Yoga: the latest new fad in physical exercises, or an ancient dhārmic tradition rooted in spirituality and the liberation of our suffering?

Friday 21st June 2019 saw the fifth celebration of the International Day of Yoga, an initiative pioneered by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to promote the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of practising yogāsana (yoga postures), prāṇāyāma (breathing exercises) and dhyān (meditation). All across the world, people came together in huge numbers for public classes to explore the richness of yoga.

In London, a series of events for the International Day of Yoga 2019 took place throughout the day at St Paul’s Cathedral and the High Commission of India. They covered all aspects of the broader tradition of yog, which in Sanskrit refers to the joining of one’s consciousness to the ultimate consciousness in the universe, from meditation and breathing to yoga in healthcare and as a spiritual practice.

NHSF (UK) was invited to deliver a session in the afternoon on the power of yoga, which began with a brief discussion on the philosophy behind yoga. Introducing the concept of aśtānga yoga, the eightfold path to liberation, it explored how yoga is much more than the physical postures with which we often associate it, and should be seen as the holistic spiritual movement. In particular, the mental benefits provided by each element of aśtānga yoga enable us as students to overcome the stress and pressure we regularly face today. The remainder of the session was a yogāsana class led by our National Committee members, covering a variety of physical postures.

NHSF (UK) look forward to being a part of the celebrations in 2020 and hope to see yoga used by students across the country as a means of maintaining good wellbeing.

The meaning of the words ‘yoga’ and ‘dhyān’ have been explained by Acharya Vidyabhaskar ji of the Omkarananda Ashram in Switzerland as part of the Sanskrit Word of the Month series, a monthly NHSF (UK) feature exploring the etymology and usage of common Sanskrit words.