‘Asanas’, Dance, Music, Meditation, Mark Yoga Day in Nation’s Capital
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, June 18, 2016 – The UN-designated International Day of Yoga was celebrated for the second consecutive year in the nation’s capital beginning with an event on the scenic grounds of the US Capitol.
Titled ‘Classical on the Capitol’, it featured Indian classical dances, together with ‘Asanas’ (yoga postures), meditation and music – all set against the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Capitol building. The event was organized by the Embassy of India and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) USA, Inc., in association with India International School and Sewa USA.
In welcoming remarks, Indian Ambassador Arun K. Singh informed the gathering that similar programs will be held at various venues from now until June 21 which is the designated Yoga Day.
The initiative for such a day was taken by Prime Minister Modi in September 2014 when he introduced the idea while speaking at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Soon after, with 175 nations co-sponsoring the resolution for a yoga day, the highest number ever for an 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.
At the Capitol Hill celebration, Ambassador Singh drew attention to the message of Prime Minister Modi on the occasion noting “he was overwhelmed and encouraged by the response that we had all seen to the first International Day of Yoga last year when it was celebrated all over the world and observed with enthusiasm and extensive participation reflecting the spirit of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the whole world is one family)”.
The envoy recalled that Prime Minister Modi had addressed a joint session of the US Congress earlier this month in which he “referred to the cultural connect between the people of India and the people of the United States”.
He noted that during the historic address, the Prime Minister mentioned that SIRI (the iPhone app) informs us more than 30 million Americans perform yoga. “That is again a reflection of the popularity here”, Ambassador Singh said, to applause from the crowd.
Yoga is rooted in ancient Indian science, culture and tradition. But, it’s relevance is enduring and it’s reach global.
Referring to the significance of Yoga in the world today, Ambassador Singh pointed out that this ancient discipline “brings together the body, mind and soul to deal with the challenges that we face as individuals, and as part of society. We are gathered to be a part of that, and to celebrate that occasion”, he told the gathering.
New Delhi’s top diplomat in Washington never tires of lauding the Diaspora. At the yoga day event on Capitol Hill, he underscored “the important role that the Indian-American community plays as a bridge between India and the United States, as a cultural bridge, and as carrying the message of the traditions of India”.
Himamauli Das, Senior Director in the White House National Security Council, affirmed, “Yoga is another example of the close ties between the United States and India”.
Emphasizing the popularity of yoga in America, he pointed out, “While yoga has been practiced in India long before the United States was founded, it’s become part of the mainstream culture here”. Noting that it is common to find people heading to work with a yoga mat, he told the gathering that he was heading to a yoga practice from the event on Capitol Hill.
Sharing personal reflections, he said, “I try to do yoga a couple of times a week. I’m not all that good at it, but I enjoy the practice. After an hour or so of yoga, I feel refreshed and I’m ready to take on the day’s challenges. I also try to take my yoga to work with me in terms of the calm and the peace and the deep breathing exercises which are absolutely necessary over the course of a day at the White House”.
Manpreet Singh Anand, Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs at the US State Department, told the gathering, “One of the things that I have come to appreciate about yoga is the global community that the practice has created. You see people from all over the world practicing yoga, getting involved with yoga in different ways”.
Referring to the essence of yoga as a unifying force, he said, “I have also come to appreciate the inclusivity of yoga. People of different faiths, backgrounds, ethnicity, race, different parts of the world all coming together to practice yoga”.
He underscored, “What I appreciate the most about yoga is how it connects people. Today, being connected usually means being overloaded with information through a variety of multi-media devices which can take a huge toll on your well-being. In the yogic sense, one of the central aspects is being able to create both spiritual and physical harmony, spiritual and physical connectedness. I think that connection can run so deep and be so beneficial when you are able to combine your body, mind and soul”, he said.
Anand noted, “Here in the United States, some 120 years ago, Swami Vivekananda introduced the practice of yoga to so many which has really blossomed over the last century, so now over 30 million Americans practice yoga which is an astounding figure”.
He informed the gathering that he was introduced to yoga as a child through Kundalini yoga which is known as the yoga of awareness. His wife practices yoga on a regular basis and they enrolled their son, Veer, in a toddler yoga class when he was three years old. Now, at age six, Veer “spontaneously breaks out into downward facing dog, much to our delight”, said Anand. “So, yoga for us is a family affair”.
On stage, Maryland Delegate Dr. Jai Jalisi presented a citation from Governor Larry Hogan recognizing the importance of Yoga Day. Aparna Rao, of the Indian Performing Arts initiative Hamsaa, served as the eloquent emcee of the event.
At the outset, Indian classical dances were a sight to behold! Ambassador Singh commended artistes of participating dance schools for their stellar performances. On hand were students of Purvi Bhatt’s Lasya Dance Academy, Kuchipudi Dance Academy (KDA) founded by Lakshmi Babu, and Jayamangala which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year under the direction of Shobha Subramanian.
The various dance forms represented were Bharatanatyam and Mohini Attam by Jayamangala, Kathak by Lasya, and Kuchipudi by KDA. Shobha Subramanian began with an invocation to Lord Ganesha in the Mohini Attam style of dance.
Among the highlights of the event was an enthralling demonstration of yoga postures by young women with the Shakha Sevika of HSS whose motto is ‘We achieve by our own efforts’. The practitioners, all with the Washington Chapter of HSS, presented various ‘asanas’ of Hatha (power) Yoga – Vriksha (tree pose), Gomukh (cow face pose), Trikone (triangle pose), and Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) – set to soothing music.
Leena Admala of Shakha Sevika informed us that HSS has been organizing a ‘Surya Namaskar Awareness Month’, from January 15 through February 15, every year for some five years now. During that time, HSS officials contact schools across the country to demonstrate poses of the sun salutation.
It was endearing to see children of Sewa USA and the Washington area based India International School perform yoga with enthusiasm and elan.
A few days prior to the Yoga Day celebration, the Dalai Lama was on Capitol Hill meeting with powerful US lawmakers. The Tibetan spiritual leader, living in exile in India for over five decades now, has said: “If every eight-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation”.