BY MANU SHAH
THOUSANDS of Texans across their state came together to celebrate the 4th International Day of Yoga in partnership with the Consulate General of India in Houston and local organizations. They moved in harmony, stretching and breathing mindfully in guided yoga sessions across parks, schools, temples and community centers.
According to a 2016 Yoga Journal report, 36.7 million people practice yoga in the US, up from 20.4 million in 2012. The yoga market is now worth $16 billion (£12 billion) in the U.S.
In Houston, over 500 yoga practitioners showed up in their yoga gear at Midtown Park on June 21. Non-Indians clearly outnumbered desis in the record turnout, proving that yoga has entered mainstream America.
New additions to the program included a demonstration of some of the most difficult yoga poses by Melissa Riedel, Reggie Ahmad, Austin Dunn and Nicklous Dutcher.
Yoga coordinator for Houston, Sharad Amin thanked the weather gods for a beautiful day and stated that the program “demonstrated universal oneness which can be achieved by Yoga, India’s gift to world.”
President and founder of Patanjali Yogpeeth USA and renowned yoga teacher, Shekhar Agrawal described yoga as a great step to “awaken the sleeping giant within us,” and invited the city’s top yoga teachers to take the gathering through some yoga asanas, relaxation techniques and meditation practices.
A concluding prayer was invoked to “channel our energies in the right direction” after which participants broke out in a lively exchange of powdered colors or Holi as it is known in India.
The Hindu Temple of the Woodlands hosted a yoga session on the morning of June 23. The young volunteers of their Vision to Reality project and Community Outreach Program by the Education Youth Service (EYS), organized the event in Town Green Park. Consul General of India, Dr. Anupam Ray, and retired vascular surgeon, renowned yoga therapist and Ayurveda practitioner Dr. Dilip Sarkar were the chief guests. The session opened with a Sanskrit prayer wishing for peace and protection. International yoga educator Cat McCarthy took the stage and led the group through several movements.
India House also hosted a yoga event which saw an attendance of 100 people.
The Mahatma Gandhi Memorial of North Texas organized IDY at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Plaza in Irving, Texas on June 17. Over 350 yoga enthusiasts in all age groups followed yoga instructor Vijay in the exercises, meditation and pranayama sessions for an hour. Breakfast was served for the participants and they were also given a Certificate of Appreciation. Vice Consul of India in Houston Ashok Kumar spoke about the significance of IDY and encouraged people to participate in the celebrations.
Austinites rolled out their yoga mats in front of the stately State Capitol building on June 16th in solidarity with the world on this day of peace and harmony. The event was presented by the Art of Living and co-sponsored by the Consulate General of India in Houston. The Austin community was unified once again for the fourth time in a row with a record turnout of close to a 1000 people which included City Council members, State representatives as well as members from the Veterans Yoga Project. The Mayor of Austin showed his support with a Proclamation and message for the event. The event also saw the participation of several yoga studios and like-minded organizations.
The 60 minute session of yoga, meditation and pranayama was followed by a striking demonstration of AcroYoga. The session concluded with Art of Living kirtan music and a classical Indian fusion dance.
San Antonio took the prize for the sheer number of yoga events in the city. This year, organizers heeded Consul General of Houston Dr. Anupam Ray’s suggestion and took yoga to the military and veteran community. Wounded Warriors who had lost their limbs in war and had been rehabilitated through yoga demonstrated several exercises at the San Antonio military base.
Maggie Grueskin, one of the main organizers in a message to the organizers in Houston, wrote: “I feel amazed at the impact each of our cities are having on our communities, and feel gratitude for imparting the wisdom and community-building aspects of yoga with such a devoted group of people.”
In addition, about 47 multiple yoga events were held throughout the city on June 9, including a large yoga class of about 200 people at the iconic San Antonio Riverwalk, presentations at the City Council District, an elementary school where 115 children participated, libraries, senior centers and the county court where the Bexar County Court employees practiced yoga in front of the court.
Speaking to a cross section of people gathered at these events about what drew them to yoga, responses ranged from a search for spiritual awakening to yoga as an “avenue to heighten and grow” in the spiritual journey. One young lady spoke of “leaving everything at the yoga studio door” for an hour of peace and calm and then leaving the studio inspired to do good.
Some came to raise the vibrational frequency of the planet, connect with themselves and their bodies on a deeper level or get a perfect workout for the body, mind and soul.
Common responses to how it helped in daily life included being happier, fewer mood swings, increased concentration and energy, heightened productivity and a dramatic lowering of stress levels.
Yoga teacher Regie Ahmad, whose gravity defying yoga poses astounded the crowds, described yoga as his primary physical and spiritual practice. Five years ago when he told people he practices yoga, they looked surprised but now, he says, “it’s such a normal and mainstream thing to get into.”