In the backdrop stood the United Nations as hundreds with blue yoga mats gathered near the Broken Chair to be a part of the weeklong 71st World Health Assembly (WHA). In a first, the Indian government has pushed for a yoga session ahead of the annual World Health Organisation (WHO) event in Switzerland to propagate Ayush globally.
“Yoga is not a religion, it is a way of living that aims towards a healthy mind in a healthy body. I am sure that WHO’s slogan for ‘health for all’ shall be fulfilled in one of the best ways through propagation and practice of yoga,” said Union Health Minister J P Nadda soon after he met WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Nadda said that “yoga is an important aspect to stay healthy”, and more sessions are planned with WHO in the coming days.
The planning for a yoga session ahead of the 71st WHA has been under way for a month and a half in Geneva. On Sunday, yoga got space amid an African dancing session, and Thai and Dutch workout as the WHO set the floor open for its global event Walk The Talk. The 30-minute session saw an excited turnout from various countries, with hundreds participating in an 8-km walk before stretching on yoga mats.
At 62, retired US-based human rights activist Laura Striker said she went for the yoga session to learn the basics. “I had back surgery recently, and may benefit from yoga,” she said. From Sri Lanka, Chandika Indikadahena was first to join Sunday’s session. “Nowadays, people are stressed and yoga helps.” Catherina Tadialova (23), who represents an NGO in the assembly, said yoga culture is also growing in Europe.
In February, the WHO set up an Ayush department under its traditional medicine unit. “Siddha and unani make immense contribution to the health system. We are trying to get it acknowledged. In India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Nepal, South America, it is already practised as part of the health system,” said Dr Geetha Krishnan, who works with the traditional medicine unit and is currently working to structure the Ayush department in WHO headquarters in Geneva. “We want to propagate Ayush not just in Switzerland but globally,” said Dr Kashinath Samagandi, attached with National Institute of Ayurveda under the Indian Ayush ministry.
The Indian government is set to hold three more yoga sessions in the UN during the week-long assembly. Officials with the Indian delegation said that International Yoga Day on June 21 will be planned as a grand event. “Exercising is important. Even if you do it daily for some time, it could lead to a healthy life,” the WHO director general said.
– This correspondent has been invited to attend the World Health Assembly as an ICFJ fellow.