Students practice yoga during a training session ahead of World Yoga Day in Ahmedabad, India, June 16, 2016. (Amit Dave/Reuters)
Tuesday, June 21, marks the second year of International Day of Yoga, a UN designation enacted in December 2014 through a General Assembly resolution introduced by India. It came about after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s September 2014 address to the assembly, where he spoke about yoga as a potential solution for many of the world’s challenges, including climate change. Since then, Modi has continued to reference yoga’s benefits in a variety of speeches, including most recently his address to a joint meeting of the United States Congress. While this concern might appear esoteric to outsiders, Modi, and the government he leads, is 100% serious about expanding the framework in which people around the world think of yoga and its role.
When I first heard Modi mention yoga in his 2014 UN speech, it was not yet clear where this proposal would go on the international stage. Domestically, the Modi government clarified early on its desire to elevate yoga within Indian institutions. For example, in late 2014 the government created a new ministry for Indian systems of medicine and yoga (the “AYUSH” ministry, once a department housed under the Ministry of Health) to better showcase and regulate these disciplines. Some universities in India will begin offering stand-alone yoga departments.
But internationally, it was uncertain what the Indian government would do with yoga on the world stage, or what it would mean beyond the obvious photo-ops. Given that last year’s inaugural observance of International Day of Yoga was a bit of an experiment, this year provides a signal about how the Indian government plans to institutionalize the use of yoga in its public diplomacy—the central purpose of the day.
Over the past two weeks, Indian diplomatic missions, the Ministry of External Affairs and the prime minister of India himself have ramped up their social media diplomacy on yoga in the run up to June 21, with everything from photographs of yoga practitioners around the world:
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."