Amid Bombs and Bullets, Yoga Goes Global

Indian missions around the world are gearing up for the first International Yoga Day, adapting to local lifestyles and conditions.

Published: 14th June 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th June 2015 09:16 AM   |  A+A-

NEW DELHI:From embassy employees doubling up as yoga teachers in places where an Indian teacher cannot be flown in to ambassadors practicing daily, Indian missions around the world are gearing up for the first International Yoga Day on June 21, adapting to local lifestyles and conditions.

Along with yoga teachers at cultural centres, Indian Council for Cultural Relations had recruited over 30 yoga practitioners for International Yoga Day on June 21 to be flown to cities around the world. But sending a new yoga teacher to Syria, where a four-year-old civil war continues, may have been risky.

When Delhi Police constable Rambir Singh went to Syria on an assignment, his expectations were to guard the Indian embassy and its employees. Turning into a yoga teacher, albeit temporarily, may not have been part of his plan. Consequently, the 32-year-old, who has been an enthusiastic yoga hobbyist, took up the task of organising a yoga programme for the embassy at Al-Jalaa sport complex, built in 1976 for the Pan-Arab games.

“Security is always a concern, but if the Syrian foreign ministry has approved it, we expect it to be safe,” says Rambir Singh, adding that mortar shells had fallen near the embassy.

Rambir Singh has been taking four classes a week at a local NGO, Yoga Syria, for the last one month. “We are not able to advertise or talk about the classes like we would in other places, but we hope to see a good turnout on the day,” he says.

In neighbouring Iraq, Baghdad’s prestigious Hunting Club will see around 150-200 invitees, mostly diplomats and senior Iraqi government officials getting together to watch a yoga demonstration by 60 local enthusiasts. An Iraqi cabinet minister is likely to be the chief guest. “The timing and venue were based on local conditions of which security was an important factor,” says Bharath Kumar Kuthati, first secretary at the Indian embassy in Iraq. The club, which remained open even when its surroundings became a battlefield, was once the favourite hangout of Saddam Hussein and his son Uday.

Kuthati says that security and Ramadan were some of the challenges, but “we wanted to leave no stone unturned in putting up the best show on the occasion”.

The Indian embassy in Kabul, as well as the four consulates, will have their own events within the office premises.

The Ministry of External Affairs has been in overdrive to mark International Yoga Day, especially since it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative that was approved by United Nations last December. Out of the 177 countries who supported the UN resolution, 47 were members of the Organisation of Islamic Countries. The day’s events will be marked in 193 countries, except for Yemen, where fighting and air bombings has led to the Indian embassy being shifted out for now.

While the Iraqi, Afghan and Syrian capitals still allow for a relatively normal life, things are not as sanguine in Tripoli. So, the only event will be yoga session at the embassy residence for about 2 hours on Sunday morning. In contrast, across the continent in Thailand, around 5,000 people will practice yoga together in the open playground of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok from 6.30 am on June 21.

“Experts from India, celebrities and 150 volunteers will guide demonstrations with participation of local schools, colleges and institutes. Indian community associations are also active in promoting the event,” says Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Indian ambassador to Thailand.

Shringla is also hoping to join the big crowd, having started to practice yoga for the last few weeks. “It’s never too late to start learning,” he says.

Indian envoy to Indonesia, Gurjit Singh, is also adapting his early morning yoga practice to the protocol suggested by the Ministry of AYUSH for International Yoga Day.

As the world’s largest Muslim country, the coincidence of Ramadan with international yoga was a challenge. “It will be the first Sunday after Ramadan starts, so people are likely to rest,” he says.

Nevertheless, the target is to get around 2,000 people to practice yoga for the main event in Jakarta from 6 to 8 pm. “We hope that people will eat their morning meal and then join us,” says Gurjit Singh. All participants will get free T-shirts and yoga mats, courtesy sponsors.

Four other Indonesian cities will also see public events at the same time.

An embassy stratagem was to send yoga teachers to big media houses to conduct workshops on practicing yoga in offices. “They got interested and agreed to promote International Yoga Day. Three media houses have come on board,” says Gurjit Singh.

Behind its iron wall, North Korea may also see its first ever yoga demonstration at one of its few venues of western-style entertainment, Taedonggang Diplomatic Club. “Their knowledge of yoga is very minimal,” admits head of chancery of the Indian embassy in North Korea, Sarvjit Singh. A yoga teacher is being specially sent from Delhi to give a demonstration before an audience of diplomats and senior North Korean government officials.

With North Korea being a strictly atheist state, promotion of yoga has to be modified mainly to highlight its scientific benefits. “Yoga is to improve your health and mind. It has nothing to do with religion,” explains Sarvjit Singh.

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