Yoga: A powerful tool to advance India’s soft power image
With Yoga becoming a mainstream activity of millions of people seeking physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, India has in recent past spared no effort to spread this ancient science of healthy living that primarily focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body---all this has in turn helped the country in getting a much-needed tool to advance its soft power image in the world
Harvard Professor Joseph Nye defined “soft power” as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payment.”
Yoga encapsulates this aspect very well. This year on the International Yoga Day on June 21, people from about 180 countries performed yoga, making it a historic and unprecedented move.
This year, in fact, two Guinness World Records were created: First, at the UN headquarters in New Work City where the IYD event led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw the participation of most nationalities in one yoga session; Second, at Surat in Gujarat where a Yoga event led to the participation of 0.153 million people.
As its popularity is growing, so is public participation. The IYD event last year, as per India's Ministry of Ayush, saw a massive participation—almost 221.3 million people in India. At the global level, through various initiatives, around 1250 million joined Yoga sessions.
In symbolism, it also made a presence during the just concluded G20 Summit as Yoga postures adorned the wall of ‘Bharat Mandapam,’ the convention complex where the Summit was held on September 9-10.
While all such moves underline India’s commitment to promote health and wellness across the world, it underscored a long-held belief that yoga strengthens not only bonds between individuals but also fosters a sense of interconnectedness with all living beings on earth.
Yoga as a tool to project soft power diplomacy
On December 11, 2014, the UN General Assembly designated June 21 as ‘International Yoga Day,’ an initiative that helped India in highlighting the country’s cultural heritage and spreading the ancient science of Yoga as a unifying force worldwide.
It is practiced in the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland, Denmark, Portugal, Chile, Russia, South Africa, Costa Rica, Australia, New Zealand, UAE, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
This, in some way, also explains India's growing influence globally through Yoga, a major source of the country’s cultural export.
As India’s gift to the world, it bridges cultural divides and touches the lives of millions across the world.
It stands at the pinnacle of India’s soft power projection as it has the capacity to foster connection among countries, cultures, and communities.
In addition to this, what is significant is its role in giving the country an opportunity to gain global recognition for its value system and cultural ethos.
Today, yoga has secured its place among the world’s most popular fitness activities, speaking volumes of its speedy acceptance among people—both atheists and the religious.
It is accepted by people of all ages, religions, ethnicities---making it a perennial gift of Indian wisdom to the world.
In many countries, including the US and Europe Yoga is increasingly being introduced into school curricula as a complementary practice to promote students’ well-being. Bilateral agreements have been signed with
Contribution of Bollywood and Hollywood
India's influential film industry, Bollywood, has also played a role in promoting yoga on the global stage. Many Bollywood stars such as Akshay Kumar, Alia Bhatt, Malaika Arora, Shilpa Shetty and Kareena Kapoor have embraced yoga and showcased it in their movies and public appearances, thereby amplifying its popularity and reach.
Last year, Hollywood Superstar Will Smith visited India to seek spiritual guidance after getting banned from the Oscars for smacking Chris Rock on the stage of the 94th Academy Awards.
The decision to visit India was to ‘ensure’ that he never allows ‘violence to overtake reason’ in his statement. Yoga, he believed, would help him stay balanced and unbiased.
Hollywood actor Robert Downey Jr gives the credit for his fitness and sobriety to a combination of yoga and meditation.
Actor Ryan Gosling, famous for films like ‘The Ides of March,’ The Place Beyond the Pines and several other Hollywood movies, practices yoga for mind-body wellness and does not like missing his yoga classes.
American singer, songwriter, and actor Justin Randall Timberlake loves doing yoga together with his wife.
Tom Hanks, Hollywood actor and filmmaker, known for his dramatic roles and recognised worldwide as a cultural icon of America, gives credit for his wellness and health to yoga and believes that “yoga is the greatest thing one can do.”
Yoga’s role in driving economy
Yoga’s contribution towards the economy is evident from the fact that it is playing a significant role in the growth of tourism and hospitality sectors. Yoga classes generate a considerable amount of revenue.
In India, as per an estimate, the retail fitness service market in India is around $2.6 billion and the size of the Yoga industry is around $80 billion. The market for Yoga related equipment grew by 154 % during Covid-19.
As per an analysis published by Allied Market Research, titled Yoga Market by Type: Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast 2021-27, the global yoga market size was $37.5 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach approximately $66.2 billion by 2027.
Yoga has taken a centre stage of global health and wellness activities. In fact, the ancient practice rooted in Indian culture and philosophy has transcended borders to become a global phenomenon.
Through yoga, India has successfully projected its soft power on the worldwide stage, fostering diplomatic relations, promoting cultural exchange, and contributing to its international image.
***The writer is a Hyderabad-based journalist; views expressed here are her own