What Is International Yoga Day?

International Yoga Day Definition

International Yoga Day is an annual yoga event that takes place on June 21st.

International Yoga Day Deep Dive

Considered to be a celebration of the health benefits, spirituality, and community, International Yoga Day has been celebrated by hundreds of thousands of people around the world since its inception.

It is no secret that yoga is an internationally practiced mode of self-care and transformation, but it wasn’t until 2015 that International Yoga Day became a “thing.”

Many people do not know that International Yoga Day is relatively new and that it originated in Yoga’s motherland and was instigated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2014, Narendra Modi proposed that an annual day of yoga take place commencing from 2015. The United Nations website states “that yoga provides a holistic approach to health and well-being,” and support for the recognition of yoga has been backed by many world leaders.

Modi chose June 21st as it is the longest day in the northern hemisphere. A reported 35,985 took part in the first International Yoga Day, including the Prime Minister himself.

The 35-minute practice in New Delhi contained 21 postures (asanas), giving it the title of the biggest yoga class in history in which eighty-four nations participated.

International Yoga Day celebrations in Kolkata, India
International Yoga Day celebrations in Kolkata, India

Themes

Some of the annual events have been themed to demonstrate the unity and spiritual aspects of the practice. Themes have included:

  • yoga for health
  • yoga for peace
  • yoga for peace, harmony, and progress
  • yoga at home and yoga with the family
  • yoga for well-being
  • yoga for humanity

What happens during International Yoga Day?

There tends to be a significant amount of coverage of International Yoga Day in the news and through social media channels. Studios and teachers often offer free or low-cost classes, and there are mass gatherings of community practice.

It is an opportunity to practice different styles and celebrate yoga.

International Yoga Day celebrations in Russia
International Yoga Day celebrations in Russia

International Yoga Day Political Undertones

While you may have heard of International Yoga Day and even participated in it, it is necessary to note that there is a little more to the day than meets the eye. Some say that there are undertones of religious discrimination and that the day contributes to yoga’s role as a capitalist product.

Andrea Jain refers to the Hindu nationalist, also known as Hindutva, movement’s claim on International Yoga Day as being a way for India to “reclaim” yoga as a way to rightfully establish India as a Hindu nation. She says that religious minorities “fear the government will privilege Hindu practice and ideas in what is supposed to be a secular democracy.” 

She rightly points out that this raises the question of what yoga is and to whom it belongs. Jain goes on to say in her book Peace, Love, Yoga that “Modi’s approach to yoga represents a political, ahistorical, and essentializing strategy” that supports conservative politics.

Definitions, Hindu labeling, and ownership make yoga a problematic product of politics and take it far away from the aims of transformation that it was intended for despite its complex history.

Despite this, there is no doubt that yoga’s benefits are far-reaching, and International Yoga Day is a community-based way to celebrate the history and practice of yoga. It is an opportunity to practice together.

International Yoga Day celebrations in Bhutan
International Yoga Day celebrations in Bhutan

International Yoga Day In Your Life

Celebrating the wonderful practice of yoga should be a part of our lives. 

For many, this transformational and healing practice is life-changing and provides not just a platform for well-being but for making us better people.

Whether you decide to participate in International Yoga Day may depend on your views of the capitalist and political agenda behind the celebration. 

Regardless of your opinions, it may be worth remembering that yoga is a practice that requires discipline and repetition, so why not make yoga a part of your daily or weekly routine and celebrate it each time you practice?

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Sarah is a Brighton-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer with a passion for teaching self-inquiry and rest.

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