The third International Yoga Day was celebrated in Pakistan too but on a muted scale. The organisers said a much bigger event will follow after Ramadan ends. Pakistani yoga guru Shamshad Haider, who runs over 50 clubs across the country, said in a telephonic interview from Islamabad: "Due to Ramdan and people preparing for Eid, we could not organise a big event this year." "We have routine sessions in all our clubs today but after Eid we are preparing for a much larger event in Rawalpindi," Haider, 48, told IANS. He said his team expected more than 1,000 people to take part. The Indian High Commission also organised a yoga camp in Islamabad on Sunday, attended by India's envoy Gautam Bambawale and other diplomats.
Asked about the Pakistan government not celebrating the yoga day, Haider, founder of Yoga Pakistan and Way of Nature, says his clubs have people from all religions. "It (government) never stopped us from doing yoga. It has granted us permission to hold yoga camps on its land and has also allowed us to promote yoga."
Yogi Haider - as he is widely known -- said he doesn't want any help from the government or the Indian High Commission to hold events. Born in Pakistani Punjab, Haider, unlike many Muslims, is emphatic that yoga has nothing to do with Hindu religion.
"Yoga helps to gain mental stability, peace, balanced living. It teaches us discipline which is vital in Islam and all religions." Last year, on the second International Day of Yoga, Haider did yogic asanas along with 20,000 yoga students across Pakistan -- but minus media publicity.
Haider and his 100 trainers have quietly succeeded in attracting tens of thousands of Pakistanis to yoga, achieving a feat that once seemed near impossible. "Yoga belongs to humanity in the form of a pure science and is not the sole entity of India," he said. Among the over 50 yoga clubs in Pakistan, Haider oversees the major ones in Islamabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi.
Even some Islamic clerics come to him to learn and practise yoga and meditation. Haider says his inspiration and role model was S.N. Goenka, the Myanmar-born master of Vipassana meditation. "He taught me meditation when I travelled to India. That changed my life. After that I started yoga sessions in Pakistan. He was my hero." The International Yoga Day debuted in 2015 after the UN backed an India-sponsored initiative that was supported by over 170 member states.