Latin American Herald Tribune – Yoga, India’s Response to the COVID-19 Lockdown


NEW DELHI – Amid the coronavirus containment measures that have kept half the world under lockdown, India has promoted the centuries-old discipline of yoga as never before, underlining the physical and spiritual benefits of this practice.

Whether in talks with the United States President Donald Trump or Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always highlighted how yoga can help “in these difficult times” of the pandemic.

Modi, an avid practitioner of yoga, has promoted the practice since coming to power in 2014 in India, a country of 1.3 billion inhabitants that is on the verge of completing three months under lockdown, even though confinement measures have been somewhat eased in recent weeks.

“The world is realizing the need for yoga even more today due to the coronavirus pandemic. If our immunity is strong then it helps in fighting against the disease. There are yoga practices that boost our immunity and improve metabolism,” Modi said in a video on the occasion of International Yoga Day, celebrated around the world on Sunday.

“Yoga enhances our quest for a healthier planet. It has emerged as a force for unity and deepens the bonds of humanity. It does not discriminate, it goes beyond race, color, gender, faith and descent,” he added.

Ever since the United Nations declared June 21 as International Yoga Day in 2014, thousands of people have used the day to show their passion for the practice at large-scale events, which this year have been replaced by small online meetings owing to the mandatory social distancing measures that have been put in place due to the coronavirus.

Many people, personalities and institutions around the world shared images on social media of their yoga practice on Sunday.

Among them was Indian President Ram Nath Kovind, who published several photographs on Twitter of himself practicing asanas or poses of what he called “India’s great gift to the world.”

The UN also tweeted that “Yoga can be a powerful tool to help people deal with the stress & isolation faced by many amid #COVID19.”

Sports personalities also joined the online initiative, including Indian cricket player Harbhajan Singh, who tweeted alongside a photograph of himself that “yoga is life,” as did actors from the powerful Indian film industry, Bollywood, such as Debina Bonnerjee and Rajneesh Duggal, who shared photos on Instagram.

There has been a resurgence of interest in the last few years in this ancient Eastern discipline, which was first mentioned in the religious texts originating in India called “Vedas” in 1500 BC.

From Indian movie stars to prominent athletes or Modi himself, the call to Indian people to practice yoga during lockdown was unanimous, and one that seems to have been heard.

Specialized TV channels, videos on social media and online classes have guided the nation to immerse itself in the world of asanas.

“Yoga is much more than a physical activity. It is a way of life that helps with fearfulness, relentless, and uncertainty,” yoga instructor Bindiya Sabharwal told EFE.

Sabharwal considers the current situation a rebirth for this “way of life.”

“It is a very interesting time for yoga. It is beautiful (to see people practicing yoga in these times), because I can tell you how good and important yoga is, but you won’t believe me, because yoga is very experimental, it is something that you have to experience,” she added.

“I think people already knew how good yoga was, but they had no time for that. Now they are alone at home with nothing else to do. There has never been so much time as now.”

The yoga instructor views online classes as a new way of taking this practice to more people during lockdown, a time when yoga performs a “very important” function.

“Yoga helps to leave the state of pain. If your mind is in pain, your body will keep going back to pain,” she explained.

Without a known cure for COVID-19, Hindus, especially the most conservative, have promoted yoga and the traditional Indian medicinal practice of Ayurveda as the best weapons to combat the global pandemic.

“COVID-19 attacks our respiratory system. Pranayama, a breathing exercise is something that helps us the most in making our respiratory system strong,” declared Modi, who set up the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) to create awareness of India’s traditional medicines and practices.

Earlier this year, before the coronavirus began to spread rapidly in India, which now has the fourth highest number of cases in the world with nearly 400,000 confirmed infections, the AYUSH ministry promoted the use of Ayurveda-based remedies to combat the virus.

Recommendations to strengthen the immune system included drinking warm water, practicing yoga for at least 30 minutes a day, using garlic, coriander and cumin in cooking and drinking tea with aromatic herbs such as “tulsi” (holy basil).

These recommendations by the Indian government drew criticism from scientific groups that questioned the proven effectiveness of these treatments for a disease that was then unknown and was only just beginning to be studied.

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