MUMBAI, India — The soldiers in Kashmir are squatting on mats and arching their backs. In the parks of Mumbai, retirees reach toward the sky, or cover their eyes in a form of meditation. In New Delhi, one of the city's main parks erupts every morning with the guffaws of believers in "laughing yoga," who say forced laughter can give way to true inner peace.
Yoga has a long history in India, reaching back for thousands of years. Ancient temples show long-dead royalty in yoga poses. Tales of yogis who can rise into the air, or go long stretches without breathing, or cure terminal illnesses, are still told here.
But yoga long ago went mainstream, with ancient practices melding with techniques that have changed and evolved as teachers have taken them back and forth between India and the West. There are no reliable estimates of how many people regularly practice yoga in India, though the number is certainly in the millions. Especially in the mornings, parks across the country can fill with clusters of practitioners and teachers, or with people going through poses on their own.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made clear it wants the first International Yoga Day, held on Sunday, to be taken seriously. Modi will address tens of thousands of people who will gather at a central New Delhi park for a group yoga session. Many government officials, meanwhile, have told employees that they need to join in the celebrations somehow.
And in a country where the austerity of Mohandas Gandhi long ago gave way to modern consumerism, plenty of companies are joining in.
Just ask Yatra.com, a popular travel website, which proclaimed in a Friday press release that it was launching a series of special yoga packages. Prices will be available on Saturday.