International Yoga Day and What It Means For India

International Yoga Day, June 21, was celebrated across the world in cities that included New York, Paris, Beijing, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Seoul. In Delhi, India fashioned a spectacular that might be about more than spiritual growth.

It happened on King’s Road, or Rajpath; a wide avenue that majestically slopes down from the President’s palace. Rajpath is the grand boulevard designed and laid out by the British Raj to demonstrate its imperial power.Yet that special Sunday, with a series of body stretches and some controlled deep breathing, the former colony was flexing its muscle bigtime.

Commanding world attention with synchronized body bends, India gently launched a new weapon from its arsenal of soft diplomacy.

Over 35 minutes, 35,985 participants performed yoga poses – winning the Guinness record for the world’s largest yoga lesson in a single venue.

Security personnel, supervisors, zone captains and stewards manned the site that held thousands of school children, national cadet corps, central army forces, women police officers, union ministers, diplomats and foreign nationals. India spent $4.67M on the event and held similar showcases all over the country.

The Guinness World Record team chronicled another Indian coup. ‘With a total of 84 different and unique nationalities taking part in Sunday’s attempt, a second record was also set for most nationalities in a yoga lesson.’

Just the photographs from Delhi and other international cities holding yoga events themselves were a more potent PR tool than any number of images of leaders shaking hands, or press releases trumpeting trade deals.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who himself took part in the session after a short speech, could have been proud of his handiwork.

He had initiated the concept of the day which was then taken up by the UN with support from 194 countries.

In his address, Modi talked mostly about the health benefits of yoga, and how it can promote peace. He mentioned inclusivity and the ‘fraternity’ of a global family. He appeared to be tuning in to yoga’s growing international popularity.

But the ancient exercise system is capable of being an economic force and is already a lucrative international industry. 

In the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, there used to be a separate department for the Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy. This department, called AYUSH, has now become a ministry, with a stated aim of ‘Providing focused attention to development of Education and Research in Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy…and Homoeopathy systems.’

Simply put, AYUSH covers traditional Indian practises for physical, mental and spiritual well being, encompassing medicine, a focus on health and plants and minerals.

In the 2015-2016 Indian budget, the AYUSH Ministry was provided with roughly $191M, out of a total budget of roughly $5.2B for the healthcare sector.

The extract edited below, taken from publicly available information, mentions a ‘Central Sector Scheme’ and gives an indication of the potential India places on its yoga and related wings of the AYUSH Ministry.

Central Sector Scheme for promotion of international cooperation in AYUSH which provides for international exchange of experts and officers, incentive to drug manufacturers, entrepreneurs, AYUSH institutions etc. for international propagation of AYUSH by participating in international exhibitions, trade fairs, road shows etc. and registration of AYUSH products (Market Authorization) at regulatory bodies of different countries.

Among the countries under consideration, the briefing appears to imply elsewhere, are the US, the UK, and Australia. The extract also expresses an interest in ‘exports, support for international market development and AYUSH promotion-related activities, translation and publication of AYUSH literature/books in foreign languages.

But AYUSH has great development potential in India.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, FICCI for short, is partnering with the Ministry of AYUSH on some health initiatives.

Dr A. Didar Singh, Secretary General of FICCI, said,

‘Business houses should increasingly introduce Yoga under their employee wellness programs…FICCI’s National Wellness Committee promotes benefits of implementing Preventive Healthcare measures including yoga, among corporates to improve productivity and efficiency among employees. Workplace wellness initiatives, including yoga, can lead to a better performance of an organization.’

According to publicly available information on AYUSH,

India is the second largest exporter of ayurvedic and alternative medicines in the world.

India’s wellness market is estimated at $7.7B, and wellness services alone make up 40% of the market.

The AYUSH sector has an annual turnover of around $1.9B. The products market is worth about $629M.

AYUSH exports in 2013-14 amounted to $357M.

The biggest markets for Indian herbal products include Western Europe, Russia, USA, Kazakhstan, The United Arab Emirates, Nepal, Ukraine, Japan, Philippines, and Kenya.

Mr. S. Subramanian, CEO of Kaya India Ltd, a skin care company, and Co-chair of the FICCI National Committee on Wellness, commented,

‘India has one of the youngest populations in the world and increasingly Indian consumers are taking charge of their health by consciously eating healthy and staying fit. Wellness is a state of holistic health and yoga plays an important and integral role in achieving an overall state of well-being.’

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