By Sharon Simonson
Can yoga help solve the world’s biggest problems?
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi thinks so. Thousands more people in the San Francisco Bay Area seem to agree — or perhaps yoga in the California sun and sea breeze just sounds like a pretty good time.
Five thousand people — each bearing yoga mat — are expected at San Francisco’s Marina Green Park on Sunday for the first International Day of Yoga, an event proposed by Modi before the United Nations last fall. Hundreds, perhaps thousands more yogis are expected to gather in Silicon Valley, at San Jose City Hall, Sunnyvale’s Baylands Park and at events in Morgan Hill, Cupertino and Pleasanton.
In all, more than 100,000 yogis in 160 cities across the globe are expected to share the experience, according to the Art of Living Foundation. The Bangalore-based organization, which has San Francisco and San Jose centers, and the Indian Consulate General, San Francisco, are primary sponsors of the Marina Green gathering.
“The success of the event is whether people understand the true value of yoga and know that they can meditate every day and add quality to their mind,” said Seema Kalra, a spokeswoman for the Art of Living. “Yoga is about flexibility of the mind.”
Last September, Modi, a yoga enthusiast, addressed the United Nations’ General Assembly for the first time. In a 40-minute speech noting the world’s current chaos and the upcoming 70th anniversary of the international body, he exhorted an “interdependent” globe to live up to its ideals for world peace, human rights and prosperity. At the dawn of the 21st century, more than a billion people still lack drinking water, and 1.3 billion don’t have electricity, Modi said, “We cannot keep waiting for economic development.”
Yoga, with its emphasis on the connections among mind, body, nature and world, brings new awareness that can catalyze change, the prime minister argued. “Let’s come together and work toward International Yoga Day,” he said.
Two months later, based on a resolution introduced by India’s U.N. ambassador but co-sponsored by 177 nations including the United States, the General Assembly proclaimed June 21—the summer solstice and longest day of the year—International Day of Yoga. Now, the Bay Area— birthplace of the United Nations and national epicenter of yoga enthusiasm, according to Forbes.com—is responding en mass.
The Indian Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy, or AYUSH, has published a “Common Yoga Protocol” for event organizers to create a consistent practice across locations. Besides a brief history of yoga—the product of an Indus River Valley civilization dating to 2700 B.C.—the booklet lays out a series of poses, postures or asanas for participants, beginning with prayer and ending with meditation, the most important element of yoga practice. “According to Yogic scriptures, the practice of Yoga leads to the union of individual consciousness with universal consciousness,” the ministry says.
More than 20 million Americans practice yoga, according to a widely cited study done by Sports Marketing Surveys USA in 2012 for San Francisco’s own Yoga Journal. It has grown into a $30 billion industry in the United States, according to the Consulate General of India, San Francisco.
Padma Chari, who is helping to organize the San Jose event, which begins at 9 a.m. and continues until noon, said she is unsure what to expect in terms of attendance and participation on Sunday. “My heart and mind say, ‘Wow, I want to see the (San Jose City Hall) West Plaza full,’” she says.
A longtime Silicon Valley resident, Chari is acting as a Bay Area event-planning consultant for Teamwork Arts, a New Delhi-based events company that is seeking to bring Indian music, art and cultural programming to various U.S. metropolitan markets, including the Bay Area. Chari and Teamwork, which also does events across India, have organized five regional events this month including the San Jose Yoga Day.
Whatever the cosmic outcome of International Day of Yoga (and the annual events expected to come), it seems already a global public relations home run for India’s prime minister, who described yoga before the General Assembly as “an invaluable gift of ancient Indian tradition.”
Modi has 6.53 million followers on Twitter, just launched his own mobile app and maintains an active website with dozens of press photos and reports.