Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year and celebrated as the first day of summer.
New Yorkers celebrated uniquely by sponsoring a daylong yoga event that began early this morning. It is estimated that 14,000 people attended the event.
Temperatures surpassed 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but event participants seemed to enjoy the experience anyway. This is the tenth year that yoga practitioners have laid down their mats in Times Square and settled into a renewed New York state of mind.
Some 1,500 yoga mats were distributed free for the occasion, and pedestrian spaces in New York's most frenetic crossroads were completely covered.
All day, thousands of yogis, beginners and veterans alike, sweated in the heat, following directions broadcast over loudspeakers.
The first of the free short courses began at 7:30 a.m., and the last was scheduled for 8:30 p.m., to the delight of tourists.
Yogis spread out across several of Times Square's pedestrian plazas spent 90 minutes balancing, bending, and stretching, one of three classes being at the Crossroads of the World in the annual celebration of the summer solstice.
The class, a set of 26 postures and two breathing exercises, was run by Rajashree Choudhury, a five-time winner of the All-India Yoga Championship and wife of, the founder of Bikram Yoga.
"If you can make it in Times Square perfectly, then you are a perfect yogi," she told her captivated audience before the class. "The solstice is the celebration of the sun. As yogis, we worship the sun.”
The Sun Salutation sequence is 12 poses or asanas. The Sun Salutation ,also known as Salute to the Sun and Surya Namaskar, is a flowing series of poses which help improve strength and flexibility of the muscles and spinal column. This pose also warms up the body and tones the abdominal muscles. View the sequence here.
The event, put on by the Times Square Alliance and activewear maker Athleta, has become an opportunity for many to experience a more peaceful version of one of the busiest parts of the city, according to dnainfo.com.
"It purifies your body, it makes you feel great. It heals and revives you," said Jillian Sage, an instructor at Bikram Yoga NYC.
"Everyone who you know is here. There's a sense of peace and togetherness despite how busy it is."
For Alexandra Ruiz of the Upper East Side, it was also a milestone: her final class capping off 130 consecutive days of Bikram Yoga.
"It's changed my life," she told dnainfo.com.
My own experience is also amazing. Due to hip osteoarthritis, I had to walk using a walker until I could have hip surgery last year. During that time my spine began to curve because I could not walk upright. After hip replacement, and I could walk again, I still had back pain and difficulty standing up straight for extended periods of time. Since starting yoga only three months ago, my spine has become elongated again, and the back pain is gone. “It’s changed my life as well.”
Yoga has many definitions and interpretations, and for Ruiz perhaps the ability to attain the unattainable is best. Michael Stone, a renowned yoga teacher and Buddhist in Toronto, says it’s the concept of internal and external alignment. Indeed, yoga creates a state of attentiveness bringing the strands of the inner and outer consciousness in unity with the mind, soul and body.