Narendra Modi
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs yoga with others to mark the International Day of Yoga, in New Delhi, India, June 21, 2015. Modi led tens of thousands of people in the yoga session in the centre of the capital on Sunday to showcase the country's signature cultural export, which has prompted criticism of fomenting social divisions at home. Reuters/Adnan Abidi

BANGALORE -- Sunday marks the first annual International Yoga Day, part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push to promote the ancient Indian discipline. With yoga a symbol of national pride, the event saw thousands of people across the country taking part in practicing the discipline.

Yoga, which has been practiced in the country for centuries, received global recognition after the United Nations declared June 21 as the International Yoga Day, a proposal that was initiated by Modi. In India, people pulled out their yoga mats and headed to different locations to celebrate the day. In the southern Indian city of Bangalore, the biggest gathering was in the Kanteerava Stadium, where nearly 5,000 students participated. The Art of Living (AOL), a non-governmental organization engaged in stress-management and service initiatives, conducted several sessions across the city.

“Yoga has got its stature finally, what it always deserved," Dinesh Ghodke, director of the AOL youth program, told International Business Times. "I remember in December 2011, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and B. K. S. Iyengar [world famous yoga guru and founder of Iyengar Yoga] had mooted this idea that we have days like ‘Mothers Day,’ ‘Fathers Day’ and many more, including ‘Toilet Day’ then why can’t we have a yoga day. And they said June 21 could be marked as Yoga day. And Modi-ji took the idea to the United Nations. So I feel very proud and very hopeful that it’s a good start that yoga comes to people’s lives in an integral way.” Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founded AOL in 1981 and the organization now operates globally in 152 countries and reached out to over 370 million people.

People participating at yoga sessions conducted by the Art of Living to mark the International Yoga Day in Bangalore, India. IBTimes/Suman Varandani

Modi, who has been lauded by many for the yoga initiative, participated in an historic event in Rajpath, the ceremonial boulevard in the Indian capital, New Delhi, on Sunday. Over 35,000 people gathered to practice yoga, and the government applied to Guinness World Records to acknowledge the event as the largest gathering of people practicing yoga ever.

About 5,000 people associated with AOL participated in the event with Modi in Rajpath.

AOL conducted several events across India, including some involving prison inmates. About 2,000 inmates participated at a Varanasi prison in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. While all 26 prisons in the eastern state of Jharkhand where scheduled to participate in yoga sessions conducted by AOL.

Meanwhile, hundreds of policemen were part of yoga sessions at the Rajasthan Police Academy in Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan.

"Yoga is very important, it gives comfort to the mind -- not just to the body. It makes the mind flexible as well so you can be adaptable to any situation. There is so much of stress and biddings, and yoga and meditation can very effectively tackle all these issues that we are facing today," Ghodke, who has been doing yoga for 20 years, told IBTimes.

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Art of Living celebrating the first ever International Day of Yoga at its "ashram" in Bangalore, India. IBTimes/Suman Varandani

Mansi Dharmraj, a spokeswoman for AOL also expressed her excitement over yoga's global recognition.

"Yoga has become more and more popular over the years and if this had come sooner it would have really been far more beneficial. But having said that, it still is something to appreciate because even now it can benefit a lot of people. And the gratification by so many other countries also says that the appreciation comes from different corners," Dharmraj told IBTimes

Akshar Power Yoga Academy, a popular school for yoga programs and training in the country, also conducted an event to celebrate International Yoga Day. Hundreds of people participated in several yoga sessions, and nearly 500 visually impaired students trained by the academy were scheduled to perform Yoga 'asanas.'

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Children with some physical disability performing yoga at a session conducted by the Akshar Power Yoga Academy in Bangalore, India. IBTimes/Suman Varandani
International Yoga Day
Children with some physical disability performing 'surya namaskar' "Sun Salutation at a session conducted by the Akshar Power Yoga Academy in Bangalore, India. IBTimes/Suman Varandani

A spokeswoman for the academy urged people in India and abroad to practice yoga, and not just on the International Yoga Day but "everyday". She added that as yoga has originated in India, all citizens should take the initiative to spread awareness about the practice.

"Yoga should be looked at just as an art, something that will help you benefit. ... Yoga is not something that is created by you and me, it is there from immemorial, even before religion came in. So we should look beyond that. I think religion should be in your house, outside you are one country, if you look above that you are one world, trying to save this planet, make it more peaceful," she said, while talking about the religious controversy between Hindus and Muslims over yoga.

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Akshar Power Yoga Academy in Bangalore conducted sessions to mark the first International Yoga Day on Sunday, June 21, 2015. IBTimes/Suman Varandani

Some Muslim activist groups had criticized the yoga events, arguing that they should not be compelled to chant “Om,” a sacred sound in Hinduism often chanted during yoga practices. Some critics also argued that the sun salutation used for some yoga practices violates the monotheistic nature of Islam.

"This government is trying to impose Hindu culture and Hindu forms of worship on non-Hindus. This is not allowed by the constitution." Abdul Graham Qureshi, the general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, had said earlier.

Meanwhile, Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, who is a brand ambassador for yoga, attended an event in Bangalore and performed some yoga "asanas" in front of hundreds of people. She urged people to take time out of their busy schedule to practice yoga, adding that she would "like to play catalyst" in Modi's initiative.

The yoga celebrations are being held after 177 countries voted in favor of Modi's proposal to give the ancient practice global recognition. Many organizations that conducted sessions marking the day on Sunday urged more awareness of yoga, urging that it should be added to the curriculum of every school across the nation.

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Many gather at Bangalore's UB City on Sunday, June 21, 2015, to celebrate International Yoga Day. IBTimes/Suman Varandani

"Yoga gives an amazing balance to life. It makes one peaceful inside and dynamic outside and at the same time it makes us appreciate the finer things in life, appreciate the diversity that is there in the world around use, and yet be in harmony. Yoga makes one very skillfull and brings lot of energy," Ghodke of AOL, told IBTimes.