YOGA HAS TRANSCENDED borders and gained immense popularity worldwide for its physical, mental and spiritual benefits.
The United Nations’ proclamation of June 21 as International Yoga Day, spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with his participation in the festivities marking the ninth International Yoga Day at the UN this year, added an exceptional and incomparable essence to the occasion.
The Permanent Mission of India to the UN in New York embarked upon a remarkable journey to attempt a Guinness World Record for most nationalities at a yoga session. This endeavour not only aimed to break an existing record, but also to celebrate the power of yoga in bringing people together, fostering unity and highlighting the significance of holistic well-being.
The organisation of the event required meticulous planning and coordination. We carefully researched the guidelines set by the Guinness World Records. We collaborated with the UN Secretariat, secured the prestigious North Lawn which is adorned by a bust of Mahatma Gandhi, roped in a certified yoga teacher, and were ‘lucky’ with schoolchildren (aged eight to 14) who would be the instructors for the day. We could not have asked for a better master of ceremonies than the chair of the International Yoga Day Committee of the UN. And finally, a clutch of enthusiastic volunteers from the Indian community effectively backstopped us, as we grappled with the logistics and facilities.
What about participation? We spread out across the UN, reaching out to each and every one of the 193 member countries, at all levels. We also fully touched the UN Secretariat. Success trickled in slowly, but steadily. The UN secretary general sent in a warm and encouraging message on the transformative power of yoga, the president of the General Assembly and the deputy secretary general soon became a part of the VIP attendees. The mayor of New York city also joined this distinguished group as a speaker. The quick and positive confirmations by fellow ambassadors/permanent representatives in large numbers spurred us to stay the course.
Likewise with celebrity guests, actor Richard Gere, singer-actor Mary Millben, MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle, Yogmata Keiko Aikawa, Amma Sri Karunamayi and others. We were on our way.
The security aspect was crucial. The event was restricted to invited guests only. Possession of UN passes was mandatory for entry, creating an autonomous entity within the premises.
On the day of the event, excitement (and anxiety on the part of the organisers) filled the air as participants steadily trickled in, eager to embark on this extraordinary journey together. The energy was palpable, with people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, ready to unite through the practice of yoga.
I will also add that fortune smiled upon us with the blessings of favourable weather on this momentous occasion.
The prime minister’s presence (and words) was the crowning moment. He exhorted all participants to build bridges of friendship, a peaceful world and a cleaner, greener and sustainable future, in the effort to create ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’.
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A certified yoga instructor and the child yogis guided the participants through a series of identified postures, breathing exercises and meditation techniques. The collective synchronisation of movements created a mesmerising spectacle, showcasing the beauty of unity in diversity. The joy of practising yoga alongside thousands of likeminded individuals was truly invigorating, reinforcing the transformative power of this ancient discipline from India.
As the session neared its conclusion, anticipation built up. Every participant, irrespective of their individual abilities, had played a crucial role in our pursuit of breaking the record. With bated breath, we awaited the final announcement from the Guinness World Records representative. And then, it happened―our collective efforts had paid off. A new world record was established for most nationalities at a yoga session.
Beyond the Guinness World Record, the true triumph lay in the lasting impact this event has left on one and all. Congratulations for a flawlessly executed event are yet pouring in. By bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds, yoga fostered a sense of unity, transcending boundaries and promoting harmony.
And I have no doubt that the event will spur an increased interest in yoga, leading to the formation of more yoga groups and classes both within the UN and outside.
In the final analysis, our successful attempt at the Guinness World Record for most nationalities at a yoga session was a testament to the power of unity and the transformative nature of yoga. This event will be remembered as a powerful symbol of how the practice of yoga can bridge divides, foster understanding and promote a sense of harmony among individuals from all walks of life. As we reflect on this achievement, let us carry forward the spirit of unity and continue to embrace the transformative power of yoga in our pursuit of a healthier, more connected world.
And as the organisers at the permanent mission of India to the UN, my team and I shall hold June 21, 2023 close to our hearts, forever.
The author is permanent representative/ambassador of India to the United Nations, New York.