When Covid-19 was ravaging the globe, the World Health Organization (WHO) encouraged people to practise yoga to boost their immunity or to help in recovery.
WHO, in fact, launched a mobile application for yoga called “WHO mYoga” to help people stay active and healthy in June last year. The app – which contains a collection of videos and audio files to teach and accompany yoga practice – was created in collaboration with the government of India.
The United Nations declared that the theme for this year’s International Day of Yoga – celebrated on June 21 – would be “Yoga for humanity”. The WHO, in again calling on people to take up yoga, said on June 20 that the Covid-19 pandemic had been an unprecedented human tragedy.
“Beyond its immediate impact on physical health, the Covid-19 pandemic has also exacerbated psychological suffering and mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, as pandemic-related restrictions were introduced in various forms in many countries. This has highlighted the urgent need to address the mental health dimension of the pandemic, in addition to the physical health aspects.
“People around the world embraced yoga to stay healthy and rejuvenated and to fight social isolation and depression during the pandemic. Yoga is also playing a significant role in the psycho-social care and rehabilitation of Covid-19 patients in quarantine and isolation. It is particularly helpful in allaying their fears and anxiety.”
The WHO added: “The essence of yoga is balance – not just balance within the body or that between the mind and the body, but also balance in the human relationship with the world. Yoga emphasises the values of mindfulness, moderation, discipline and perseverance. When applied to communities and societies, yoga offers a path for sustainable living.
“Yoga can be an important instrument in the collective quest of humanity for promoting sustainable lifestyle in harmony with planet Earth. In keeping with this spirit, the theme for this year’s Yoga Day celebrations is ‘Yoga for Humanity’.”
What is yoga? This is how the WHO describes it: “Yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India. The word ‘yoga’ derives from Sanskrit and means to join or to unite, symbolising the union of body and consciousness.”
June 21 was proclaimed by the UN as International Day of Yoga on Dec 11, 2014, and since then the day has been increasingly observed in various countries around the globe, including in Malaysia.
The 8th International Day of Yoga was celebrated at Batu Caves on June 21 with about 800 yoga enthusiasts participating in a 40-minute yoga session led by Zida Reijinders and Priya Tee from the Malaysia Association of Yoga Instructors.
Organised by the Indian High Commission, it was attended by Karima El Korri, the UN resident coordinator for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei and the High Commissioner of India to Malaysia BN Reddy.
It was the first of 75 events planned in various locations in Malaysia over the next month to celebrate the International Yoga Day. A total of 47 organisations are involved in these events.
The day was celebrated with the holding of yoga asana sessions in most nations of the world, including Muslim nations. One report said yoga enthusiasts gathered at the port city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to celebrate yoga on the shores of the Red Sea and that hundreds of women participated in a massive celebration at the Dubai World Trade Centre in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Also, UAE minister of tolerance and coexistence Sheikh Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahyan joined more than 5,000 people at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Cricket Stadium for two hours of yoga practice on June 21.
Sheikh Nahyan was quoted by the media as saying: “We are here today from different nations, cultures, religions and ethnicities in the UAE, an amazingly diverse nation. This celebratory event bridges cultural gaps, and helps us discover the power of tolerance and coexistence, in keeping with the theme for today – yoga for humanity.”
In a video message to those celebrating at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Nahyan said: “In the spirit of yoga’s essence, we will redouble our efforts to help those in need, regardless of their politics, their ideology and their religion. We will strive to reach out to one another in a spirit of peace and harmony as we commit to live together in dignity and good health.”
Spoken like a true leader, I thought.
I was surprised to learn that there are quite a number of yoga studios and Muslim instructors in the Gulf states.
While the day was celebrated in fun and amity in the rest of the world, in the Maldives a crowd stormed a stadium to attack about 150 people who were practising asanas, and vandalised the stadium. According to a Reuters report, police used tear gas and pepper spray to control the crowd.
Reuters reported that the protesters had brandished placards proclaiming that yoga was against the tenets of Islam.
Coming back to the reason the WHO and the UN are promoting yoga, it is clear that yoga helps practitioners become healthier and have more stable personalities.
According to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, “Yoga offers physical and mental health benefits for people of all ages. And, if you’re going through an illness, recovering from surgery or living with a chronic condition, yoga can become an integral part of your treatment and potentially hasten healing. “
Listing some of the benefits of this ancient practice, Johns Hopkins says that yoga improves strength, balance and flexibility; helps relief back pain; eases arthritis symptoms; contributes to a healthier heart; relaxes and helps you sleep better; infuses more energy and brighter moods; helps manage stress; and promotes self-care.
Harvard Medical School also extolls the many benefits of yoga. Talking about heart health, for instance, it says: “After eight weeks of practicing yoga at least twice a week for a total of 180 minutes, participants had greater muscle strength and endurance, flexibility and cardio-respiratory fitness.”
It adds: “Another study found that practicing yoga improved lipid profiles in healthy patients as well as patients with known coronary artery disease. It also lowered excessive blood sugar levels in people with non-insulin dependent diabetes and reduced their need for medications. Yoga is now being included in many cardiac rehabilitation programmes due to its cardiovascular and stress-relieving benefits.”
It said researchers found that people who practiced yoga for at least 30 minutes once a week for at least four years gained less weight during middle adulthood and that those who were overweight actually lost weight.
The US’ National Institutes of Health has a long list of benefits that arise from the practice of yoga, including helping people quit smoking, managing anxiety associated with difficult life situations, relieving menopause symptoms, and improving the quality of life.
With so much going for it, it is time for a concerted move to encourage more Malaysians to take up yoga.
Ischaemic heart disease is the leading cause of death in Malaysia, and according to government statistics, 17% of the 109,155 medically certified deaths in 2020 were caused by this. Research shows that regular yoga practice is good for heart health.
The National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 showed that 22% of the Malaysian population aged 13 and older rated their health as “not good” while one in five recounted falling ill in the two weeks prior to being interviewed for the survey by the Institute for Public Health under the ministry of health.
Government spending on healthcare has been on the rise over the years. One report says public healthcare spending over the last 10 years shows the number in absolute terms rising 82%, from RM16.85 billion in 2011 to RM31.9 billion in 2021. As a percentage of total government spending, the edgemarkets.com report adds, healthcare expenditure allocation had also risen in the last 10 years, from 7.3% in 2011 to 9.9% in 2021.
According to Fitch Solutions, by 2025, healthcare expenditure could see a 5-year compound annual growth rate of 7.6%, reaching RM91.1 billion. That’s a lot of money.
It’s time to vigorously promote yoga to enhance health and reduce medical costs.
Let’s remember the old adage: health is wealth.
Members of the public participating in the International Day of Yoga at the Batu Caves Sri Subramaniar Swami temple grounds on June 21. (Indian High Commission pic)
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.