#IYF2016 Today annual world famous International Yoga Festival, jointly organized by Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board, GMVN and Parmarth Niketan, at Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh officially began. Since 1999, Parmarth Niketan has been hosting this world renowned event which has grown to international acclaim and which grows in size year after year. Yogacharyas, teachers, students and seekers come from every corner of the globe to participate in this program.

This year there are more than 1000 participants from more than 70 countries. There are classes from 4:00 am until 9:30 pm with more than 70 revered saints, yogacharyas, presenters and experts from nearly 20 countries around the world.

Ashtanga Yoga, Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Bharat Yoga, Deep Yoga, Shintoh Yoga and Somatics Yoga are just a few of the more than 150 different offerings throughout the week. There are also classes in meditation, mudras, Sanskrit chanting, reiki, Indian philosophy and much more. Further, spiritual discourses will be held by revered spiritual leaders from India and abroad. There will also be cultural dance/music performances highlighting the culture of this Himalayan Garhwal region as well as music from musicians from Israel, Australia and the U.S.

The official inauguration took place at 11:00 am and was graced by the presence of the Honourable Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, Shri Harish Rawatji, Shri Dinesh Dhanaiji, the Hon’ble Minister for Tourism, Uttarakhand, Shri Shailesh Bagauliji, Hon’ble Secretary of Tourism, Uttarakhand, many revered spiritual leaders, saints and all the yogacharyas and presenters.

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati gave the official welcome and there was an impressive, awe-inspiring yoga demonstration by the rishikumars of the Parmarth Gurukul. A group from China also put on a beautiful Chinese yoga dance. There were special blessings by Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, Pujya Sri Mooji, and Pujya Sri Prem Babaji.

Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji explained, “Yoga is union. It is not just union of our heads to our knees or our hands to the floor. It is union of the self to the Divine. Here during this week, don’t focus only on making your bodies strong and flexible, but focus on making your inner self strong and flexible.” He further emphasized that, “Uttarakhand is the birthplace of yoga and you are all the chosen ones to be back here to imbibe the divine science.”

The Honourable Chief Minister, Shri Harish Rawat said: ” I welcome our friends, brothers and sisters from more than 70 countries. Although we have the worlds’ nationalities represented today, here on the banks of Mother Ganga, in the lap of the Himalayas, we are merged into the universal nationality of Yoga. I express my gratitude to Pujya Swamiji who has truly dedicated His life to yoga for sharing the great teachings and bringing so many people to Rishikesh for this event. We look forward to working with him to create a annual Yoga Calendar for the state of Uttarakhand, celebrating and organizing more of these festivals in more and more parts of Uttarakhand as well as organizing workshops and courses for our own officials.”

The Honourable Chief Minister also shared the plans for Yoga Maha Kumbha in the Ardh Kumbha Mela and other yoga events to take place throughout the state together jointly organized and led with Parmarth NIketan, and under Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji’s guidance and vision.

The Honourable Minister of Tourism, Shri Dinesh Dhanai said, “Not only does the River Ganga originate from Gangotri in Uttarakhand but the Yoga Ganga, the art and science of Yoga, also originates from this sacred land. This is truly our pride and our great heritage. By sharing and spreading this wealth we want Uttarakhand and Rishikesh to continue to be the Yoga capital of the world. We are so grateful to Pujya Swamiji for taking this sacred tradition to such an international level and hope to be continued to be guided by His vision.”

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Director of the International Yoga Festival, told all the participants: “You have all been called here to India, to Uttarakhand, to the holy banks of Mother Ganga for a special reason. This is not like a yoga conference in London or Paris or New York or Sydney. In this sacred land of Rishikesh, you not only receive teachings but you also receive the divine touch and divine transformation. The sage Patanjali described eight limbs of yoga, beginning with the yamas and niyamas and ending with samadhi or divine ecstasy. Here at this unique festival, we aim to provide classes and programs that give you teachings and experiences of the first seven limbs. The eighth, samadhi, happens by the grace of Mother Ganga.”

Returning yogacharyas Laura Plumb, Kia Miller and Francesca Cassia shared what a great gift and blessing it is to come “home” to Parmarth Niketan and take part in this special one-of-a-kind festival. They all deeply appreciated Pujya Swamiji and his mission throughout the world.

Francesca Cassia of Italy shared: Coming back to The IYF, always opens my heart and my soul. It makes me ponder about the miracle of life and the power of transforming our life into a living blessing. Here on the banks of Mother Ganga we soak in the sacred source of our souls and we create, all together, a better world. Inspired by the ever flowing, Ganga, humbled by the presence of so many Acharyas and our beloved Guruji we step into our journey to empowerment. Enjoy the festival. Here you will find: opportunities to grow, a reason to stay; inspirational people, people to connect with who are dedicated, diverse, and multi-talented.

Remind yourself daily who you are destined to be and be inspired by our Divine Guruji, Sadhavi and their amazing vision.

Kia Miller of Los Angeles, USA shared: I love to turn people onto The International Yoga Festival where they get an authentic taste of the ancient tradition of yoga. For me this is so much more than a festival, it is a coming home to a world wide community of people who have fallen in love with yoga, Parmath Niketan and Rishikesh in general.

Additionally, Sharon Gannon, Founder of Jivamukti Yoga and yoga teacher to so many stars in New York City, shared her great excitement to join the Yoga Festival for the first time.

The Hon’ble Chief Minister and Hon’ble Tourism minister was given a beautiful rudraksh sapling by the International Yoga Festival yogacharyas.

Additionally a new beautiful coffee table book with gorgeous photographs of Yoga by the world famous Taschen company was launched by the photographer, Michael O’Neill of New York. The book is titled Yoga: The Architecture of Peace. The book includes photographs of yogis from across India and across the world including revered saints, H.H. the Dalai Lama, BKS Iyengar, Prattabi Jois, as well as famous stars including Sting. The introduction was written by Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji.

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