I had the honor and privilege of hosting our International Yoga Day on June 21, 2017, at the Vedic Cultural Centre in Markham. It was very well attended, though I was preaching to the converted! Following is an excerpt from my presentation:
The idea of International Day of Yoga was first proposed by the current Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly. When proposing 21 June, Mr. Modi said that the date was the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere (shortest in the southern hemisphere) and had special significance in many parts of the world. The summer solstice marks the transition to Dakshinayana which is also considered a time when there is the natural support for those pursuing spiritual practices. The resolution in support of an International Yoga Day was sponsored by over 177 countries and we are now in our third year running of marking this day, worldwide.
Why do yoga? Why engage in spiritual pursuits?
We spend most of the lives pursuing material wealth and sensual pleasures and soon find that the happiness they bring us is temporary. As soon as we get something we want, we seek out something else. However, our discontent continues. Soon we realize that we must take our mind away from objects and sense pleasures which we perceive as being outside us, and redirect our focus to our reactions to these perceived stimuli. Become a witness to our thoughts. Observe our habit patterns. Yoga in the form of asanas, pranayama and dhyana or meditation helps us focus inward and quietens our mind to bring it into a meditative state. We crave external stimuli less and less. We enjoy an elevation of our consciousness which we experience as contentment, peace, joy, well-being and a sense of unity. This unity comes from not being in a state of conflict with ourselves, between who we are and who we want to be, but from acceptance of everything exactly as it is.
But here, I am talking about yoga as it should be done – the traditional way as handed to us by our sages of the past. Where there is no effort or purpose. Not the yoga on steroids that we see practiced by several commercial establishments. Yoga is not a fad. It is not about plush studios and Lululemon tights. Although those are nice, they may bind us with thought associations of peaceful states and attachments to the material world. Success in the true yogic sense is to become egoless, to identify less with thoughts about the material aspects of the world, or with our individual identities and to experience our boundless nature. Yoga is about letting go and not holding on to any state of physical or emotional being or identification.
Yoga must be accessible to all and is possessed by none. Everyone can and should do yoga. It is universal, like prayer, chanting or silence. In the truest sense yoga is not an end in itself. But it could be the means to an end in a spiritual awakening that is very personal.
Latha Sukumar, Executive Director, Toronto, Ontario, July 05, 2017