The 30th annual, world-famous annual International Yoga Festival began today at Parmarth Niketan, welcoming this year more than 1100 participants from 70 nations.
This year, with a renewed emphasis on BEING YOGA and LIVING YOGA, on uniting together with our global world family in peace, the festival opened at 5 am with a special temescal (sweat lodge) ceremony by indigenous elders from South America, Central America and North America in the yoga village.
During this one-week Festival, attendees have the opportunity to participate in over 70 hours of Yoga classes from world-class Yoga masters of multiple styles of Yoga including Kundalini Yoga, Power Vinyasa Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Pranayama, Meditation, Reiki, as well as lectures on Yoga, Vedanta, ancient Indian philosophy and Ayurveda. Additionally, we have a Sacred Sound Stage and offer fantastic cultural song and dance performances, giving a wonderful flavour of the culture of India.
The festival was officially inaugurated in the afternoon by the Hon’ble Minister of AYUSH Shri Harak Singh Rawat and Hon’ble Minister of Tourism, Shri Satpal Maharaj. Just before 3 p.m., participants gathered in the garden and took part in a joyous procession to the banks of Ganga for the Official Inauguration of the 30th International Yoga Festival. The inauguration featured a traditional song and dance by indigenous elders of the Americas in addition to words by new and returning yogacharyas.
Pujya Swamiji, President of Parmarth Niketan, said: “Yoga is all the way from the United Nations to the United Creations on the banks of Ganga!”
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, Director of the International Yoga Festival, said, “As we gather on the banks of the sacred Ganga, in Rishikesh, the World Capital of Yoga, the land where the sages, saints and rishis have come for thousands of years to attain enlightenment, we remember that yoga is not only postures on a mat but yoga is who we are. Yoga is love, yoga is peace, yoga is togetherness. This is what the world needs today. Yoga is the answer to all that ails us from terrorism and war to environmental destruction to internal depression. Yoga is union – union with the Creator and union with the Creation. Through our yoga may we become vehicles of peace, love and union for the world.
Hon’ble Shri Harak Singh Rawatji said: “Thank you Pujya Swamiji and Parmarth Niketan for welcoming me to your steps today. Yoga brings healing to not just the body, but it brings peace to the mind and the heart, and that is why, in the face of the turmoil of the world today, so many people are turning towards Indian culture and Indian tradition, toward Yoga, for those teachings and touch that bring true peace in our lives and it’s such a great blessing that our Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modiji got International Yoga Day passed in the United Nations so that Yoga can be spread even more across the world.”
Hon’ble Shri Satpal Maharajji said: “Welcome to Rishikesh, the world capital of Yoga, and welcome to Uttarakhand. Through yoga, we learn that we breathe because we live; we live because we breathe. We call God by so many names but that energy is everywhere, all around us, like WiFi. And Yoga is the password to access that energy. We have come to this place with open hearts, in the hope that the power of Yoga will relieve tension and spread peace.”
Seane Corn, world famous yoga teacher from California said: “It is so inspiring to be a witness, and to now experience the way in which Swamiji supports inclusivity and makes space for various beliefs, cultures, practices, and religions, helping to heal the divides that separate. Swamiji has committed to making social change and he uses his platform, resources and relationships to raise awareness, support advocacy and develop leadership for the benefits of others. Now more than ever, these actions are an important model for global healing. Each person I come across at this ashram has inspired me with their dedication to service and their devotion to both God and humankind.”
Tommy Rosen, Founder of Recovery 2.0, using yoga to help people overcome addiction said: “The source of the International Yoga Festival’s success is Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, who constantly emanates love, just like the River Ganga. He is a living example of what sadhana can do. Let His example, and the wisdom learned at the International Yoga Festival draw all from darkness to light and from fear to love.”
Deepika Mehta, famous yoga teacher to the stars from Mumbai said: “This is my 6th or 7th year teaching at the International Yoga Festival at Parmarth Niketan and the Magic never ends. There is something about this festival that always excites me like a child, I feel this sense of adventure whenever I am heading here and I always feels like I’ve finally arrived HOME. There is something about this festival that Swamiji and Bhagawatiji are always able to blend the best of the west and stay rooted to the tradition of this age-old culture and Ashram. They are able to keep staying exciting, creative, and sparking the joy within each of us yet I never ever leave here without having shed a few layers and tears… I love how I am reminded hereof the reason why I started this inward journey of Yoga 20 years back, yet I stay excited about what is yet to come… I am home.”
The inauguration concluded with a sacred water blessing using holy waters from the Sangam of Prayagraj, carrying the vibration of the Kumbh Mela to the banks of Ganga for the International Yoga Festival.
The morning asana classes began with a Traditional Hatha Yogasana class led by Dr. Indu Sharma, a dedicated teacher and practitioner at Parmarth for over 10 years, followed by pre-breakfast classes. As per his expertise, Sensei Sandeep Desai offered his students a unique mix of yoga and martial arts in his Chen T’ai Chi class. This morning also marked Part One of inspiring yogi Deepika Mehta’s Led Ashtanga Primary Series, held on the Yoga Ghat; participants have the opportunity to take up to three classes with Deepika at IYF this year. This bright day was formally greeted by Anandra George, founder of the Heart of Sound yoga teacher training program, in her Sunrise Nāda Yoga Musical Meditation class on the Aarti Ghat.
After a light breakfast, participants dove into our 8:30-10:30 intensive asana classes, which included Chikitsa Vinyasa Therapeutic Flow with Dr. Eden Goldman, Director of the Yoga and Healing Sciences Program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA. Gabriela Bozic, world-renowned Jivamukti teacher from London led an exhilarating class entitled “Leading Lives of Purpose, Passion, and Power”. Dana Flynn, founder of Lotus NYC/BK and Church of Yoga from New Orleans, USA, led “Magic Takes Guts” which focused on physicalizing the body and physicalizing gratitude. In our yoga tent, Rishikesh-native and founder of Sattva Yoga Academy Anand Mehrotra offered students two energetic hours of “Awaken Shiva”. At 9 o’clock, Vedic Chanting was led with grace by Sadhvi Abha Saraswati, who has been teaching, chanting and infusing Parmarth with her love for many years.
At 11am, the Spiritual Lecture Series commenced with highly-motivational addresses: “The Yoga of Love” with HH Pujya Radhanath Swamiji and “Philosophy of Yoga in Indian Spirituality” with HH Pujya Sri Shankaracharya Swami Divyanand Teerthji. Sri Shankaracharyaji beautifully articulated the depth of Indian philosophy in Yoga and explained how yoga is truly about union with the divine. He said: “Love is present in every being of this world. ’Yoga Chitta vritti nirodaha’—stillness of the mind. Yoga takes us to super-consciousness and so different paths—action, devotion, knowledge. Outwardly, they look different. Inwardly, the paths are interlinked.” He wove in examples from the seers and sages of the yogic tradition to inspire the audience to integrate their practice into daily life, infusing love and devotion into their thoughts, words, and actions.
In a similar spirit, through his presence and words, HH Pujya Radhanath Swamiji filled the yoga ghat with the joy of bhakti, devotion, because his life reflects union with the divine. He said: “The purpose of yoga, the purpose of religion, the purpose of life is to awaken our true potential. Each one of us is a divine being, each one of us, in whatever capacity, has an opportunity to do something wonderful in our life”. Participants’ hearts opened and tears filled their eyes as they were joined in one with themselves and each other on the banks of the Ganga.
After lunch, prior to the inauguration the afternoon continued with classes such as Therapeutic Yoga Flow with Paula Tapia, Yin Yoga with Yujia, H.H. Pujya Radhanath Swamiji’s “My Experience with the Himalayan Masters,” Tommy Rosen’s “The Meditative Heart”, and a Gong Bath Healing Journey led by Sanj Hall.
After the official inauguration, with hearts full and minds opened, participants had the opportunity to take advantage of afternoon offerings ranging from Kia Miller’s “Awakening Our Spiritual Heart” to Seane Corn’s “Mystics on the Mat”, held right along the River Ganges. These sessions further enriched the experience of flow and oneness that is yoga. Later, for divine Aarti, the Ganga steps were filled with musicians, masters, students, and leaders united in celebration.
After dinner, participants returned to the Ghat for a harmonious performance of drums, music, soul, and dance by Sivamani. He entranced his audience in moments both soft and intense, and closed our first evening with an energy that mimicked the vitality of the day’s events.
Special Highlights from this year’s festival include:
- Blessing and gracing IYF will be HH Pujya Shankaracharya Swami Divyanand Teerthji, HH Pujya Swami Ramdeviji, HH Pujya Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji, HH Pujya Mooji,HH Pujya Radhanath Swamiji, interfaith leaders & many others.
- Sending a message of Nature, Culture & Future,indigenous &tribal elders from South, Central, and North America and across the world will lead traditional ceremonies at IYF including offering sacred prayers for world peace, the sacred ancient Temezcal (Sweat Lodge) ceremony, performing traditional songs and dances, as well as conducting panels on protection of the earth and water.
- A concert by world renowned percussionist Sivamani on the evening of March 1
- A moderated interview with Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty on the morning of March 5th, followed by a Simple Soulful Yoga class led by Shilpaji on Parmarth’s Shiva Ghat from 2:45-3:30 p.m.
- In addition to discourses from these renowned saints, our morning Spiritual Lecture Series will include:
- On March 3, Shakti: Power of the Divine Feminine In A Yogic Life
- On March 6, Yoga for Our Planet: Yoga, Climate and Earth Activism, will discuss taking yoga off the mat to use it as a tool to heal that which is ailing our world
- On March 7, a special meditation will be held at the Maharishi Yogiji Ashram (The Beatles Ashram).