In a first of its kind yoga celebration, the iconic UN General Assembly hall reverberated with chants of 'Om', 'Shanti' as UN officials and diplomats joined hundreds others to commemorate International Yoga Day with the underlying message of yoga's valuable contribution in addressing climate change and promoting tolerance and peace.
The General Assembly hall, where world leaders come together every year for the high-level UN session, was packed with UN diplomats, officials, yoga gurus and practitioners, children and people from various backgrounds as India's Permanent Mission to the UN organised the commemoration of the 5th International Day of Yoga Thursday.
It was the first time a grand yoga event was held inside the iconic UNGA hall, five years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi first proposed to mark June 21 as International Yoga Day in his 2014 address to the annual General Debate from the famed General Assembly podium.
The event 'Yoga with the Gurus', with the theme of ‘Yoga for Climate Action' began with Prime Minister Modi's video message on Yoga Day, where he spoke about how yoga has connected the entire world in the present century.
Addressing the large gathering, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said the essence of yoga is balance, "not only within us but also in our relationship with humanity."
She added that by practising yoga, people can promote values that inspire a peaceful, environmental stewardship for the betterment of society and the Earth.
Underlining the theme of Yoga for Climate Action, she said yoga also has a valuable contribution to make in addressing climate change, "the defining issue of our time, by inspiring us to shift away from unsustainable practices towards inclusive, green growth, conscious consumption and more sustainable lifestyles. In short it is about the tensions between the needs and wants.”
She said yoga can promote solidarity, social integration, tolerance, justice and peace.
"It teaches us a holistic vision of the world, encouraging us to live in harmony with ourselves, society and nature. This is of obvious relevance for our efforts to combat the intolerance that is so prevalent across today's global landscape.”
The top UN official further said that while change can start within people, observance such as the International Day of Yoga have the potential to lift yoga from an individual well-being practice to joint, global action.
The event 'Yoga with the Gurus' was originally scheduled to be held in the sprawling North Lawn in the United Nations headquarters but the venue had to be shifted to inside the General Assembly hall due to rain.
"If it rains outside …..#YogaDay observance @UN moves to a better location inside - GA Hall," India's Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin tweeted.
In his remarks to the packed UNGA hall, Akbaruddin noted that It was in this very General Assembly Hall that an ancient practice of yoga was transformed into an annual global observance.
"I hope this indoor yoga session, in the General Assembly Hall, the first of its kind, will reinforce the values of a cleaner, greener and more sustainable future that all you Yogis are committed to."
Akbaruddin said with climate change increasingly being viewed as an "existential crisis", yoga provides the world a framework for managing "our needs and desires. When applied to communities and societies, yoga offers a toolkit for embracing lifestyles that are sustainable.”
He stressed that lifestyles that appeal to the human yearning for harmony with fellow human beings and with one's larger habitat are key to people's contribution as individuals to climate change.
"The theory and practice of yoga is a choice contributing towards a cleaner, greener and sustainable future. It is a natural fit to the pursuit of Climate Action at the individual level," he said.
"The theory and practice of yoga, therefore, is a natural fit with this moral agenda,” Akbaruddin said.
Artists from Indian Raga, an Arts education startup founded at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology enthralled the audience with their cultural dance and musical performances.
Yoga guru Swami Paramananda of Sivananda Yoga New York, Kevin Tobar and his associates from Bhakti Centre and yoga teacher Sunaina Rekhi from Mumbai conducted varied yoga sessions, inviting the audience to participate in breathing exercises and try yoga postures while seated, aimed at relieving stress, improving mental and physical wellbeing and helping increase productivity and focus while at work.
The audience actively participated in the yoga sessions and did not let them being seated in one place -- as opposed to doing yoga in the outdoors -- act as a deterrent.
From doing the ‘Anulom Vilom Pranayam', stretching exercises to chanting “Om, Shanti Shanti Shanti” and meditating, the audience enthusiastically followed instructions of the yoga gurus as they conducted the sessions.
India's Permanent Mission kick-started its Yoga Day celebrations on Wednesday with a special event during which the United Nations headquarters was lit up with postures of the ‘Surya Namaskar' and the message of ‘Yoga for Climate Action.'
The Indian Mission has also organised photo exhibitions in the UN headquarters on yoga. Displayed in the exhibition are photographs on the theme of Yoga for Climate Action, highlighting various tenets of yoga such as ‘Bhakti Yoga', ‘Karma Yoga', ‘Jnana Yoga' and ‘Raja Yoga'.