First International Day of Yoga Celebrated in Washington

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Inaugural Yoga Celebration Unites Many on the National Mall in DC

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC, June 21, 2015 – It was a sight to behold: over 1,500 yoga enthusiasts flocked to the National Mall partaking in a demonstration and exercise set against the majestic backdrop of the Washington Monument, on the UN-designated and eagerly-awaited first International Day of Yoga.

The rain and thunderstorms from Tropical Storm Bill were a thing of the past, superseded by a gorgeous morning for the summer solstice.

Addressing the gathering on the Sylvan Theater Stage, Indian Ambassador Mr. Arun K. Singh said, “Today, all over the world, people came together to observe International Yoga Day”, noting that there are several hundred events being held in many cities across the US including the capital, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and San Francisco.

“This is a very special occasion”, he underscored, congratulating everyone for being part of the first International Day of Yoga. “This initiative was taken by Prime Minister Modi in September, last year, when he introduced the idea while speaking at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)”, the envoy recalled. Soon after, with 175 nations co-sponsoring the resolution for yoga day, the highest number ever for any UNGA Resolution of such nature, the world body declared that June 21, the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere, will be observed as the International Day of Yoga.

Ambassador Singh told an attentive gathering, “Yoga is not just a physical dimension of stretching the body, but a union between mind and body and something with holistic health benefits”.

The event in the nation’s capital in such a scenic and symbolic location was presented by the Indian Embassy in collaboration with Friends of Yoga, comprising groups which support and promote yoga as well as other community organizations. Among the special guests and featured speakers were: Nisha Biswal, Assistant Secretary of South and Central Asian Affairs in the State Department; Matt Nosanchuk, Associate Director of Public Engagement in The White House; Peter Mamacos, Director of Multilateral Relations, Department of Health and Human Services; and Nina Davuluri, 2014 Miss America.

Sridharan Madhusudhanan, Minister of Press, Information and Culture at the Indian Embassy coordinated the efforts, working tirelessly towards the success of the inaugural yoga day in Washington. Carrie Trybulec, Director of the Bethesda-based Gandhi Memorial Center, served as the eloquent emcee.

Yoga is among India’s most invaluable gifts to the world! It is essentially a spiritual discipline, an art and science of healthy living. It is a way of life which nourishes the mind, body and soul.

Nisha Biswal noted that against the backdrop of the Washington Monument, “we have come together in a moment of sharing, of healing, of understanding and joyfully celebrating the benefits of Yoga”.

Biswal, who is President Obama’s point person for South and Central Asia, underscored, “Yoga is just one manifestation of the rich culture and heritage that India and Indian-Americans share with the United States and with the world”.

Noting that yoga has been an important part of American society for a number of decades, she said, “Yoga has come a long way in terms of its popularity and its reach and the understanding about not just the exercise benefits, but the spiritual benefits, the psychological benefits and the healing properties of yoga and meditation. Today, in the US, it is estimated that ten percent of the population and three percent of children participate in some way in yoga. That’s phenomenal”, she declared, to much applause. “I think that’s more than the number of Americans that play golf”, she quipped.

Conveying “warmest greetings from President Obama”, Matt Nosanchuk told the gathering that he skipped his Sunday morning yoga class to attend the event on the Washington Monument grounds.

Nosanchuk disclosed that when he began working in the White House some two years ago, he was forewarned about the pressure of working there. Fortunately, he found one thing to keep him grounded and put everything in perspective. “For me, that was yoga”, he revealed. “It has been an incredibly important way for me to connect mind and body, and to find some calm and peace in a very intense environment”.

The White House liaison averred, “The world would be a peaceful place if more people embrace yoga and meditation”.

Peter Mamacos, Director of Multilateral Relations at the Department of Health and Human Services, acknowledged, “We appreciate yoga as a wonderful gift to the world. We have gratitude for the teachers who first brought yoga to the United States from India in the late 1880s and started to share their practice”.

Mamacos noted, “It is a practice anyone can take part in regardless of their belief system. Today, millions of Americans practice yoga. I practice yoga regularly”, he divulged, to much applause.

“At the Department of HHS, we know that health is not just something that comes from a doctor’s office; it should be a part of our daily lives”, he said. “Regular practice of yoga can contribute to overall health and help us manage stress”.

In this regard, he mentioned that within the Department of HHS, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is investigating the myriad benefits of yoga such as: to enhance the quality of life; reduce stress; help remove depression, anxiety and insomnia; and improve overall physical fitness.

Nina Davuluri, the celebrity guest mobbed by the crowd, was greeted with loud cheers when she said, “I am the first Indian Miss America”.

Now 26, she surprised the gathering by revealing, “I have been practicing yoga for almost twenty years now. I take about five minutes every morning just to calm myself, center myself”, she said. “I hope you all takeaway this feeling — the sense of unity, of peace, and also of love”.

The inaugural yoga day event also drew representatives from the Smithsonian Institution, the World Bank, academic establishments, think tanks, and other key organizations. Press Minister Madhusudhanan enumerated the proclamations and felicitation messages which were received from Governors Larry Hogan of Maryland, Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Greg Abbott of Texas, Bruce Rauner of Illinois, as well as Mayors Edwin Lee of San Francisco, Steven Choi of Irvine, Sam Liccardo of San Jose and David Maher of Cambridge.

On Capitol Hill, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (Democrat – Hawaii), the only Hindu lawmaker in the House of Representatives, introduced a Congressional Resolution in honor of the inaugural International Yoga Day. Speaking on the floor of the House, she said, “Over 24 million Americans and 250 million people around the world practice some form of Yoga … As a long-time Yoga practitioner myself, I have experienced first-hand the positive impacts of Yoga on my own life and I am honored to be introducing this Resolution today and share with others the true meaning of Yoga”.

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Top left: Indian Ambassador Mr. Arun K. Singh and Nisha Biswal, Assistant Secretary of South and Central Asian Affairs in the State Department; Top right: Peter Mamacos, Director of Multilateral Relations, Department of Health and Human Services; Center: Carrie Trybulec, Director of the Gandhi Memorial Center; Below right: Nina Davuluri, the celebrity guest mobbed by the crowd at the first International Day of Yoga in DC, was greeted with loud cheers when she said, “I am the first Indian Miss America”.
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