Pritam Bhattarai

16 Jan, Kathmandu: Until some years ago, people especially in Nepal would perceive yoga as a practice undertaken only by yogis or the elderly. However, of late people, be them children, youth and elderly, are getting attracted towards the ancient form of exercise for its multiple health benefits.

With so-called modern people often going through stress-ridden lifestyle through unhealthy competition and growing violence across the globe, they, in search of eternal peace of mind and stress-free life, are finding solace in yoga as medication only provides short-term solution to stress-caused problems.

Though the origin of yoga is debated, its origin is said to date back to Vedic period when Lord Shiva would first practice yoga in Nepal and later Guru Gorakhnath and Gherainya spread it across the globe, according to yoga guru and theologist Chaitainya Krishna.

However, some experts claimed that its origin is said to date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions and has developed in around the sixth and fifth centuries. Likewise, yoga gurus from India are said to have introduced it later to the west in the late 19th and early 20th century.

According to Vedic Sanskrit, yoga means ‘to add’, ‘to join’, ‘to unite’ or ‘to attach’ in its common literal sense. However, besides the spiritual goals, the physical postures of yoga are used to alleviate health problems, reduce stress and as complete exercise and physical therapy.

Importance of yoga was marked when the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) recognised the benefits of the practice by proclaiming 21 June as the International Day of Yoga on December 11, 2014. Following this, the first Intentional Day of Yoga was observed world-wide with the slogan ‘Yoga for harmony and peace’ on June 21, 2015. The day when UNGA recognised yoga makes us all Nepalis proud as our then Prime Minister Sushil Koirala seconded the Indian Prime Minister’s proposal at the UNGA to mark June 21 as the International Day of Yoga. In a message, on the occasion, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had said that Yoga is an ancient discipline being practiced for generations that offers a simple, accessible and inclusive means to promote physical and spiritual health and well-being, indicating the importance of yoga in this world.

Meanwhile, amid this context, Nepal, in a good move, observed the first National Yoga Day in the Nepali month of Magh 1, recognising the importance of yoga. The move follows the decision of the Cabinet during a meeting on August 13, 2015 in this regard.

The need to promote yoga is important amid people often only resulting in stress-ridden livelihood in the name of aspiring to live luxurious and prosperous lifestyle. It is more important in Nepal when increasing number of people are suffering from many types of mental problems mainly due to decade-long Maoist insurgency, April 25 earthquake, Indian border blockade and political instability.

According to World Health Organisation, around 450 million people are currently suffering from various types of mental problems world-wide, while one in four people suffers from such conditions. Likewise, it said that the number of such cases is increasing every year.

Although there are no accurate data on the prevalence of mental disorders in Nepal, a study shows the prevalence to be as high as 37. 5%. Moreover what is appalling is the situation that there is a significant rise in the number of people committing suicide after April 25 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks.

According to police data, the number of people taking their own lives rose by 41 per cent in three months after the quake as compared to the same period just before the disaster.

Similarly, a report of WHO in 2014 said that at least 15 people kill themselves every day in Nepal with the country being the second highest per capita suicide (number of suicides in ration to the total population) in South Asia after Sri Lanka. The WHO has outlined that among other factors, disaster, war and conflict, stresses of acculturation and dislocation, discrimination and trauma or abuse to mental disorders and job or financial loss among others are blamed for suicide.

Given this situation, this is where yoga taken as a form of physical and mental exercise comes in to provide people with stress-free life, thereby helping in the decline of rising suicide rate. Doctors have also emphasised on the importance of yoga as well. Dr Saroj Ojha, psychiatrist at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, who also involved in providing post-quake counseling, said that yoga is the best effective way of alleviating stress, thus helping cure mental disorders. Ojha, who himself a yoga practitioner, added that a combination of medication and yoga is needed to get much benefit.

Apart from that, yoga can be used as a tool to attract foreign tourists. With people across the globe seeking stress-free lifestyle, Nepal can be a hub for foreigners to practice yoga. As foreigners are already visiting Nepal for viewing its natural beauty and practice yoga with many yoga centers witnessing numerous foreigners lately, the government should promote yoga in an effective and managed way.

For that, the government can introduce yoga-related policies and hold various awareness campaigns in order to attract domestic and foreign tourists. Besides, it can be included in national curriculum to make new generation aware about its benefits, while making it compulsory for all private and government schools to organise yoga classes for children and teachers as well. RSS

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