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It’s 9:30 in the morning on a Tuesday. Ordinarily, Times Square would be swarming with people hustling to work, jostling with tourists taking in the sites. But it’s June 21, Summer Solstice, and Times Square is dotted with hundreds of yoga mats. People are setting up for the annual Solstice in Times Square event.
For the past 20 years (minus the period of the pandemic), this annual event has drawn hundreds of people celebrating the summer solstice and International Day of Yoga. On this day, the Times Square Alliance has organized a series of yoga classes—starting at 7:30 in the morning and ending after sundown—a steady stream of wellness amidst the noise and commotion of one of New York City’s busiest centers. This year’s theme: Mind Over Madness.
The 9:30 session, led by Ruchika Lal and presented by the Consulate General of India, emphasizes yoga’s roots on that continent, as well as the global reach of the practice.
“Yoga has been celebrated in the East, in the West, in the North, in the South, in each and every continent and each and every country of the world today. That is how popular the global embrace of yoga is today,” says Consul General Randhir Jaiswal as he introduces the session. He encourages yoga enthusiasts to join the movement with an eye to cultivating unity and togetherness.
A Taste of India
While the Times Square sessions promise to be a mix of high-energy, fitness-based, and easy-going classes, this one emphasizes the roots of yoga. It begins with a chant and prayers from Acharya Swami Avdheshanand Giri, leader of a prominent akhara or monastic center in India. He reminds the audience that yoga represents a union of mind, body, intellect, and soul.
“Actually yoga means to unlock oneself to become infinite and absolute,” he says. He describes four paths of yoga: the yoga of action and selfless service (karma), yoga of devotion (bhakti), the yoga of meditation (raj), and yoga of intellect (jnana). But all are designed to lead practitioners toward a state of bliss–the kind of happiness that doesn’t come from external pursuits but from going within. “When we are peaceful inside, we can help resolve conflicts and coexist peacefully,” he says.
Back to (yoga) basics
The yoga practice is led by Ruchika Lal, co-founder and CEO of Winked!, a wellness and meditation company. Formerly an executive for American Express, Lal has been teaching holistic yoga since 2010 with the Art of Living Foundation.
“Yoga is a way to kind of unite back with ourselves,” she says. In her session, she promises a taste of pranayama, a taste of meditation, as well as a gentle yoga. She begins with stretches to wring tension from the neck, back, and shoulders. She offers classic poses—Vrksasana, Trikonasana, Utkatasana—as well as those designed to open hips, twist the spine, and strengthen the abs.
“One of the things in yoga is being steady—sthira-sukham asanam—steady and easy.” she says, encouraging people in the crowd to listen to their bodies as they practice.
Lal’s asana practice includes an extended Savasana with a guided relaxation. Then she transitions to Pranayama–including Kapalabhati (Breath of Fire) and Brahmari (Bee) pranayama. She says of the latter, “This is apt for New York and Times Square where there is so much noise. We will block it all out and go back inward.”
Lal’s session concludes with a quiet, seated meditation. “This little piece of peace that we feel, let’s radiate that all over the city and the globe,” she says. “People are craving an in-person connection, so I can’t tell you how amazing it is to do class live and in person.”
Solstice In Times Square: Mind Over Madness
Feeling at little FOMO? We captured recordings of each class so you can practice yoga in Times Square any time.
Yoga class with Ruchika Lal, presented by the Consulate General of India, NY
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