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I, Dr Siriporn Jantanasakulwong serve as the Vice President of the India Studies Group and a Lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science at Ubon Ratchathani University. A few years ago I had experienced a severe health problem called the ‘Office Syndrome’ caused due to repetitive muscle strain during long periods of unhealthy body positions. In place of medicines, my therapist recommended Yoga to me. Yoga not only healed my body but also my soul. Since then I have been continuously practising Yoga for three years and have also obtained the RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) certificates from Rishikesh, India. I have shared my incredible experience with many and now I conduct in-house training for my colleagues at Ubon Ratchathani University, Thailand. In addition, this year I am also the coordinator of Yoga at the Mekong, an event to celebrate International Day of Yoga 2021 at Ubon Ratchathani.
I, Sirisup Sihawong, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Nursing at Ubon Ratchathani University in Thailand suffered from myofascial pain syndrome for four years. I found that Yoga helped me tremendously to alleviate my pain and cure me of the chronic disorder. I have been practising Yoga daily and currently, I am conducting research on India’s Yoga diplomacy and its implementation in Thai society.
Like us, many in Thailand are prescribed Yoga by therapists to heal pain and exercise sedentary muscles. Only when we further explore Yoga, dowe understand its all-encompassing effect on the human body and even the soul.
“Yoga at the Mekong” at Ubon Ratchathani University
Over the past few years, the Embassy of India has been organizing International Day of Yoga events in many cities in Thailand, such as Bangkok, and Chiangmai. This year, the Faculty of Political Science, Ubon Ratchathani University collaborated with the Embassy of India, Bangkok to organise a hybrid session titled Yoga at the Mekong to celebrate International Yoga Day on 20 June 2021. Dr Titipol Phakdeewanich, Dean of the Faculty of Political Science, Ubon Ratchathani University, delivered the welcome remark and H.E. Mrs Suchitra Durai, Ambassador of India to Thailand, presided over the celebration. Approximately, 50 students and staffs participated in the yoga session which lasted for two hours. This was the first time that the International Day of Yoga was celebrated publicly in Ubon Ratchathani, perhaps in the entire northeastern region of Thailand.
Yoga at the Mekong was named after the Mekong river that flows on the border of Thailand and Laos at Ubon Ratchathani Province. The establishment of the new India Studies Group of Ubon Ratchathani University (ISG-UBU), is aimed at creating a cooperation hub for international collaboration on teaching, research, and academic services in the Greater Mekong-subregion nations and India. The Yoga at the Mekong event was also to celebrate twenty years of the Mekong Ganga Cooperation and emphasised the importance of relations between India and the Mekong region.
Perception of Yoga in Thailand
A few years back largely due to ignorance, the general perception of yoga in Thailand was that of a slow exercise combined with meditation, fit only for women. In the past few years as Yoga has gained international popularity and following among the masses in Thailand, there has been an increased awareness about the philosophy and science behind it. In addition, Yoga is today adopted as a daily practice by many Thai people of all age groups and genders. Men in great numbers have adopted the practice of yoga, and several popular Yoga gurus in Thailand are also men. Yoga is commonly recommended to pregnant women, children, teenagers and adults to promote good health and build resilience.
The holistic benefits of Yoga are also seen as a cure for mental health problems that are increasing in our society as a result of economic and social changes and are aggravated by the current pandemic. The spiritual and philosophical benefits of Yoga are slowly but steadily being discovered by Thai society.
Popularity in Thailand
Yoga in Thailand is quickly becoming a household practice. The onset of COVID had forced people both in schools and workplaces to sit in front of computers and use mobile devices for long durations. Therefore, the practice of Yoga has gained immense popularity as a means to cancel the ill effects of such an unhealthy lifestyle. Yoga is now being taught from kindergarten to university level.
Nowadays, there are a large number of Yoga schools in every province of Thailand. In addition, there are communities and clubs for Yoga both in physical spaces; such as parks, schools, and workplaces, and also in digital spaces and as social media like Zoom, Google Meet and Facebook live. For instance, the International Day of Yoga that was co-organized by the Indian Embassy was followed in several regions of the country such as Ubon Ratchathani, Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Rayong and Phuket.
Avenues for Cooperation
It is highly recommended that the Indian government support and initiate networks and forums for Yoga teachers in Thailand and India. Such a platform can enhance people to people contact and develop the overall knowledge of Yoga among Thai teachers. The Government of India should support and sponsor Yoga training sessions in schools, workplaces, and elderly communities in the Thai society in collaboration with the Thai government.
India, as the birthplace of this great ancient knowledge has a responsibility to share it with the world. In Thailand, an effort should be made to take Yoga beyond Bangkok and other major cities. The Indian government should also offer Thai scholars scholarships and fellowships to research and learn Yoga in India and find ways to integrate it with traditional medical practices in Thailand.