June 21 is officially celebrated as ‘International Day of Yoga’. This annual celebration came into effect on June 21 2015, after a resolution was passed in the UN General Assembly for same, in Dec 2014. This was done based on the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal during the September 2014 speech to the UN General Assembly.
As Summer Solstice, i.e., the longest day of the year typically occurs on June 21, and as this day is important for different people for various reasons, this date was chosen to be celebrated as the day for yoga.
What is popularly known as “yoga”, is actually the short form of the word “Yog-aasan”, where “aasan” means “posture”. Yog means “union” or “combination”.
“Yog” is a derivative of the Sanskrit word “yuj”.
Yogasan (physical stretching exercises) is just a small part/piece of Yog. Yog entails a perfect union or harmony of mind, body, and soul. The practice of Yog (spelt, incidentally as “yoga” in English translations) leads to the union of individual consciousness with that of the universal consciousness.
The individual who attains this level of consciousness through his (‘his’ being used in a gender-neutral context) Yog-sadhana (the rigorous practice of Yog) is called a “Yogi”.
The science and practice of Yog is believed to have had originally started in Bharat (aka India) during pre-Vedic (pre-historic) times. There have been a countless number of yogis (sages/’rishis’) in Indian civilization, spanning across eras, who had/have mastered this practice.
Though Yog had already been in practice in pre-Vedic times, it was the great sage Maharshi Patanjali who systemized and codified those practices into ancient scriptures called Yoga-Shastra. Yoga-shastra consisted of pearls of wisdom known as Sutra (plural), and a literary commentary on them called Bhasya.
Meditation, Self-realization, & Enlightenment is the path a yogi takes to freedom (“Moksh”). While on this path, he learns to manage his senses (sensory organs/wishes/desires), controls his thoughts, is at peace, and becomes one with nature/universe/supreme. The Yog-sutras are the related nuggets of wisdom.
Some of those sutras talk about the aasans (postures/physical exercises) that are a part of this process.
Yog (whether in its entirety or just the aasan, i.e., the physical exercise part) helps in keeping the mind and body healthy, undoubtedly. One can search the internet for its numerous health benefits. Rain or shine, one can indulge in Yog without worrying about the weather, amount of space at disposal, or even physical or mental condition.
The easiest or the simplest form of Yog is known as Pranayam (pränəˈyäm). It is also simply called “breathing exercises” now.
Though Maharshi Patanjali contributed a lot in the fields of maths, astronomy, language/grammar and medicine too, that too 1000s of years ago, he is fondly remembered mostly for his contribution to this unparalleled field of Yog!
It should make one wonder as to why his idol not seen anywhere, even as a souvenir, when it would be not just a matter of pride or tribute to him but it would be a symbol or expression or icon of meditation, peace, knowledge, enlightenment, and very importantly, life ENERGY!