[Editorial] Surya Namaskar and Yoga as Soft Power

What is Surya Namaskar?

  • Surya namaskar is an exercise involving a sequence of 8 asanas in Yoga. It is performed in 12 steps.
  • Its relative simplicity mean that it can be performed by all age groups without much difficulty.
  • Though its name translates into ‘sun salutation’, it more significant than that. It is believed to have a positive impact on physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the practitioners.
  • It is said to improve the immune system when performed on a regular basis.
  • It helps maintain a balance in the fast paced world which ladles out stress.
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What did the Ayush Ministry do with it?

  • On occasion of Makar Sankranti (January 14th), the Ayush Ministry is utilizing surya namaskar to reach out to the world with a special message of rejuvenation.
  • Based on the ‘whole of government’ approach, a surya namaskar demonstration program was launched- in tribute to the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, marking 75 years of independence.
  • Other departments, state governments and major stakeholders in the yoga sphere has been included in this mass demonstration program.
  • In order to maintain a continuum and build synergies, an initiative to organize 75 crore surya namaskar is being planned.

How has India been using Yoga as soft power?

  • At a domestic level, the Ayush Ministry has been dedicating resources for the growth and development of yoga and naturopathy under the ambit of traditional medicine systems.
  • The ministry has constituted the yoga certification board for accrediting institutions and professionals. This is to boost professional activity in the area.
  • To popularize yoga on a global level, the ministry has been taking efforts to have it recognized as a competitive sport. For instance, the ministry has constituted the IYSF or International Yoga Sports Federation.
  • The International Day of Yoga was recognized in 2014 and with each year, the participation has been increasing.
  • The ministry is setting up a centre of excellence for yoga and Ayurveda in the UK.

What is the way ahead for India’s soft power strategy?

  • With the coming of the pandemic, the world has started realizing the importance of a strong immunity. In this context, the recent mass demonstration event takes significance.
  • There needs to be a public diplomacy strategy that is comprehensive enough to communicate the Indian story to the world.
  • When it comes to public diplomacy, planning, evaluation and reinventions are the pain points.
  • Reinvention is key as the public diplomacy of the 19th century won’t cater to the needs of the 21st century. Hence, India must engage non-state actors like practitioners and think tanks, in addition to diplomats, to reinvent the soft power strategy.
  • Soft power, by its nature, non-coercive and organic. It relies on attraction and persuasion– as opposed to coercion used by hard power.
  • India can look beyond yoga at other emerging spheres too- arts, cuisines, technology, entrepreneurship, traditional medicine system, language, literature, sports, tourism, archaeology and conservation, education, etc.
  • In addition to this, other aspects need to be factored in- evaluating the Indian diaspora’s impact, presence in multilateral organizations, etc.
  • Culture has emerged as a significant sphere of soft power and its value arises from its ability to boost the national brand and enable closer people-to-people ties. Enabling cultural exchange is an important way to wield soft power. It would be especially significant in times of anti-Asian sentiments and rising hyper-nationalism.

Conclusion:

The recent mass demonstration takes significance in light of the increased global health consciousness and the increased focus on the role of traditional medicine. However, when wielding soft power, India shouldn’t keep the focus confined to yoga. It must develop a strategy taking advantage of the vast array of cultural gems that the country’s diverse population has to offer.

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