Sydneysiders respond to India’s call for yoga, write KIRA SPUCYS-TAHAR and ASTHA SINGH
Thousands of enthusiastic yoga practitioners from across the world came together on 21 June to mark the inaugural International Day of Yoga.
Events were held in 192 countries, organised by the Indian missions, local yoga centres and various community groups. In Australia, yoga sessions were held in Canberra at Old Parliament House; in Brisbane at Parkland Boulevard; in Adelaide at Veale Park; at the Gold Coast’s Burleigh Heads Beachfront; in Darwin’s Nightcliff and even over in Perth!
In Sydney, mass yoga sessions were held across the city at Bondi Beach, Taronga Park Zoo and Parramatta.
Greeting the sun at Bondi
There was something special about joining around one hundred dedicated yogis to complete the United Nations World Yoga Day Challenge as the sun valiantly tried to peek out from behind the clouds to greet the day. Despite the bitter cold eight degree morning and the intermittent rain, yogis – some even wrapped in sleeping bags or wearing ugg boots! – ran through the full surya namaskar after an affecting Aboriginal acknowledgement of country and welcome smoking ceremony. Edo and Jo from A Sound Life were joined by Prabhu Aacharya on the hang providing soulful music as the yoga community came together to mark the occasion with this free mass practice. Though inclement weather forced the guided meditation portion inside the Pavilion, it gave yogis a chance to really become acquainted, huddled together in a cosy gathering against the cold.
The full day ticketed event, which took place inside Bondi Pavilion, featured yoga classes, panel talks and meditation sessions hosted by key organisations including Bright Light Yoga, Hindu Council of Australia, Power Living Yoga, Yoga Moves, Art of Living Yoga, Isha Yoga, Dharma Shala, Yoga by the Sea, Art2Healing Project, The Yoga Foundation and the Australian School of Meditation and Yoga.
After enjoying a series of dynamic yoga practices, it was nice to sip on hot chai and chat with new friends about the transformational power of yoga.
In the evening, local organisation Our Big Kitchen hosted a post-event ‘karma cook-up’ – making meals to help those less fortunate including the homeless (Matthew Talbot Centre, Jewish House and Youth Off The Street) children with cancer (Bear Cottage) and victims of domestic violence (Lou’s Place).
Asanas among the animals
At Taronga Park Zoo, the Consulate General of India Sydney hosted a morning dedicated to the traditions and possibilities associated with yoga. The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the majestic city skyline were bathed in the winter sun as India’s ancient knowledge shone through on the yogis gathered. After an inauguration by Aussie cricket legend Brett Lee, there were lectures on the history of yoga and Ayurveda in modern life, as well as various yoga asana demonstrations and group practices.
This was followed by a Satvic vegetarian lunch where those gathered reflected on how their physical efforts had indeed given them an energy boost for the rest of the cloudy day ahead.
It was a wonderful morning, though it was a tad disappointing not to see India’s favourite adopted son, Brett Lee, kitted up in yoga gear doing his asanas on the mat!
Poses in Parramatta
The all-day event at Parramatta Town Hall attracted hundreds from around the City of Parramatta and greater Sydney to practice, learn and hear about the most ancient Indian routines in the form of meditation and yoga.
The event was initiated and organised by the Hindu Council of Australia with close support of Hindu Swayam Sevak Sangh and Overseas Friends of BJP. It was remarkable to see attendees of all ages come together, in spite of the freezing and drizzly weather. Some yoga fans even came along after attending the sun salutation at Bondi Beach earlier that morning making the best use of their Sunday!
Key organisations that ran the concurrent learning sessions, stalls and classes in Parramatta included Art of Living, All World Gayatri Parivar, Atma yoga, Australian School of Meditation & Yoga, Divine Life Society, Heartfulness Meditation, Yoga Sadhana, Know Thyself as Soul Foundation, Kriya Yoga, Laughter Yoga, Sahaj Yoga Australia, Seva Yoga, Spirit of India, Sri Om Care, Winston Hills Yoga & Natural Therapies and World Community Service Centre.
The formal proceedings were opened by HCA Secretary Sanjeev Bhakri and facilitated by Leah Briers.
Hundreds of people performed the surya namaskar in the open area in front of the Townhall the likes of which had never been witnessed by the city of Parramatta before! This guided yoga practice, led by HSS leader Ramyavaran Vasu, definitely filled the void for those who could not participate in the other sessions due to limited spaces leading to fully booked classes and even a waiting list. The sight was truly inspiring!
“I never knew yoga had so many physical elements in the routines, this is great!” said Michelle, who practised yoga for the first time.
“Being a part of the first International Yoga Day, I felt honoured to transmit this ancient science, blessed to be guided by my Guru’s grace, and thrilled to see the enthusiasm of the people of Sydney,” said Abhishek, a young yoga teacher from Yoga Sadhana (Isha Foundation).
A definite highlight was the ‘Kids Zone’ where the ‘Sahaja Yoga’ form of craft kept the littlies occupied. They made their own jewellery, paintings, craft materials and showed great pride in strutting their creations around to their friends and families! Kulwinder Kaur, who put together this stall and activities, said, “This is the best way to keep the kids occupied and be creative along with getting a sense of what Yoga is about.”
The cultural program included a wonderful Bharatnatyam performance by the Sydney Sanskrit School.
In her speech on the occasion, Member for Strathfield Jodi McKay said, “Yoga is what politicians need to incorporate into their daily dealings in the NSW Parliament. We could do far worse than follow Modi’s lead. He is such an inspiration!”
Geoff Lee, MP for Parramatta congratulated the Hindu Council for taking the lead in organising this event.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi certainly struck a chord with many when he said yoga has benefits not only as physical exercise, but also as a path for inner development as well as international peace and harmony.