The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, known as UNESCO, was created in 1945 to build intercultural understanding and promote freedom of expression, among other goals. As of this year, the organisation has added yoga to the list of considered elements by the Intangible Heritage Committee for inscription on UNESCO’s register.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi recently met with UNESCO director general Irina Bokova in Paris to discuss how the practice’s physical and spiritual benefits represent a cultural tradition.

“It is multifaceted philosophy and tradition that unifies mind body and soul. I have read a lot about yoga and tried it too. I know that PM Modi practises yoga regularly,” Bokova told the Times of India.

International Yoga Day

Modi also nominated June 21 as the International Yoga Day. It was endorsed by 175 out of 193 members of the UN, including China, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, South Africa, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Brazil and Argentina.

Referring to the holiday, Bokova told the Times of India, “a lot of my friends have benefitted immensely both spiritually and physically by practising yoga in difficult times. It is a unique living tradition of India.”

Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, Modi spoke about how yoga could possibly help alleviate climate change.

“Yoga is an invaluable gift of our ancient tradition,” Modi said. “Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature.”

During the assembly, Modi spoke to President Obama about the benefits of yoga. He also gave a book on yoga to Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Zoom out!!  Thousands followed along in the mass yoga class on June 21st.

Zoom out!! Thousands followed along in the mass yoga class on June 21st.

Intangible Heritage

If it is selected, yoga will become the 31st intangible cultural heritage. As a permanent delegation to UNESCO, India recently started offering yoga classes for all ambassadors, delegations and secretariat.

According to the Indian Mission, “Yoga is practiced by 250 million worldwide, including the three million in France. This art of right living was perfected and practiced in India thousands of years ago and the foundations of yoga philosophy were written down in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali in 200 AD.”

Other intangible heritages include the Buddhist chanting of Ladakh; Sankirtana, the ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur; and the Chhau dance.