I was very pleased to have been able to be a Delegate for Belgium at the second International Yoga Conference in Delhi on 22 & 23 June 2016, along with my colleague, Bernadette Erpicum.
Thirty five countries were represented, invited by AYUSH, the Indian Ministry for Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy. I enjoyed meeting nearly all national representatives, hearing about their communities and in some cases (notably Afghanistan, Kenya and Kuwait) also about the challenges they face in finding acceptance for the practice of yoga on an official level.
China had a large delegation, and yoga is really booming there. It was particularly inspiring to see that yoga is practised so widely around the world, in such diverse places as Belarus, Korea, Iraq, Uzbekistan, and Algeria!
Equally inspirational was the enormous body of scientifically-backed evidence as to yoga’s protective and curative effects with even short-term practice.
Some examples include published studies supporting the anti-depressive effects of chanting ॐ as seen through MRI scans; the brain-protection effects of yoga over time (very little loss of grey matter compared to non-practitioners); after only one yoga session GABA levels (which calm the nervous system and improving muscle tone) increase in the brain.
Many presenters, including Swami Ramdev (who already funds a lot of yoga research through his foundation), requested more official funding from AYUSH for research to conclusively demonstrate these and many more health benefits. Yoga offers a virtually cost-free means to heal and maintain good health throughout life, for people of all financial means and walks of life.
As a teacher of yoga for teens (and mother of two teenagers!) I was happy to be able to connect with Mrs Antonietta Rozzi who heads up Sarva Yoga International, which is working for the promotion of yoga in schools around the world.
I was personally very moved to witness a palpable (healthy) pride amongst Indian delegates and presenters. I have practised yoga for over 30 years and been professionally involved in it for two decades, and have travelled across India in search of yoga and Ayurveda schools over 20 times in as many years. Until recently there was sometimes a sense that Indians looked to Western validation in order for these practices to be valued by Indians themselves, often seen for example in the many Indian teachers who adopt a more Western (physical) approach to yoga and leaving behind some of what indeed makes the practice so powerful.
There were many expressions of gratitude to Mr Narendra Modi’s initiatives regarding yoga, with a general recognition that yoga (and yoga therapy) has been taken more seriously and is more visible as a result. The consensus was that Mr Modi has contributed to restoring yoga (and Ayurveda) to its rightful place of importance amongst Indians themselves, as well as the rest of the world.
Equally, the quality of attention paid to the authenticity and wholeness of yoga practice presented to the world through the International Day of Yoga will no doubt contribute to its development along more traditional lines than those increasingly seen over the past 15-20 years of global domination by Western-influenced physical practice.
In a particularly touching message, Dr Dilip Sarkar, MD, FACS, President of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (of which I have been a member since 2007), became quite emotional when he told the plenary that he had felt compelled to leave India over 40 years ago, but that he was personally grateful to Mr Modi for restoring his pride in India and vindicating his long career in yoga therapy.
It was a truly enriching and inspiring event, and I left with a renewed sense of why I practice and teach yoga and yoga therapy.