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New Delhi — Millions of yoga enthusiasts bent and twisted their bodies in complex postures across India on Sunday as they took part in a mass yoga program to mark the first International Yoga Day.

In New Delhi, tens of thousands of schoolchildren, bureaucrats, homemakers, soldiers and ordinary folk spread their yoga mats across the capital’s main thoroughfare that has been transformed into one sprawling exercise ground.

Police kept vigil and security was tight as the crowd of yoga practitioners including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, members of his Cabinet and foreign diplomats twisted and turned their bodies and later meditated to mark the day.

Many believe that yoga, the ancient form of exercise, is the best way to calm the mind and the best form of exercise for the body.

Indian officials said more than 35,000 people participated in the event in New Delhi that was also an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the largest single yoga class at a single venue.

Similar yoga programs were organized in all Indian state capitals, in schools and colleges, government offices, hospitals and corporate offices across the country.

India’s Defense Ministry said that soldiers on the Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battleground in the Himalayas, and naval cadets on navy ships at sea would be participating in the Yoga Day events.

Modi spread his yoga mat among the rows of people and exercised with them. He had lobbied the United Nations and succeeded in getting the world body to declare June 21 as the International Yoga Day.

Modi told participants that yoga was a way of spreading a message of peace and harmony among people.

“We are not only celebrating a day, but we are training the human mind to begin a new era of peace and harmony. This is a program for the benefit of mankind, for a tension-free world and to spread the message of harmony,” he said.

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