Yoga for peace

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Melbournians bend and stretch, inhale and exhale, as the world takes up India’s call for yoga. PREETI JABBAL and PINKY BHATIA report

Thousands of yoga enthusiasts across the world – from New York to Trinidad and Tobago, from the Maldives to Paris, from Tel Aviv to Moscow – spread their mats for yoga sessions on 21 June to mark the inaugural International Day of Yoga (IDY).

It turned out to be a perfect platform to bring the world together in a spirit of unity and harmony.

Events were held in 192 countries, organised by the Indian missions and local yoga centres. In Australia, yoga sessions were held in Canberra at Old Parliament House; in Sydney at Bondi Beach, Taronga Park Zoo, and Parramatta; in Brisbane at Parkland Boulevard; in Adelaide at Veale Park; at the Gold Coast’s Burleigh Heads Beachfront; in Darwin’s Nightcliff and in Perth!

More than 20 events were held in the greater Melbourne area including at Durga Temple Rockbank, Federation Square, Amma Ashram Carrum Downs, St Albans Parish Scoresby, Swaminarayan Temple Boronia, Sai Temple Camberwell, BAPS Temple Mill Park as well as events in Keysborough, Seabrook, Wyndham and Werribee.

Across the state, yogis went through the exercise routines in the ‘Common Yoga Protocol’ established by India’s Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH).

At the Art Of Living Foundation celebrations, at the scenic Moonee Valley Race Course, yoga guide Chris Virgonia made the experience feel effortless with his clear and engaging instructions. After the yoga, there was a dramatic shift; from being aware of the presence of more than 200 people to not even feeling one’s own self. That was Yoga Nidra, literally meaning “yogic sleep” and it was just that – a deep restful sleep which made up for the Sunday sleeps-in missed by many that day.

Other highlights included Dr Angela Hass, one of the founding members of the first government accredited diploma course in Yoga, who spoke about the ancient origins of yoga, its translation in modern times to Western cultures, and the influence of the Art Of Living in the modern context.

Special guests on the day included Member of Victorian Parliament from Essendon Daniel Pearson, Mayor for the City of Moonee Valley Councilllor Narelle Sharpe, Victorian Multicultural Commission’s CS Srinivasan, Principal Solicitor with the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office Molina Asthana, and Aunty Dianne from the Wun Run Djeri. The significant participation from key members of the local and political community to demonstrate their support was great to see.

The Art Of Living is a not-for-profit organisation, supported by volunteers, founded by his Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. AOL, as it is lovingly known, has special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and globally engages in thousands of acts of humanitarian work in the form of community service and trauma relief.

Over at Springers Leisure Centre, nearly 500 people flocked with yoga mats to participate in a similar celebration. The all-day event was organised by Vasudeva Kriya Yoga in association with the Indian Consulate in Melbourne as part of the 8th Annual Yoga Conference. The theme for this year’s conference was Yoga for Health – Physical, Mental, Social and Spiritual.  

The early morning start saw hundreds of yoga enthusiasts offer 108 sun salutations (Surya Namaskar) as Melbourne’s winter sun predictably played hide and seek.

Highlights of the conference included sessions from renowned speakers like Professor Marc Cohen, one of Australia’s pioneers of integrative and holistic medicine, and Swami Atmamuktanada, Director of Rocklyn Yoga Ashram in Victoria. Subsequent sessions dealt with women’s mental health and application of yoga in surgery and urology.

The official launch was conducted in the presence of the Consul General of India in Melbourne Ms Manika Jain followed by addresses from Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Telmo Languillier MP, Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs Inga Peulich, Federal Member for Holt Anthony Byrne and Mayor of Dandenong Sean O’Reilly.

Besides informative talks by acclaimed speakers, another highlight of the day included a demonstration of yoga asanas by three little girls who are students of Vasudeva Kriya Yoga. As a surprise token of appreciation a certificate was presented to Rajendra Yenkannamoole the main driving force behind Vasudeva Kriya Yoga. The multitalented, altruistic and ever humble founder of Vasudeva Kriya Yoga has been running yoga classes in Melbourne for over nine years and also travels to India frequently to conduct classes in prisons, villages and schools in Bangalore.

In preparation for the International Day celebration Vasudeva Kriya Yoga had earlier organised an hour long session on yoga over the Queen’s Birthday weekend that was held in front of the Parliament House in Melbourne. A souvenir was also launched with the support of advertisers and sponsors. The proceeds of the publication will to go towards rebuilding Nepal, Clean Ganga Project in India and locally towards the Monash Children Hospital in Melbourne.

Across the city organisations such as Hindu Council of Australia (HCA), Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP), Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), VHP, Sai Temple, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, ISKCON, India Australia Exchange Forum, Sri Durga Temple, Mata Amritanandamayi Math (AMMA), Wyndham Yoga Network, Vishva Hindu Parishad of Australia, JET Foundation, Satyananda yoga, and SahajYoga  teamed up to celebrate this historic occasion.

Teens, mums, athletes, fitness buffs, yoga enthusiasts and seniors, even children as young as two years old were motivated to jump on the yoga mats. There were also several participants well into their late 80s, fit and active in their pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.

The collective sentiment echoed throughout each gathering was an appreciation of yoga and its multiple health, fitness and stress-management benefits.

On the day, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott expressed delight at the country being part of the International Yoga Day celebrations, adding that the discipline’s universal popularity demonstrates its appeal to people from all walks of life.

“For thousands of years, yoga has provided its followers with a guide to bringing their mind, body and spirit into balance. The International Day of Yoga is an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the benefits of yoga. Yoga’s universal and growing popularity demonstrates its appeal to people from all walks of life and its great potential to foster better health among individuals and populations around the world. I commend the honourable Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, and the High Commission of India in Australia, for their efforts to share this valuable and ancient discipline with the global community. Australia is delighted to be part of the inaugural International Day of Yoga. In communities right around our country, tens of thousands of Australians have embraced yoga as part of their daily health and exercise routine,” his message read.

In December last year, the United Nations announced the holding of IDY on June 21. The declaration came after a proposal from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a keen yoga enthusiast himself, who said during his address to the UN General Assembly, “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. This tradition is 5000 years old. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature.”

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