Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) concluded the 16th annual Health for Humanity Yogathon, also known as Surya Namaskar Yajna (SNY) recently. Over this 16-day long program, 13,392 enthusiasts around the country actively performed Surya Namaskar sets. These included school children and their teachers, university students, women, and seniors from all walks of life. A Surya Namaskar (a.k.a. sun salutation) is a sequence of Yoga postures that exercises multiple muscles and joints in the body. HSS prescribes a 10-step sequence along with rhythmic breathing that provides health benefits to both the body and the mind.
The SNY was first launched across the U.S. in 2007. In the years before its launch, the obesity epidemic was affecting Americans of all ages. The “fast food era” was at its peak. Personal health awareness was low, and exercising was an occasional activity at best among many children, professionals, and women. This was also taking a toll on mental health. The HSS, through its mission of promoting the ideals of Hindu Dharma to foster peace and well-being among communities, came up with a program that would provide an easy exercise routine to people of all ages, regardless of faith, gender, or ethnicity— and one that was free of cost. It was a 16-day event in January termed the Health for Humanity Yogathon. The purpose was to encourage all to practice Yoga through Surya Namaskars, and get physically healthy while experiencing mental relaxation and emotional equilibrium.
After an enthusiastic response from HSS members and interest by Yoga studios, there was a realization that this program was much needed for society. Thus, it became an annual event. Year after year, the program drew widespread interest among communities, Yoga practitioners, and teachers at public schools. In one instance, a community volunteer in Austin prisons shared interest with some inmates, who had come across this program’s advertisement in a magazine. In 2011, for the first time, the SNY had over 10,000 participants. Over the years, Surya Namaskars were being performed in 44 states by people from California to New York, and from Alaska to Florida.
The participants of this Yogathon are all types of Americans. Schools around the country have been particularly interested in this program, as it provides their students exposure to Yoga and its overall benefits. Tim, an elementary school principal in Texas, says, “What I enjoy about having the Sun Salutations program at the school is it offers the students different perspectives to reflect on their health and well-being… that their actions in life are a mind, body, and soul experience”. This year, the African American community welcomed HSS to introduce Yoga and Surya Namaskars at the MLK Day celebrations in the Dallas area. “We, as African Americans, were not introduced to Yoga, and hence, didn’t know its positive impact… so we are elated to have you as partners, who will continue to teach our communities so that we will understand the great impact Yoga can have”, said Diana, one of the organizers.
The positive impact of HSS’ Yogathon on communities across the country has not gone unnoticed. Several medical professionals, U.S. senators, governors, state representatives, and mayors have recognized the program and the organization behind it. “HSS has inspired its members and individuals across the country, as well as globally, to participate in its national Yoga-focused Health for Humanity initiative known as Surya Namaskar Yajna,” said New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy in 2022, while appreciating the HSS’ efforts despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Actively participating in this year’s Yogathon, city council member, Miles Nelson from Carmel, IN, said, “I had a terrific time doing Yoga with everyone. I’ve decided to incorporate that routine into my mornings”.
And therein lies the beauty of Yoga and programs such as the SNY. They represent a true confluence of cultures in bringing the ancient and universal wisdom from the Indic traditions to the land that is known as the “melting pot” of cultures, thereby enriching the entire human race. The practice of Surya Namaskars provides an easy and repeatable regimen for a fit body, calm mind, and balanced emotions, which today’s world needs more than ever through epidemics, pandemics, conflicts, and generational shifts. HSS welcomes all Americans to participate in the SNY (hssus.org/sny) every year.
Anil Kothari is an Oklahoma City-based mechanical engineer, yoga practitioner, and yoga teacher.