June 21 is International Yoga Day, a day set by the United Nations celebrating the spiritual and physical benefits of the practice of yoga. Yoga is an ancient practice that has been used by people for centuries as a way to connect the mind, body, and soul, and also as a way of exercising.
Yoga has originated in India, and it is a practice so ancient that in the beginnings of its conception most of the teachings were transmitted word-to-mouth, not written down, which means that a lot of the history of yoga is unknown.
Legend has it that the goddess Shiva was the first yogi, who after reaching enlightenment at Mount Kailash passed her knowledge to her seven disciples, the seven rishis, who spread the word and are considered the founders of the spiritual practice of Yoga.
In reality, yoga likely originated in 3000 BCE and derived from pre-Vedic Indian traditions, and its study was further developed in the ascetic and Sramana movements through the 5th and 6th centuries BCE. The word Yoga was first mentioned in the Rig Veda an ancient scripture of Sanskrit hymns.
The word yoga originates from the word "yuj", which means "to yoke". Yoking was an old practice of connecting two animals by their necks so they could perform work together. This represents the union of body, mind, and soul that yogis strive for in their practice, as a way to reach enlightenment. In western countries, yoga is practiced as a form of exercise, to stay healthy.
In 2014 Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a speech during the UN General Assembly proposing an International Day to commemorate the practice of yoga. He chose the date June 21 as it coincides with the Summer Solstice. Modi's suggestion was a hit, and 177 countries supported his proposal, thus International Yoga Day was officially set to be observed annually around the world on June 21.
On the first International Yoga Day, in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was joined by other international political figures, and together they performed 21 asanas for 35 minutes. The event took place in New Delhi.
How to Celebrate Yoga Day
As a practice, yoga has many benefits for the body and the mind, as it is a great way to manage stress, as well as helping with body aches such as back pain, increasing flexibility, and helping with weight loss. Which is probably why around 30 million Americans regularly practice yoga.
So, the best way to commemorate International Yoga Day is to try to practice some yoga poses, creating a flow and discover a new way of exercise. With over 100 different styles of yoga, it shouldn't be difficult to find something for everyone. It is very easy to get into yoga, as the only equipment necessary is comfortable, stretchy clothing and a yoga mat, or even a towel.