Updated: Oct 14, 2022
Why yoga diplomacy binds Australia and India.
The practice of yoga is primarily considered to be a cultural export of India to the world. As of lately however, it has also occupied an important space in the international diplomatic traditions. The resolution 69/131 passed by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2014 recognised 21st June as the National day of yoga. The day of 21st June was spiritually and scientifically chosen for this purpose. Scientifically, this particular day is proven to be the longest one of the year and spiritually this signifies the importance of the sun in the Indian spiritual traditions. Since then, India has developed the diplomatic power of yoga in building cultural relations with the rest of the world. This famous ‘yoga diplomacy’ is bearing fruit in the form of reclaiming the Indian roots of yoga that were once forgotten by the world. As the practice of yoga reached the grounds of the west, it was becoming more and more contextualised into the western framework while losing the cultural essence. Over the last few years, India has been using yoga as a major element of its foreign policy and reminding the world of its origins.
Now when it comes to understanding the soft power of yoga one needs to investigate how the practice has penetrated the different cultures. One of the significant examples of this cultural exchange is between India and Australia.
The power of yoga as a bridge between Australia and India can also be seen in the fact that in recent historic India Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (IndAus ECTA), there is a unique provision for special skills visas for yoga instructors from India to go to Australia.
The Soft Power Diplomacy of Yoga
The Indian and Australian communities have found a common ground over the practice of yoga, and this provides an avenue for budding positive relations between the two states as well. This year, the International Day of Yoga was celebrated in Australia with great fervour and videos of school children singing Sanskrit slogans became viral on social media. The Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles also performed yoga poses to acknowledge the day on his recent visit to India. The images of Marles in yoga asanas are a testament to the importance that yoga now holds in diplomatic traditions and bilateral relations with India.
Celebrations across major Australian cities of Canberra and Melbourne are now held every year to commemorate the day of yoga. Praises are often conferred to India for once again bringing up the ancient power of yoga to the international stage and making it a symbol for peace. In this regard, the diplomatic efforts shown by states like Australia have been very important. Symbolically and materially recognising India’s efforts for Yoga at the global stage have been key in developing relations.
Advent of Yoga in Australia
As a practice, Yoga traditions in Australia date back to the 50s. It was in 1950 that the first yoga studio - Sydney Yoga Centre was opened in the country. Later, the Geeta School of Yoga and the Romi Blair’s Yoga Club followed suit in 1954 and 1956 respectively. Till date Sydney occupies a significant place in the Australian yoga traditions. The Indian diaspora has had an important role to play in the spread of this tradition. Ever since the 80s there was a high rise in the presence of Yoga masters in Australia who took on the responsibility to teach the community about Yoga’s importance. The aim was also to train the people in traditional Yoga techniques of kundalini, Bikram, Iyengar as well as some later traditions such as the hatha yoga.
Even before the establishment of the International Day of Yoga, the Himalayan Tradition of Yoga practice had reached South Australia through the workshops organised by the Association of Himalayan Yoga Meditation Societies International (AHYMSIN). Yoga Nidra and Meditation workshops were also organised in Melbourne. Yogazeit, a charity space working for cultural education of Yoga, lately organised a workshop for Indigeous school children of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands. The terms of the Yoga postures were translated into the Ngaanyatjarra language so the children could understand the meaning better.
Confluence: The Festival of India
Regular events of Yoga have become commonplace occurrences in the major Australian cities in the present times. One major breakthrough has been Confluence. This event is referred to as the ‘Festival of India’ as it celebrates the Indian culture in Australia with full vigour. Yoga forms a major part of this tradition. Inaugurated in 2016, this event primarily aims towards celebrating the India-Australia ties and strengthening the cultural exchange. It is a colourful ‘confluence’ of dance, music, arts and the spiritual practice of Yoga. The City of Perth has also provided the strategic arts sponsorship of AUD 10,000 to this festival in support of the diplomatic ties. This points to how important the positive relations between these two states are to the communities in Australia as well as India.
Organisations like Yoga Australia have been at the forefront of spreading the practice of yoga in the Australian community. It is a coalition of independent yoga practitioners, teachers and students aiming towards building a lifestyle around the different traditions of yoga. Due to the work that they do Yoga Australia is considered to be the prime organisation for yoga in Australia that makes the practice and the teachings easily accessible to the people. Not only this, but they have also taken up the responsibility to advocate for policy changes to improve the facilities needed to community yoga practices. They partner with the health industry and the Australian government to organise mass events that highlight the traditional roots of yoga and bring forward the health benefits of the practice.
Soft power diplomacy goes a long way in building confidence between two states and yoga proves to be a major catalyst in enhancing India-Australia diplomatic relations. The contribution of the Indian diaspora to Australia and the involvement of the Australian communities have been instrumental in this regard.