Here’s a New York summer tradition you may not know about. Every summer solstice June 21st, for the past 14 years, a group of people gathers in Times Square to practice yoga. At the start it was just a few friends, just a few mats, just a few sun salutations. This past Sunday, June 21 2015, thousands of people gathered in Times Square for free yoga classes offered nearly every hour from 7AM to 7PM.
I was there the entire 12 hours (even longer actually). I spent the entirety of the longest day of the year watching people find zen amid the chaos of aggressive drivers, thralling crowds, flashing lights, and incessant advertisements.
I watched the day begin with a gray, humid drizzle. A little rain wasn’t enough to deter those who signed up for the 7AM first class. They slapped their mats down on the wet pavement, perhaps happy for its cool temperature in late June.
June 21st was named the International Day of Yoga this year. The Times Square event perfectly fit in with this new celebration. People all over the world practiced yoga in large groups to celebrate. Dignitaries from India, where yoga originates, were in Times Square and quite thrilled with the international distinction.
Athletica provided mats for all attendees throughout the day. They also gave sunflowers to the early morning classes. Flowers waving all over Times Square. Feet flying in the air. Large crowds moving and breathing in unison. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? Good thing I took pictures!
There were people of all different walks and different levels. Yes, the majority were ladies in Lululemon attire. But there were also old men with round physiques and surprising flexibility, a few father-daughter pairs for Father’s Day, many tourists in jeans who had not planned on a day of yoga but wanted to join in after walking by. Best of all there were some truly incredible yogis celebrating the 1st ever International Day of Yoga in the dirty, concrete, “crossroads of the world”.
Who knows how many sun salutations I watched that day but it’s no surprise the sun came out by late morning.
Solstice Yoga Times Square
Yoga in pretty much every open space in Times Square. From 42nd Street all the way up to 47th.
I tried to join in the fun! Hopped on a mat, grabbed a sunflower and tried to find balance. Concentrated on blocking out all the noise and comotion of every New York dweller’s least favorite landmark.
As you can see, I was so bad at yoga, I cleared out all of Times Square! That NEVER happens! It’s like my tragic lack of flexibility became a walk-way clearing super power!
Fine, fine, that’s not what happened at all. But to have the experience of being in a deserted area of Times Square? That was a once in a life time opportunity. Then to do a sun salutation alone on the empty street? It was pretty awesome.
By the end of the longest day of the year, I was starting to lose my mind. The sun, the lights, the fact that I’d been up since 4:15AM, it was all catching up the me. Was I seeing things? It seemed like the world was turning dark. The wind started rippling little pieces of trash in between the mats set down for the final class of the day. Just as my brain felt like it might burst, the dark clouds up above ripped open.
Down pour. All over Times Square. It came on so fast no one was really ready for it. People used their mats as shelter from the storm.
Most people stayed for the class. Of those people, each one I saw stayed in good spirits as well. A summer shower leaves you soaking wet in Times Square. So you stay and find peace and practice yoga. In a way, it was the perfect end to the day.
My shoes got soaked in the rain. That’s when I did the unthinkable. Maybe because I was losing my mind after a long day, maybe because connecting my feet with the earth felt like a solid yogi practice, maybe just because I could. I took my shoes off and stood barefoot in the middle of Times Square.
Stranger things have happened on Midsummer, I suppose. Shakespeare wrote a whole play about that. But this will certainly go down as something I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would do.
The clouds parted for blue sky and sun in time for the last yoga class of 2015 held in Times Square. The perfect end to the longest day of the year.
If you’re interested in participating in this event next year, visit the Times Square Alliance website for more info. If you don’t want to wait a whole year, Bryant Park has free public yoga all summer on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For all the info on that visit Bryant Park’s website.
Happy official summer everyone! Namaste!