Euronews Culture sat down with Sadhguru, who took part in a discussion at the prestigious UNESCO headquarters in Paris, focusing on the profound impact of yoga on the human mind and body.
Much of the world celebrated the International Day of Yoga this week on Wednesday as the practice is inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
In yoga certain “asanas” or dynamic postures “salute the sun” so the date has added significance for yoga worshippers as it coincides with the summer solstice – the day of the year when the sun shines its longest and brightest.
India is credited as the birthplace of yoga. One of the country’s greatest exports and a global phenomenon, practiced by people from all walks of life.
An ancient practice that incorporates physical poses, breathing and a lot of concentration, yoga seeks to create a union of the body, mind and soul to reach complete consciousness.
It’s also a big money spinner.
Statista reports that in 2021, the revenue of the yoga apparel market alone was around $22.7 billion (€20 billion) worldwide. The number will almost double to $40 billion (€38 billion) by 2028.
Spreading the word
Over in Paris, at UNESCO’s headquarters, hundreds gathered to see a man who has inspired millions to practice yoga – Sadhguru. Recognised globally as one of the leading practitioners and teachers of yoga, he was invited by UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay.
The day’s festivities kicked off with music and dance as those gathered in the hall were treated to a cultural performance celebrating yoga by the Isha Foundation – the non-profit founded by Sadhguru.
So popular is Sadhguru, that attendees travelled far and wide to be in his presence in Paris. And spied amongst the throngs of devotees...none other than the world-famous DJ Pete Tong who’s been following Sadhguru for a decade.
“Just the opportunity to stop and not be distracted and look within is hugely beneficial. Just stopping and doing nothing in the crazy world we live in is essential," Tong told Euronews Culture.
But finally the the person they had all came to see took to the stage - yogi, mystic, and humanitarian Sadhguru. They clung to his every word. Captivated by the wisdom he imparted. Enthralled as he led them into a guided meditation.
Yoga has exploded in popularity across Europe in recent decades with many sunshine states such as Spain and Greece offering numerous mindfulness retreats.
According to a 2022 study by Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, routine yoga practice can enhance resilience and improve overall well-being. Something that the study says helped massively during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But sitting down to speak with Sadhguru, he said although yoga is taught principally in the West as a physical practice more than a mindful one, it is a good first step.
“You give your phone to a child. He will start looking, looking, looking and find something fantastic out there in the world. Essentially, it’s about figuring out how to use this human mechanism, which is the highest level of technology. The most sophisticated technology on this planet but most people are trying to operate it without even a user manual," explains the founder of the Isha Foundation.
Sadhguru believes that spirituality is the highest empowerment. It is like electricity. So how can we all be enlightened and transcend our limitations? Especially if some of us are living on airplane mode, blissfully unaware it exists?
“They’re probably not on airplane mode, there’s probably no wifi. Your ability to perceive and receive is gone because you gather a certain amount of memory. You’re a woman, that’s a memory," explains Sadhguru. "Of course the body is there but its more in the memory that I am a woman or a man. I am this nationality or whatever. Once this memory gathers to a certain size, suddenly it starts behaving like a cosmos all by itself."
"Today everything in this universe is going well. No galaxies have clashed into each other, all planets maintain the lanes. Nothing has happened. Everything is going great. But if there is one nasty thought going in your head, you would say this is a bad day. This is because something in your reality has become larger than your existential reality. This is the only thing that’s a problem with people. Psychological realities are over taking the reality of you being alive and being here," he continues.
But when many are bending and twisting in a very different way - through very difficult times full of crisis and hardship, what’s his message to them?
“Physical hardship is there. Some chose it by choice, others unfortunately have it imposed. Whatever you think is hardship – people living in warzones, tents unfortunately. But this is how all our forefathers lived. Do you think they were in hardship? It was hard but they were ok. I’m sure they laughed, danced. So I’m saying my tent becomes a very ugly thing in my mind because I see a palace. This is all the problem of memory…yesterday I had a palace, today I have a tent.”
“Physical hardship as long as you’re nourished – food is very vital. Once that is taken care of, the rest of it is in how you handle your mind.”
But as with anything, it takes hard work to open your mind and reach consciousness.
Sadhguru created his own guided meditation “Isha kriya.” "Isha" in Sanskrit means the source of creation and "Kriya" means internal action.
The yoga master believes that if a person can commit to practice 15 minutes of Isha kriya a day, they can reach enlightenment. I guess you’ll just have to try and see.