June 21st: International Yoga Day

Author: Joshua Burns

The 21st June is a remarkable day. In the northern hemisphere night is at its shortest and there are enough hours of sunlight to satisfy even the most determined sun sponge*. In the middle of winter it can often seem like we go to work in the dark and come back in the dark. So what do we do with all these extra hours of sunlight? Well, I’m sure I can guess what you’re all thinking -we practice yoga.

Ok, maybe that isn’t what you were thinking of doing but it might soon be because on 11th December 2014 the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) declared June 21st to be ‘International Yoga Day’. For two years now the day has been celebrated by millions of people around the world. On 21st June 2015, in New Delhi, 35,985 people performed 21 yoga ‘asanas’ (postures), for 35 minutes getting them into the Guinness world records for the largest simultaneous yoga class.

The following year on 21st June 2016, a yoga event attended by the Indian Prime Minister was organised, neatly called, ‘The National Event of Mass Yoga Demonstration’ and other celebrations were organised at the UN. The most special event of which was also given a catchy name: ‘Conversation with Yoga Masters -Yoga for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).’

Now, since I am writing an article about yoga you might assume that I personally practice it or am a big fan* in some way. The opposite is in fact true. I know absolutely nothing about yoga aside from what friends or students who enjoy it have told me, or various articles I’ve come across about some celebrity who promises it changed their life. My image of yoga is wrapped up with* longhaired hippies, drinking green tea, burning incense and over-posting on Instagram. I’m also aware that this is an entirely unfair image, so I decided to find out* what it actually is.

The word ‘yoga’ comes from* the word ‘yuj’ which can be translated into English as ‘to add’, ‘to join’, ‘to unite’ or to ‘attach’. It is an ancient practice that appears to date back to the 6th and 5th centuries BCE in India. Yoga is primarily a religious exercise with many ‘schools’ or types of yoga, which help you manage different aspects of how you live your life. However, it wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries that it began to get popular in the western world and while for some people it is used solely as a form of exercise, for many it also has a spiritual dimension. Generally speaking, the spirituality of western yoga is different from the religious nature of the eastern, with a minority of practitioners adhering to* any specific religious doctrine like Hinduism or Buddhism.

That being said it’s this spiritual side to yoga that contributes to its long lasting popularity. Although any scientific studies measuring its effectiveness on physical illnesses such as cancer have been without meaningful results, the psychological attributes of yoga are well documented. The health benefits include increased relaxation, a reduction in stress and as a low-impact exercise routine is excellent as a form of rehabilitation for physical therapy patients.

So, with such a rich history and current popularity, it seems that yoga is something that people should try at least once in their lives. If you find you are curious, on the 21st June you can borrow a yoga mat from a friend and go to one of the different classes that are on offer here in Salamanca. As for me, after researching it I was almost ready to go and join a class myself before remembering that I’m so inflexible some mornings I struggle even to tie my laces.

Glosary

Sun sponge (noun: colloquial): someone who enjoys lying in or ‘soaking up’ the sun.

Fan (noun): short for ‘fanatic’, someone who is a supporter of something

Wrapped up with (phrasal verb): ‘consists of’ or ‘involves’

Find out (phrasal verb): discover

Comes from (phrasal verb): originates

Adhering to (phrasal verb): following (the rules of a religion)

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