House

An International Day of Yoga

The adoption of June 21 as the International Yoga Day by the United Nations signifies the support that recent diplomatic efforts of the government have received on the world stage. The scientific community now needs to produce data and research on the potential scientific value of yoga

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India’s proposal to the United Nations, enunciated by Prime Minister Modi at the UN General Assembly in September 2014, has become the International Day of Yoga within three months with near-unanimous support of member countries of the United Nations.  It is a triumph of Indian diplomacy led by Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, India’s Mission to the UN and the Ministry of External Affairs’ UN Division.  But it is also a culmination of centuries of effort of one key element of Indian soft power in that people around the world learn this ancient art and science of yoga often from Indian yogis or teachers trained by Indians.  Now that it has become an International Day to be celebrated every year on June 21, the longest day of the year, it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that there are mechanisms in place to both promote and indeed to broadly monitor the quality, efficacy and impact aspects worldwide.

There are several distinct forms of yoga, millennia old, the origins are clearly Indian.  Yoga is mentioned in the Upanishads, which are a collection of Vedic texts that encompass some of the central spiritual concepts of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

At his United Nations General Assembly speech, Prime Minister Modi stated: “For us in India, respect for nature is an integral part of spiritualism. We treat nature’s bounties as sacred. Yoga is an invaluable gift of our ancient tradition. Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature.”

Yoga is increasingly being practised in the West.  Yoga in its full form combines physical postures, breathing exercises, meditation  and a distinct philosophy According to the 2007 National Interview Survey in the U.S.  which included a survey on the use of complementary approaches, yoga is already the 6th most complementary health practice.

There have been an increasing number of studies of varying quality that have been carried out over the last decade examining the benefits of yoga which range from improved flexibility, reducing body weight, reducing blood pressure  helping those that  suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),  asthma, anxiety disorders, depression, migraine etc. [1], [2] & [3]   But the size of these studies is usually not sufficient to produce conclusive results.  In this era of big data and building on the strength of Indian IT, it is clear that larger, dedicated studies are required to add potential value.  India’s AYUSH department, now a Ministry, should well take the lead in this respect. [4] The scientific community is ready to assist.

Dr. Sunil Chacko  and Dr. Sylvie Stachenko are professors at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.

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[1] Bilderbeck, Amy et. al. “Participation in a 10-week course of yoga improves behavioural control and decreases psychological distress in a prison population”  Journal of psychiatric research [J. psychiatr. res.], 2013, Vol. 47, Issue 10 p1438-1445, 8p ref 3/4 p.

[2] Hill, Christopher  “Is yoga an effective treatment in the management of patients with chronic low back pain compared with other care modalities – a systematic review” Journal of Complementary & Integrative Medicine 2013, Vol. 10 Issue 1, p1.

[3] Santana, MJ et. al.  “An assessment of the effects of Iyengar yoga practice on the health-related quality of life of patients with chronic respiratory diseases: A pilot study”  Canadian Respiratory Journal.  March-April 2013; 20; 2; pE17-pE23

[4] Ministry of AYUSH,