The yoga world recently scored a significant victory: A place at the diplomatic table.
In November, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi named Shripad Yesso Naik “Minister of Yoga.” Among his duties, Naik has been tasked with promoting traditional medicine and practices of Ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy and homeopathy. He is not only encouraging citizens to utilize these older practices, but is determined to re-introduce yoga and traditional medicine in schools, hospitals and government offices.
The move was not devoid of international intrigue: Naik chided his countrymen for ignoring their heritage and re-issued an appeal to reclaim yoga from the West. “This is our system and it has not received enough prominence. We will take it to the masses,” Naik said. This is not the first time the Indian government has made this type of appeal.
Modi is seeking to secure for India international branding protection. Modi has asked the U.N. to grant India a “geographical indication,” meaning that much the same way champagne has international trade protection, yoga would be geographically and intellectually specified as a brand belonging to India.
It’s a discussion certain to be provocative. For starters, a U.S. District Court ruled that Bikram Choudhury, who long claimed proprietary rights to his brand of hot yoga, does not have copyright protection for the 26 asanas in his sequence.
Even New Age guru Deepak Chopra has weighed into the ongoing debate over who “owns” yoga, saying, “Yoga belongs to the whole world.”
Still, in a world where the resolution of religious conflicts and border disputes often hinge on the diplomatic efforts of ministers and foreign secretaries, Naik’s appointment must be lauded: India has affirmed a commitment to foster and cultivate an ancient practice that promotes non-violence, peace, moderation, truth zinc humanitarianism—and to personify it to the rest of the world.
That commitment bodes powerfully for the denizens of this planet. If India’s singular decision prompts other countries to follow suit, who’s to say world powers will not someday negotiate disputes through yogic action?
It might sound a bit naive, but some signs are promising: Modi, a vegetarian who extols the benefits of a daily yoga practice, took his yoga coup one step further when he led a resolution to name June 21 the International Day of Yoga. The United Nations adopted the resolution in December 2014.
The resolution was co-sponsored by 170 member states. Said two General Assembly representatives: “Yoga would not only promote health, but supported clarity of vision and action. That clarity could help prevent contradictions, which often generated confusion while making rules and promoting laws.”
Modi has espoused to world leaders and U.N. representatives, including President Barack Obama, the benefits of a yogic lifestyle, suggesting that countries deploy yoga philosophy, practice and action as a tool for social, economic and climate change.
He told the U.N: “Yoga should not be just an exercise for us, but it should be a means to get connected with the world and with nature.”