Fans in central Ohio, worldwide pause to pose for love of yoga

Vyom Goel, 8, demonstrates the “sun salutation” pose at the Abbey Theater in Dublin as part of the International Day of Yoga, hosted locally by the Columbus chapter of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh.

Before yoga, Darrin Bruce was often in too much pain to stand.

Lower-back pain and complications stemming from lumbar-fusion surgery dictated much of Bruce’s life. Then, in January, he decided to give yoga a try.

Now, he said, he’s free.

“It has given me spiritual freedom and physical freedom,” Bruce said.

That is the same message that International Day of Yoga organizers throughout the world — and locally at the Abbey Theater in Dublin — sought to share on Sunday.

The Columbus chapter of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, a social and cultural organization, hosted the International Day of Yoga celebration, inviting speakers such as Bruce to share stories of yoga’s benefits and its meaning, and to partake in some of the exercises as well.

Bruce attributes much of his well-being to practicing yoga — he now stands at his desk every day — but, he said, it’s about more than stretching. First, you need to focus on the breathing and yoga’s spiritual aspects, then the physical benefits will come.

“Many people do yoga to look attractive,” said Premasindhu Das, who works for the Hare Krishna Temple in Columbus. “But we are not this body. That’s not real yoga. The real yoga is connection to the supreme.”

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the U.N. on Sept. 27, he advocated the establishment of a U.N.-recognized International Day of Yoga. He, too, described yoga as more than a workout.

On Dec. 11, with 175 co-sponsoring nations, the U.N. General Assembly declared June 21 International Day of Yoga.

Vineet Goel, director of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh’s Columbus activities, said the day provided an opportunity to promote awareness of yoga and its role in a healthy lifestyle.

“Yoga is not just making you healthy, it’s making you happy, lighter, stress free,” he said.

If everyone practiced yoga, Goel said, the world would be far less violent. And while yoga has a ways to go, members of the Hare Krishna Temple said they are seeing many more people express interest in it.

“More people are more open and more inclined to yoga than they used to be,” said Lila Manjari.

Yoga Day is the latest example of that growing popularity.

In India, Prime Minister Modi celebrated the occasion by doing yoga with members of his cabinet in New Delhi. In the U.S., thousands of people participated in all-day yoga events in New York City’s Times Square and on the National Mall in Washington.

Among the celebratory downward dogs, some religious groups said the day imposes the Hindu religion on non-Hindus.

However, Narayan Pavgi, also from the Hare Krishna Temple, said anyone can practice the ancient Hindu discipline.

“It transcends religion,” he said. “We teach it not as a religion but as a way of life.”