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Fitness & Wellness

Yoga: A coveted transformation tool

International Yoga Day recognizes the power of the practice to change lives, both on and off the field.

Indian athletes international yoga day 2022 nikhat zareen

Boxing World Champion Nikhat Zareen (left) and paddler Sathiyan Ganansekaran are regular practitioners. (File photo)


Kamakshi Deshmukh

Updated: 21 Jun 2024 5:06 AM GMT

On June 21, 2024, people across the world will unite to commemorate the 10th International Yoga Day, a day dedicated to celebrating yoga and embracing the many gifts that it has to offer.

Proposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and endorsed by 177 countries, in December 2024, the United Nations General Assembly officially recognised the day.

The theme this year is 'Yoga for Self and Society'.

The motive is to highlight yoga's holistic approach towards health and its role in creating a balanced, harmonious society.

Yoga, originating from the Sanskrit word 'yuj' which translates to 'join' or 'to unite,' symbolizes the union of mind and body, thought, action and harmony between humans and nature.

Celebrated on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, International Yoga Day is an opportunity to appreciate yoga's impact on human health and well-being.

Ancient roots of yoga

Yoga's origins trace back over 5,000 years to ancient India, encompassing practices that include physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation.

The term 'yoga' signifies the union of body and consciousness, reflecting its comprehensive approach to health.

According to yogic lore, the practice began with Adiyogi (Lord Shiva) imparting his knowledge to the Saptarishis (seven sages).

These sages spread the teachings of yoga to various parts of the world, including Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa, and South America.

In India, the yogic system found its fullest expression, deeply influencing the country's culture and lifestyle.

While the exact origins of yoga remain elusive, it is generally believed to have begun in Northern India.

Historical texts, such as the Rig Veda, contain references to yoga practices, and over time, it has evolved into various forms and styles while retaining its core principles.

Yoga has always been more than just a physical exercise; it is a spiritual discipline aimed at achieving harmony between mind, body, and soul. The practice includes various paths, including Hatha Yoga (physical postures), Raja Yoga (meditation), and Bhakti Yoga (devotion), among others.

Incidentally, yoga resonates particularly with athletes, who find the practice a powerful ally in enhancing their physical performance and mental resilience.

Yoga for athletes

Beyond the commonly perceived benefits of flexibility and relaxation, yoga enhances physical strength, mental clarity, and emotional stability.

Regular practice can help athletes manage stress, prevent injuries, and improve overall performance.

Different poses and stretches in yoga help strengthen muscles and increase the range of motion in joints, reducing the risk of injuries.

Indian athletes, from pugilists to shooters, have incorporated yoga into their training routines, reporting significant improvements in flexibility and performance.

Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, India's Table Tennis star, is a regular practitioner.

"I train regularly and do a lot of core exercises. In addition to it, I practice yoga and meditation. It gives me a sense of calm amid these troubling times. It also helps you gain a lot of mental strength and stay focused," he had once said to media persons.

Yoga promotes mental well-being by reducing stress, anxiety and depression with a slew of relaxation techniques that offer mental clarity.

The practice of meditation and breathing techniques helps athletes clear their minds and improve their ability to concentrate on the task at hand. This improved focus can help athletes perform better under pressure and maintain composure during intense competitive moments.

Paralympic gold medalist Avani Lekhara vouches for yoga.

"Yoga has helped me to overcome panic. The pandemic created a lot of panic in everyone, and yoga helped calm my nerves and focus on positive things."

Yoga encourages self-awareness, mindfulness, and inner peace, fostering a deeper connection with oneself and the universe.

This approach helps athletes achieve emotional balance and resilience, essential for handling the pressures of competitive sports.

Paris-bound boxer Nikhat Zareen is also a yoga practitioner and had previously shared a post advocating yoga - "One of the greatest benefits of yoga is that it will never dim, once lit, the brighter the flame will always remain. Practice yoga."

Yoga for a stronger body

Yoga's transformative powers is not limited to just athletes.

Speaking to The Bridge, Amey Shetye recalled his journey with yoga, one that began seven-years ago when he sought the practice to address mental health difficulties.

"I joined an Asana class in the vicinity. That’s when I realized that it’s something I would like to pursue as a career for the numerous benefits it offers," he explained.

Shetye emphasized that yoga is more than physical fitness; it is a means to understand oneself better.

"The practice of Asanas and Pranayama has helped me with a stronger body and better digestion. It has made me emotionally aware and conscious of my thoughts and actions."

According to Shetye, yoga is crucial for athletes because it helps manage stress and expectations, which are just as important as physical preparation.

Transformed by yoga, he is now a practitioner and runs a wellness establishment.

Similarly, Vidya Deshpande, a journalist as well as a marathon runner, was drawn to yoga after witnessing her friend's transformation.

"I saw the transformation my friend went through after she became a yoga practitioner. Her flexibility was amazing, and that’s what drew me: if she can, so can I," she recounts.

Yoga has significantly improved Deshpande's flexibility, helping her manage the stiffness from extensive running.

Deshpande emphasizes that yoga is not just about physical fitness.

"Yoga gives you mental peace with the meditative practice, plus the breathing exercises increase lung capacity," she added.

During her trek to the Everest Base Camp, Deshpande used yoga techniques to calm her nerves and regulate her breathing, illustrating the practical benefits of yoga in challenging situations.

She encourages everyone to practice yoga regularly for its invigorating and stabilizing effects.

Here to stay

As yoga continues to gain global popularity, its importance in sports is becoming increasingly recognized.

The World Health Organization emphasizes the role of yoga in reducing physical inactivity minimizing associated illnesses.

And International Yoga Day serves as a reminder of yoga's unique benefits and encourages people to incorporate it into their daily routines.

From athletes seeking peak performance to individuals seeking stress reduction and overall well-being, yoga offers a path to a healthier and more fulfilling life.

This 10th International Yoga Day is yet another reminder that this ancient practice holds the power to unlock true potential and in doing so enhance physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

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