Group yoga at Lodi Gardens (Photo credit: Mukta Naik)
On a recent weekend visit to Lodi Gardens, I was greeted by the delightful sight of a few dozen people engrossed in a collective yoga practice on the large lawn in front of the Bada Gumbad. Instantly, it reminded me of the group dancing I saw in public squares during trips to southeast Asian cities like Hanoi and Shenzhen. The contexts might have been different, but the sheer joie de vivre of being part of that experience, at that place and time, is exactly the same.
As Indians emerge from the loneliness and isolation of the pandemic, public places in our cities are teeming with people seeking to reconnect, in a noisy, messy, happy celebration of communal life. This reconnection with humanity is the very essence of cities, where ideas and aspirations, skills and opportunities serendipitously collide and coalesce to create new ventures, forge partnerships and add value. And while transactional encounters dominate our use of public space, the urban Indian is increasingly seeking spaces of leisure, introspection and even spirituality, right in the midst of the busy city.
Why then is the practice of yoga, increasingly an intrinsic part of the urban Indian’s wellness and self-care routine, confined to the home, the fitness studio and the occasional private garden? Why does the scene that greeted me in Lodi Gardens that Sunday morning not replicate across the city, country, and in every public space?
Perhaps we can re-imagine urban public spaces as opportunities for a shared and inclusive practice of wellness, where yoga is a catalyst to enable meaningful social interactions and spiritual interchange. To achieve the democratized transformation of public spaces at city and neighbourhood scales to trigger a wellness revolution, we might need, not just the critical elements of land and infrastructure, but also an imagination of activities and processes of interaction.
These are questions for urbanists to ponder, this International Yoga Day, at a time when cities are expected to propel the nation towards its ambitions of inclusive and sustainable economic growth. In addition to smart, inclusive and sustainable, a healthy city is just as vital for our collective future.