China will soon have its first university department dedicated specifically to the Indian discipline of yoga. Yunnan University of Nationalities (云南民族大学) in Kunming is finalizing plans for a new School of Yoga. Once opened later this year, it will promote cultural exchanges with the Subcontinent while instructing students in the philosophies and applications surrounding the practice of yoga.
The idea for a school of yoga was first broached in 2014 at the tenth annual Kunming to Kolkata Forum (K2K) held in the Spring City. At the convention, representatives from the governments of Yunnan and the Indian state of West Bengal discussed how to better promote relations between their two regions. Out of those deliberations grew the School of Yoga.
In addition to courses in Indian culture, philosophy and religion, the initial plan calls for 20 students from Yunnan University of Nationalities (YUN) to participate in three-week seminars each year at Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata. Others majoring in the Hindi and Bengali languages are expected to stay longer and possibly earn degrees in India.
Professors will also be included in the cooperative effort, and scholars from both institutions will participate in future sabbatical exchanges. Such activities are meant to encourage the establishment of a future 'China-India Culture Communication Center'. Although no specifics have yet been made public, the center is expected to one day be situated on the YUN campus.
Known as yujia (瑜伽) in Chinese, yoga has enjoyed a steep rise in popularity across China over the past few years. While the country's burgeoning middle class has flocked to new studios and retreats, some yoga traditionalists bemoan the focus on American-style fad fitness as opposed to a concentration amongst Chinese practitioners on more cerebral aspects.
In part as a reaction to this — but additionally as a way to raise international understanding of Indian culture — Prime Minister Narendra Modi established a government bureau specifically concerned with the promotion and protection of Indian yoga. Also, at Modi's urging, the United Nations declared June 21 'An international day of yoga'.
The founding of YUN's School of Yoga may indeed help further Modi's aim, but it is also most certainly a calculated political move by both the Indian and Chinese sides. The K2K forum at which the yoga school was first proposed exists almost solely to promote the long-discussed but never realized Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) trade corridor. The overland connection, at least as seen by Beijing, would be a network of highways and railroads linking impoverished but resource-rich areas in all four countries, thus spurring mutually beneficial economic growth.
Regardless of the yoga school's provenance, it should help enliven often erratic Sino-Indian relations. For the past decade, Himalayan border tensions and other disputes between the world's two most populous countries have continually stalled any meaningful progress on the BCIM corridor.
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