'Yoga is a perennial gift of Indian wisdom to the world': Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal

Corporate India played a critical role in making yoga popular


Prime Minister Modi has put yoga on the world map. How do you look at the nine-year journey?

Ever since the declaration made by the UN General Assembly in 2014 following the initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the International Day of Yoga (IDY) is celebrated globally, on June 21 every year. The aim of this initiative is to raise awareness about the many benefits of practising yoga and to promote its global significance for individual well-being and holistic health. This was the ninth edition of the IDY and all editions have seen record mass participation. Successive observation of the IDY has resulted in establishing this event as a global one in all its essence, thereby taking the ancient science of yoga to every nook and corner of the world. This has positioned India as a champion of good health and well-being across the globe.

New startups in the field of yoga are also proving that employment in the field of yoga and health is booming. It is clear that yoga can become a factor of change not only in the life of an individual, but also at the national and global levels.

The nine-year journey has seen many firsts, which testifies that the inherent all-embracing appeal and efficacy of yoga surpasses all limiting concepts that have divided mankind for eons. Yoga is accepted by people of all ages, religions and ethnicities, and has established itself as a perennial gift of Indian wisdom to the world.

Major international institutions like UNICEF, the WHO and the United Nations, along with Indian missions abroad and national and international yoga institutions, have been actively engaged in making it a success. The event organised on IDY 2022 saw a massive participation—almost 22.13 crore people in India participated. And the global outreach through the various initiatives was recorded to be around 125 crore. We are expecting this number to increase this year.

A new world record was created when Prime Minister Modi led the Yoga Day celebrations in New York. Last nine years have seen many such records. Can you briefly tell us about them? Has the target of 25 crore people participating this year achieved?

Two Guinness World Records were created this year. The IDY event led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the United Nations headquarters in New York created a record for seeing the participation of most nationalities in a single yoga session. The other event held in Surat also created a new Guinness World Record for the largest congregation of people in a yoga session with the participation of 1.53 lakh people. In 2018, Mysuru set the record for the largest yoga chain. Around 8,381 people joined together to form a continuous chain, performing yoga postures simultaneously. A record of [people belonging to] 114 nationalities doing yoga was achieved by the Indian Sports Centre under the aegis of embassy of India in Doha, Qatar, on March 25, 2022. In 2015, the very first IDY event witnessed two Guinness World Records– largest yoga session involving 35,985 participations and maximum number of nationalities (84) participating in a single yoga session.

We are sure to achieve the participation target of 25 crore participants. The data is being collated and would be shared soon.

Yoga is more than just physical exercise; it is the representation of ancient Indian thought and traditions. What message does it give to the world?

In today's fast-paced and stressful world, yoga provides an effective means to manage stress, improve physical and mental health, cultivate emotional well-being, and promote overall balance and harmony in life. By incorporating yoga into our daily routines, we can navigate the challenges of modern life with greater resilience, inner peace and a healthier mind-body connection.

Yoga provides a holistic approach to managing stress by combining physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation. These practices help activate the relaxation response in the body, reducing stress hormones and promoting a sense of calm and inner peace. The relaxation techniques in yoga can help regulate the nervous system and induce a state of deep relaxation. Regular practice can lead to improved sleep patterns, allowing individuals to wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Sarbananda Sonowal | Arvind Jain Sarbananda Sonowal | Arvind Jain

Even a short-spanned yoga regime like Y-Break is capable of de-stressing, refreshening and refocusing the workaholics. Other apps, too, like the WHO’s mYoga, have gained global acceptance. So, the clear message to the world is that yoga is for all and is for holistic well-being—encompassing and working on physical, mental and consciousness levels for all humans.

How is the government spreading awareness about the benefits of yoga, particularly among the youth, to make it part of their lifestyle?

Yoga has solutions for professionals leading fast-paced, stressful life. It has been included in the school curriculum. The National Council of Educational Research and Training has done a wonderful job by bringing out modules and books on it, apart from the ministry of Ayush’s multi-dimensional efforts. The acceptance of yogasana as a sport by Government of India has also significantly heightened the chances of it being taken up as a beneficial sports career by the youth. The capability of yoga in reducing stress, enhancing concentration and rejuvenating the mind-body combine has started showing its impact on the younger generation and it is indeed becoming part of their lifestyle.

You recently asked the private sector to start yoga cells and talked about yoga breaks.

The prime minister has said, “Yoga is free—from copyright, patents and royalty payments. Yoga is adaptable—to your age, gender and fitness level. Yoga is portable—you can do it at home, at work or in transit.” This dynamic nature of yoga has enabled it to spread globally.

I believe corporate India also played a critical role in making yoga popular. I had appealed to all corporate houses to set up a ‘yoga cell’ in their workplaces, so that their employees and staff can reap the benefits of yoga. This will not only rejuvenate the working class of India, but also help the corporates to optimise efficiency.

A shorter version of the Y-Break yoga video has been launched to encourage more people to incorporate yoga into their daily life. Yoga on chair is basically a five-minute yoga break protocol which can be easily adopted by everyone.

Yoga is also a big attraction for foreign tourists. How is the tourism aspect being integrated with the promotion of yoga?

The growth of Medical Value Travel (MVT) in India is aligned to the 'Heal in India & Heal by India' initiative. Yoga's integration into MVT offerings will enhance India's attractiveness as a destination for MVT and it provides beneficiaries with a comprehensive and enriching health care experience. This will be further strengthened as scientific research enables researchers to explore the physiological, psychological and therapeutic mechanisms underlying the benefits of yoga.

According to an analysis published by Allied Market Research, titled Yoga Market by Type: Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2021– 2027, the global yoga market size was $37.5 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach approximately $66.2 billion by 2027.

Yoga centres are mushrooming everywhere, so are yoga teachers. Is there a certification programme for them?

Training of manpower has special importance in the promotion and dissemination of yoga. Training is being imparted at different levels of yoga through institutions including the Morarji Desai Yoga Institute.

The Yoga Certification Board (YCB) was formed for yoga training and certification. Till date, more than 9,600 assessments, more than 480 exams and more than 14 language tests have been conducted and candidates from more than 56 countries have been evaluated. At present, there are about three crore yoga practitioners in the world and by the end of this decade their number is expected to increase to 3.5 crore.

The YCB's activities include certification of yoga professionals, verification of yoga organisations, approval of certification bodies of yoga professionals and grading of yoga organisations according to placement standards. The ministry of Ayush is working closely with the ministry of skill development and enterprise to train yoga aspirants. Along with this, yoga departments have also been started in universities located abroad. In the past five years, there has been a tremendous growth in the number of yoga schools and yoga studios around the world.

How do you look at the prospects of yoga as a profession? We hear of startups focusing on yoga and meditation. How big is this industry and its allied sectors?

Government of India’s initiative 'Heal in India & Heal by India' will expand wellness market not only in the country, but also across the world. Many employment opportunities will emerge. We need qualified and trained people who will accept the challenge of this new opportunity. New startups in the field of yoga are also proving that employment in the field of yoga and health is booming. It is clear that yoga can become a factor of change not only in the life of an individual, but also at the national and global levels. To provide maximum employment opportunities in the Ayush sector, efforts are being made at multiple levels.

In recent years, the practice of yoga has exponentially grown across the globe. This has also created demand for yoga experts, yoga trainers and various yoga equipment. According to an estimate, the retail fitness services market in India is around $2.6 billion and the size of the yoga industry is estimated to be of $80 billion. The market for yoga related equipment grew by about 154 per cent during Covid-19. As the market size of yoga has grown, so have the employment opportunities.

We see enormous opportunity for expanding “Made in India” products related to yoga. The ministry of Ayush uses and propagates the use of only environment friendly and 'Made in India' products in all yoga demonstration events organised by it. This will create demand and market for 'Made in India' products. Many startups focused on yoga have been established which are working to create innovative products.

Yoga is also being made a part of school curriculum and higher education.

The government has emphasised the inclusion of yoga in the school curriculum. The National Council of Educational Research and Training has developed textbooks and resource materials on yoga for schools, and efforts are being made to integrate yoga into physical education programmes.

We have yoga olympiads in schools, and regular yoga training and workshops are being organised for health care professionals, teachers and general practitioners to enhance their knowledge and skills in yoga therapy. These programmes aim to build a network of trained professionals who can promote and integrate yoga in their respective fields. According to the Morarji Desai Institute, 183 universities in the country have included courses on yoga.

In other countries, including the United States and several European nations, yoga is increasingly being introduced into school curricula as a complementary practice to promote student well-being.

We hear there are plans to link yoga with Ayurveda and other medical streams.

The Ayush ministry has established councils and institutions dedicated for yoga research. The Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy (CCRYN) conducts research, provides training and promotes scientific validation of yoga and naturopathy. Similarly, the Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga focuses on education, training and establishing international/national collaboration in the field of yoga.

MoUs have been signed with several countries and organisations to facilitate joint research projects, exchange programmes and workshops focused on yoga. The ministry encourages collaborative research efforts between traditional and modern medical systems.

It facilitates partnerships between yoga research institutions, medical colleges and universities to explore the integration of yoga in mainstream health care. This collaboration helps in generating scientific evidence and enhancing the credibility of yoga as a therapeutic modality.

The ministry also supports the publication of research findings through dedicated research journals. These journals provide a platform for researchers to disseminate their work and contribute to the growing body of knowledge in the field of yoga. It also provides financial support for research studies related to yoga through various schemes and programmes.

There is a growing body of evidence supporting the positive impact of yoga on mental well-being across various conditions. The recent one being quasi-randomised clinical trial done to study the effect of especially designed pranayama protocol on perceived stress, well-being and quality of life of frontline health care professionals who were exposed to Covid-19 patients in hospital settings. The conclusion was that it had a noteworthy effect in lowering perceived stress, improving perceived quality of life, especially its psychological domains as measured through standardised questionnaires.

Another important study was a randomised controlled trial published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in 2020 investigating the effects of yoga on depressive symptoms. The study involved 122 participants with major depressive disorder and found that a 12-week yoga intervention significantly reduced depression scores compared with a control group. The researchers suggested that yoga could be considered as an adjunctive treatment for depression.

The other important study was on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress which examined the effects of yoga on PTSD symptoms. The study involved 47 military veterans with PTSD and found that an eight-week yoga intervention significantly reduced PTSD symptom severity and improved overall well-being compared with a control group. The findings suggested that yoga could be a beneficial adjunctive treatment for individuals with PTSD.

A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research in 2021 investigated the effects of yoga and mindfulness intervention on emotional regulation in individuals with bipolar disorder. The study involved 42 participants and found that the intervention improved emotion regulation abilities and reduced symptoms of mania and depression. The researchers suggested that yoga and mindfulness practices could enhance emotional stability in individuals with bipolar disorder.

These are just a few examples of recent studies that highlight the positive impact of yoga on mental well-being. Many researches are ongoing and also there is need to further understand the mechanisms underlying types of yoga practices for specific mental health conditions.

We hear about the government’s plan of launching integrative health policy. Can you tell us about its purpose and the role of yoga in it?

Translating the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi into action, the ministry of Ayush and the ministry of health and family welfare are working rigorously to achieve the synergy of both modern and traditional medicine systems. The holistic approach to health care is seen as a way to prevent illness, promote overall well-being and enhance the quality of life. It places emphasis on healthy lifestyle choices, stress reduction, balanced nutrition and natural remedies. Yoga is considered an essential component of traditional Indian medicine systems and is widely recognised for its positive impact.

The government has encouraged collaboration between traditional systems of medicine, including yoga, and modern medical institutions. This includes integrating yoga into the curriculum of medical colleges and encouraging research studies on the therapeutic benefits of yoga in collaboration with medical professionals.

The government has also established regulatory bodies and certification processes to ensure the quality and standardisation of yoga education and training. This includes the Quality Council of India's certification scheme for yoga professionals, which aims to ensure that yoga instructors meet specific competency standards.

The centrally sponsored scheme of ministry of Ayush, the National Ayush Mission, was launched in 2014 to promote and develop the ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, unani, siddha and homoeopathy systems of medicine. It supports the integration of these systems into the health care delivery framework and provides financial assistance for infrastructure development, capacity building and research in these areas.

At a personal level, how have you integrated yoga into your routine?

My life and my daily routine are deeply dovetailed with yoga. In my childhood, I was attracted towards the preachings of the saints and sadhus visiting our locality. My early teachers, too, oriented me towards yoga and the Gita. Yoga came into my life so spontaneously that I did not even realise when it became part of my being. I do yoga daily and now, as the minister of Ayush, I am committed to it even more, as I came to know about many more aspects of yoga.