Millions Bend and Twist for Yoga Day

June 21, 2015 Updated: June 21, 2015
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NEW DELHI—Millions of yoga enthusiasts across the world bent and twisted their bodies in complex postures Sunday to mark the first International Yoga Day.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spread his mat among rows of people, including his Cabinet members and foreign diplomats, at New Delhi’s main thoroughfare, which was transformed into a sprawling exercise ground.

People takes part in a mass yoga session to mark International Yoga Day at Campidoglio square in Rome on June 21, 2015. Some 192 countries took part in the event. AFP PHOTO/TIZIANA FABI        (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
People take part in a mass yoga session to mark International Yoga Day at Campidoglio Square in Rome on June 21, 2015. (TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of people dressed in white sat on yellow mats under the Eiffel Tower, and similar events were held in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Beijing, Manila, and other places. Modi had lobbied the U.N. to declare June 21 as the first International Yoga Day.

“We are not only celebrating a day, but we are training the human mind to begin a new era of peace and harmony,” Modi told participants. “This is a program for the benefit of mankind, for a tension-free world and to spread the message of harmony.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the Yoga Day participants worldwide. He recalled that he tried his first Yoga asana—the tree pose—during a visit to India earlier this year and said that once he regained his balance he “began to feel a certain peace of mind.”

“My hope is that yoga will give people everywhere the sense and the oneness we need to work together to live in harmony and usher in a life of dignity for all,” Ban said.

Participants

Schoolchildren, bureaucrats, homemakers, soldiers, and ordinary folk took part in the exercise, held in all Indian state capitals. In Modi’s home state of Gujarat, yoga events were organized at nearly 30,000 places, state officials said.

People practice yoga in New York's Times Square while celebrating the summer solstice June 21, 2014.  (DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
People practice yoga in New York’s Times Square while celebrating the summer solstice June 21, 2014. (DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

In Taipei, more than 2,000 participants rolled out mats and performed 108 rounds of the “sun salutation”—the sequence of poses often practiced at the beginning of a routine as the sun rises.

They give themselves a piece of time to observe their mind and their heart, which I think in the modern society we need a lot.
— Angela His, yoga practitioner

“They give themselves a piece of time to observe their mind and their heart, which I think in the modern society we need a lot,” said practitioner Angela Hsi.

Fazel Shah, an Indian pilot working for a Middle Eastern airline, rushed from the airport on his stopover in Taiwan to join the event.

“Isn’t it awesome? I mean, just look at the number of people who are here, embracing it,” he said.

In Dubai, a 41-year-old Indian man attempted the world’s longest headstand.

He said yoga was probably born in India but belongs anywhere. “If you go up from where I am and look from the sky down, you don’t see borders, you don’t see religions, you don’t see nationalities, you just see one group of people. So, I just go down and meet up with them, that’s all.”

Indians perform yoga on Rajpath, in New Delhi, India, on Sunday. (AP Photo/ Manish Swarup)
Indians perform yoga on Rajpath, in New Delhi, India, on Sunday. (AP Photo/ Manish Swarup)

In Dubai, a 41-year-old Indian man attempted the world’s longest headstand. Ivan Stanley, who has lived in Dubai for 15 years, held the position for 61 minutes. He registered his attempt with Guinness World Records, which has yet to announce if he broke the record.

He later told reporters that he relied on his mental strength. “Up to 45 (minutes), it started getting physically a little challenging in my shoulder and neck but after that it was completely mental,” he said. “The last 5 minutes were really hard.”

Many believe that yoga, the ancient form of exercise, is the best way to calm the mind and the best form of exercise for the body.

Indian officials said more than 35,000 people participated in the New Delhi event that was also an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the largest single yoga class at a single venue. Guinness representatives said they hired more than 1,500 members of a global accounting firm to count participants.

Yoga enthusiasts perform yoga during International Day of Yoga in Colombo on June 21, 2015, in a yoga session to mark the first International Yoga Day.  (LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)
Yoga enthusiasts perform yoga during International Day of Yoga in Colombo on June 21, 2015, in a yoga session to mark the first International Yoga Day. (LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)

India’s Defense Ministry said that soldiers on the Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battleground in the Himalayas, and naval cadets on navy ships at sea also participated in the Yoga Day events.

Although Modi’s message was one of peace and harmony, many in India were concerned that the push for yoga was an attempt by Hindu groups to give a boost to Hinduism.

Many Muslims objected to the government’s exhortations to join the public exercise programs. Some Muslim leaders said yoga was a Hindu practice.

Indian yoga enthusiasts perform yoga on International Yoga Day in Amritsar on June 21, 2015. (NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian yoga enthusiasts perform yoga on International Yoga Day in Amritsar on June 21, 2015. (NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)

The government quickly dropped a plan for the “sun salutation” exercise, which Muslims found objectionable because it implied the sun was a deity. Also dropped was the Hindu “om” chant.

Some Christian groups were upset that the mass yoga sessions were being held at a time when they usually attend Sunday Mass.

Others were skeptical about the time and money spent by the government on Yoga Day.

“The government organizes these hyped-up events,” said Sumita Rani, a primary school teacher in South Delhi. “Last year was the Clean India Campaign. What came of it? This city is as filthy as ever.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, (Front L) joins thousands of Indians in New Delhi, India, on Sunday, June 21, 2015. Millions of yoga enthusiasts are bending their bodies in complex postures across India as they take part in a mass yoga program to mark the first International Yoga Day.  (AP Photo/ Manish Swarup)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, (Front L) joins thousands of Indians in New Delhi, India, on Sunday, June 21, 2015. Millions of yoga enthusiasts are bending their bodies in complex postures across India as they take part in a mass yoga program to mark the first International Yoga Day. (AP Photo/ Manish Swarup)

 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, (C) sits on a mat as he performs yoga along with thousands of Indians on Rajpath, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, June 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, (C) sits on a mat as he performs yoga along with thousands of Indians on Rajpath, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, June 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

 

New Yorkers practice yoga during the 13th annual Solstice in Times Square on Sunday. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
New Yorkers practice yoga during the 13th annual Solstice in Times Square on Sunday. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

 

People takes part in a mass yoga session to mark International Yoga Day at Campidoglio square in Rome on June 21, 2015. Some 192 countries took part in the event. AFP PHOTO/TIZIANA FABI        (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
People take part in a mass yoga session to mark International Yoga Day at Campidoglio Square in Rome on June 21, 2015. (TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

 

New Yorkers practice yoga during the 13th annual Solstice in Times Square on Sunday. (DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
New Yorkers practice yoga during the 13th annual Solstice in Times Square on Sunday. (DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Hundreds of school learners take part in a yoga session as part of the International Day of Yoga at the amphitheatre lawns at the North Beach on June 21, 2015 in Durban. (STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Hundreds of school children take part in a yoga session as part of International Day of Yoga on the amphitheater lawns at the North Beach on June 21, 2015 in Durban. (STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Participants take part in a mass yoga session to mark International Yoga Day at Colon square in Madrid on June 21, 2015. (PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)
Participants at a mass yoga session marking International Yoga Day at Colon Square in Madrid on June 21, 2015. (PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Yoga enthusiasts take part in a mass yoga session to mark International Yoga Day in Nairobi on June 21, 2015. (SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)
Yoga enthusiasts at a mass yoga session marking International Yoga Day in Nairobi on June 21, 2015. (SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Participants take part in a mass yoga session to mark International Yoga Day in Minsk on June 21, 2015. (MAXIM MALINOVSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Participants at a mass yoga session marking International Yoga Day in Minsk on June 21, 2015. (MAXIM MALINOVSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Hundreds of people attend a yoga session to mark the International Yoga Day in Manila on June 21, 2015.  192 countries join the event.    (NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Hundreds of people attend a yoga session to mark the International Yoga Day in Manila on June 21, 2015. Some 192 countries joined the event. (NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Hundreds of people attend a yoga session to mark the International Yoga Day in Manila on June 21, 2015.  192 countries join the event.   (NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Hundreds of people attend a yoga session to mark the International Yoga Day in Manila on June 21, 2015. Some 192 countries join the event. (NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Yoga enthusiasts perform yoga during International Day of Yoga in Colombo on June 21, 2015, in a yoga session to mark the first International Yoga Day.  (LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)
Yoga enthusiasts during International Day of Yoga in Colombo on June 21, 2015, in a yoga session to mark the first International Yoga Day. (LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Hundreds of people attend a yoga session under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, on June 21, 2015, in a mass yoga session to mark the first International Yoga Day. 192 countries join the event. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSON        (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Hundreds of people attend a yoga session under the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Sunday. (THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)

<> on June 21, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 21:  People perform yoga to mark International Day of Yoga on June 21, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. Milions of people worldwide took part in the first International Day of Yoga, which was declared by the United Nations last year.  (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
People perform yoga to mark International Day of Yoga on June 21, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

 

Hundreds of people attend a yoga session under the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Sunday. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
Hundreds of people at a yoga session under the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Sunday. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)

 

Israelis perform Yoga during the International Yoga Day in Tel Aviv, Israel,  Sunday, June 21, 2015. Thousands of yoga enthusiasts took part in mass yoga programs to mark the first International Yoga Day throughout the world. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Israelis perform Yoga during the International Yoga Day in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, June 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

 

Yoga instructor Tracye Warfield, right, participates in a yoga class in Times Square during the 13th annual Solstice in Times Square, Sunday, June 21, 2015, in New York. Warfield was one of several thousand who practiced yoga during six different classes held throughout the day to mark the summer solstice. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Yoga instructor Tracye Warfield (R) participates in a yoga class in Times Square during the 13th annual Solstice in Times Square, Sunday, June 21, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

 

Israelis perform Yoga during the International Yoga Day in Tel Aviv, Israel,  Sunday, June 21, 2015. Thousands of yoga enthusiasts took part in mass yoga programs to mark the first International Yoga Day throughout the world. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Israelis perform Yoga during the International Yoga Day in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, June 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

 

Lebanese and foreign citizens perform yoga during an Acro yoga class to mark International Yoga Day, at Beirut Yoga Center, Lebanon, Sunday, June 21, 2015. Millions of yoga enthusiasts across the world bent and twisted their bodies in complex postures Sunday to mark International Yoga Day. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Lebanese and foreign citizens perform yoga during an Acro yoga class to mark International Yoga Day, at Beirut Yoga Center, Lebanon, Sunday, June 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)