40,000 Indians rise early to use yoga 'for peace, harmony and progress' on International Yoga Day

Indians perform yoga to mark International Yoga Day in New Delhi. Credit: AP

If China has panda diplomacy, India has yoga.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi successfully lobbied the United Nations to designate June 21 International Yoga Day in his first year in power in 2014.

Since then, just as China under President Xi Jinping has given countries pandas for their zoos in a show of goodwill, Modi has used one of India's most popular exports to assert his nation's rising place in the world.

On Friday, the fifth annual International Yoga Day, Modi undertook various yoga "asanas" alongside an estimated 40,000 people in India's eastern state of Jharkhand as members of his Cabinet and foreign envoys rolled out their yoga mats in cities around the world.

"Let our motto beyoga for peace, harmony and progress," Modi said before joining the hour-long practice.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined thousands of fellow Indians for morning yoga. Credit: AP

Most of India's 191 embassies and consulates worldwide organised yoga sessions to commemorate the day.

At an event for diplomats in New Delhi featuring India's foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Israel's ambassador Ron Malka said Modi's use of yoga as a tool of diplomacy is "working quite well" to strengthen ties between the two countries.

Walter Lindner, the German ambassador to India, described Modi's yoga bid at the U.N. a "clever move."

"Yoga is a product which you can sell everywhere in the world," Lindner said, adding that 4 million people were participating in International Yoga Day events in Germany.

An Indian Sadhu, or Hindu holy man, performs a yoga position at Kamakhya temple in Gauhati. Credit: AP

The foreign ministry shared photos of yoga flash mobs on the streets of Kiev, colorful yoga mats around Brussels' Triumphal Arch, sun salutations under the Washington Monument, hundreds in seated prayer pose at Moscow's Tagansky Park and more than 500 people in identical transparent ponchos and black pants in front of the Yellow Crane Tower in rainy Wuhan, China.

International Yoga Day was marked by events across India and beyond. Credit: AP

Modi last year released a two-minute video showing him practicing yoga on his lawn at the prime minister's residence.

Some online commentators used the opportunity to compare Modi with India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Navy personnel and their families perform yoga aboard the navy vessel INS Viraat in Mumbai. Credit: AP

Many shared pictures of Nehru doing a headstand, an advanced yoga posture.

Of the benefits, Nehru wrote in his autobiography: "The slightly comic position increased my good humor and made me a little more tolerant of life's vagaries."