A Yoga demonstration by three people in 2003 in pouring rain at Times Square, also called the crossroads of the world, is now a movement called the Solstice in New York - Mind over Madness Yoga.
The annual event, held on June 21 (also the International Day of Yoga), attracted thousands of participants, continued to inspire millions and showcased the world’s respect and admiration for India’s culture and traditions.
The event organised by the Times Square Alliance on Summer Solstice day, which usually occurs on June 20/June 21/June 22 in the northern hemisphere and denotes the start of summer in the US and Canada, saw participation from over 11,000 Yoga enthusiasts.
The people who attended included celebrities like two-time Olympian gymnast Aly Raisman and dignitaries like the Consul General for India Sandeep Chakravorty, who all braved a wet morning to participate in what was a series of free Yoga teaching sessions through the day in the heart of Times Square.
“The first year (in 2003) we invited the New York Times, all our students, and other yogis to come and do Yoga in Times Square but it was raining and the weather forecast was saying don't go outside if you don’t need to. . . so only three people came,” said Douglas Stewart, the co-founder of the Yoga event.
“The three of us (which included Tim Tompkins, the President of the Times Square Alliance) then did our tree pose near the famous statue on Times Square, took some pictures and left. Next year it was 75 people and now we see thousands as we go into our 17th year,” he said.
Last year the event attracted over 12000 yoga enthusiasts and like this Saturday, they came from all parts of the world which included many who did the annual trip as a ritual.
The event originated as an idea to promote business in that area, especially yoga studios - there were about four in 2003 but now ironically they are all over New York except Times Square because of high rental costs, said Stewart.
The Times Square Alliance, which produces the Winter Solstice event of New Year’s Eve, also thought of promoting the Summer Solstice Yoga event as a calm counterpoint to its other high-spirited event.
The thought initially was even to encourage people to step out of their offices, practice some yoga in Times Square and go back to work fully recharged and refreshed, but over the years this idea blossomed into an annual event and a pilgrimage for thousands from around the world.
Credit of the event’s success goes to the choice of day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the United Nations’s initiative to declare June 21 as the International Day of Yoga.
“The summer solstice marks the day when the sun stands still in the sky (the yearly moment when the sun is at its highest position in the sky for the longest period of time),” said Stewart. “There are so many different rituals and celebrations around the world on that day so we thought it was the perfect day for the event,” he said.
The celebration of the ancient Indian technique on that day also became universal after affirmation from the United Nations.
India’s Consul General Sandeep Chakravorty, who spoke at the event, congratulated the initiative in Times Square adding the practice of Yoga and now its international recognition was due to PM Modi’s pioneering UN resolution for an International Day of Yoga that was accepted by 177 countries.
“We have been traditionally practicing Yoga in India for hundreds of years but there was no concept to put it together. In 2014, when Prime Minister Modi was elected for the first time, it was his brainchild to give it an international face,” he said.
The Indian Consulate celebrated Yoga at the United Nations on Friday and is having another event in New Jersey on June 23 this Sunday.
“We are the grandfathers of this movement,” said Stewart. “It is incredible that you plant a seed, you have to of course nurture and take care of it, but because of some human need it starts to flower...who knew it would grow into this and be practiced across the world,” he said.