Participants practice yoga as part of a series of mass yoga classes set on… (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP/ Getty…)
NEW YORK -- There are many ways to celebrate the longest day of the year -- dancing around a maypole, partaking in fertility rituals, joining a Druid ceremony. And then there are those who chose to do yoga. Outdoors. In the middle of one of the busiest intersections in the world. With thousands of strangers.
Friday, around 16,000 people trekked to New York's Times Square to participate in Solstice in Times Square, an annual event where the flexible and not-so-flexible do positions like "downward facing dog" in front of hundreds of tourists, all to find inner peace -- and get a free yoga mat at the same time.
"It's really to bring calm and stillness to such a frenetic place," said Gia Storms, a spokesperson for the Times Square Alliance. "We love the juxtaposition of natural light with the neon lights, and its a way to celebrate stillness at one of the busiest intersections of the world."
The solstice celebration, Storms said, is the natural counterpart to the other big event in Times Square, New Year's Eve, when tens of thousands of people huddle in the dark and cold to usher in another year. The solstice event could hardly have been more different, with scantily clad and well-tanned men and women (but mostly women) stretching, bending over backwards, and breathing deeply.
"I thought I'd be really self-conscious, but I didn't even pay attention to all the people," said Michelle Canale, who came in with a friend from New Jersey to participate in an afternoon yoga class.
The first yoga class was offered in Times Square at 7:30 a.m. to usher in the day; the last class will be at 7 p.m. to welcome dusk. The event, which started five years go with three participants, grew to five classes held throughout the day Friday.
For tourists, the spectacle of hundreds of people raising their arms to the sky amid flashing neon lights and Times Square regulars such as Spider-Man, Buzz Lightyear, and a human Statue of Liberty was an added bonus. They snapped pictures and gawked as a yogi on a small stage called out instructions.
For Jacklyn Coyle, the flash mob of yogis was a surprise. The resident of New York's Orange County had ventured into the city to take pictures for a photography class and stumbled across the solstice celebration.
"It was kind of a shock to walk up on," she said. "But then again, nothing surprises you in New York."
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