International Day Of Yoga: The Rich History And Many Benefits Of Yoga Practice

Medically reviewed by Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC
Updated April 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The International Day Of Yoga has official recognition and is celebrated on June 21 each year to coincide with the summer solstice, a day with significant roots in Indian cultural history. The UN resolution to make it an international holiday was made in 2014 by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and received broad support. In his address to the United Nations General Assembly, he said that "Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. [...] It is not about competition but cooperation. It is not about self-assertion but self-restraint. It is not about violence but peace. Yoga can open up a new horizon of peace and harmony”. Read on to discover a brief overview of the rich history of yoga and its holistic approach to healthier choices, along with ideas for respectfully celebrating the International Day of Yoga.

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The ancient origins of yoga

Yoga is a culturally based spiritual discipline. The term “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit term "yuji", which embodies the unity of mind and body. Over 5,000 years ago, the practice was developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India. The first mention of the practice was included in the Rig Veda, an ancient, culturally significant text in Hinduism. Early teachings from Buddhism, Pāṇini, and the Puranas also mention yoga. These texts discussed the key concepts of breath control and balancing energies.

Although not its original intention, countries around the world, especially those in the Western world, eventually began to use yoga as a type of physical activity that only involves holding yoga postures, which is still common in these places today. However, International Yoga Day aims to bring awareness back to the cultural origins and original intentions of the practice.

The power and significance of yoga

The government of India connected with the United Nations and released a statement on the cultural significance of yoga. It mentions how yoga has influenced history and various elements of society in India, from health and medicine to education and the arts. The statement outlines three key goals of the practice, which are to help individuals:

  • Build self-realization

  • Ease any suffering they may be experiencing 

  • Allow for a state of liberation

It also notes that Yoga is practiced by “the young and old without discriminating against gender, class or religion”. Yoga is for anyone who wants to explore their inner nature, and this reachability, along with its broad potential benefits, is perhaps why the practice has such universal appeal, being widely adopted around the entire world. Yoga is a peaceful practice that can bring positivity and peace to both individuals and humanity at large.

The benefits of yoga practice

In more recent years, researchers have studied yoga’s potential for providing individuals with long-term benefits in various aspects of life. Yoga has the potential to offer both mental and physical health advantages, which include the following.

Improved mental health

If you are an advocate of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, you might be aware that a significant amount of the world's population experiences significant disability. According to some studies, yoga can be helpful for persons with disabilities. A recent study on the impacts of yoga on depression and anxiety found that it was effective in managing and reducing symptoms. Part of the reason may be that yoga often includes deep-breathing practices, which can help relax the nervous system. Other research shows that stretching can help loosen muscles and reduce tension in the body. Since tension and stress are linked, yoga can be an effective tactic for helping people manage chronic stress and its potentially harmful effects as well.

Pain relief and disease prevention

According to Harvard Health, yoga can also be a physically beneficial practice for some. Those who partake in certain types of yoga practices may experience the following:

The World Health Organization (WHO) also states that yoga may help decrease the risk of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases. That’s why WHO encourages the incorporation of this practice into schools, workplaces, and civil society organizations.

Cultural connection

Especially in the context of the International Day of Yoga, it’s important to remember where and how yoga originated despite its ubiquity around the world today. Many people with Hindu and/or Indian cultural heritage may find that practicing yoga helps connect them to their cultural and familial roots. More resources are available through the Hindu American Society and the Indian government's informational yoga website

For those who do not follow this cultural heritage, learning more about the history of yoga and acknowledging its roots and origins when engaging in it can be one way to show respect for this ancient practice. Learning more about it, in general, may be an enlightening way to celebrate and honor this international holiday. 

Appropriation of yoga and other considerations

Yoga has immense and specific cultural, spiritual, religious, and ethnic roots. However, the practice can be appropriated by other individuals and cultures if these are not properly respected. Cultural appropriation refers to taking a culturally significant practice and taking out certain features, disregarding cultural significance, or claiming a practice as one's own without giving credit. When it comes to yoga in particular, it’s also important to recognize and acknowledge that there were times in Indian history when people were persecuted for the practice.

A yoga practice might be appropriated if you are not of Indian or Hindu culture and: 

  • You treat yoga solely as an exercise 

  • You believe yoga is an American practice 

  • You disregard the history of yoga 

  • You believe yoga is a "new-age" practice

Learning more about its history could be good practice for those who want to appreciate and not appropriate yoga. You might also participate in a yoga practice led by someone with roots in the culture. Consider asking respectful questions and being open to learning and feedback throughout the yoga session. 

How to celebrate the International Day Of Yoga 

The International Day of Yoga was first celebrated in 2015 after India's permanent representative introduced a draft resolution to the UN. It marks the first international day to raise awareness of the benefits of yoga. Supported by a record number of member states and under state patronage, the inaugural event was held at the UN headquarters in New Delhi. In 2023, International Yoga Day focused on the concept of One Earth, One Family, and One Future. 

Celebrating the International Day of Yoga could involve practicing yoga, practicing mindfulness, and learning more about the history of yoga as a cultural tradition. If you take a yoga class, you might make a specific effort to ensure that the teacher and/or studio either has a cultural connection to the practice or takes measures to respect it and avoid appropriation. 

You could also consider making a donation to a yoga-based non-profit that aims to help communities. For example, this one “has the healing practice of yoga with people affected by addiction, poverty and trauma”, and this one offers free or low-cost yoga programs to those with cancer. You might search your local area for community nonprofits that are affecting positive change through yoga.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Find out how physical activity can impact mental health

Counseling options 

The International Day of Yoga can also inspire people around the world to change their lifestyle patterns and learn new practices for good health and well-being. As outlined above, research has found that yoga may help reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Another way to support your mental health is by connecting with a trained mental health professional.

Therapy can be beneficial whether conducted in person or via the Internet; studies suggest that the two can offer similar benefits in most cases. That means you can typically choose whichever format feels best for you. If you have a busy schedule, can’t find a provider in your area, or simply prefer to meet with a therapist from the comfort of your home, online therapy is an option to consider. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can speak with over the phone, on a video call, or via in-app messaging. One study indicates that 71% of individuals who tried internet-based methods preferred them to traditional in-person therapy. 


Yoga is a spiritual practice with roots in Indian and Hindu cultures. It also has the potential to provide physical, mental, and emotional health benefits. On the International Day of Yoga, consider learning more about and respecting the rich history of yoga.

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