New Yorkers Unite in Times Square for Serene Yoga Celebration Amidst Urban Chaos

Top News New Yorkers Unite in Times Square for Serene Yoga Celebration Amidst Urban Chaos

On June 20th, hundreds of New Yorkers gathered in Times Square, a bustling and chaotic hub, to practice yoga in celebration of both the summer solstice and the International Day of Yoga. This unique location underscored this year’s theme, “Mind Over Madness,” emphasizing the mental and spiritual aspects of yoga that can be accessed even in the midst of chaos.

Susan Hu, one of the instructors at the event, highlighted this idea: “If you can practice in Times Square, if you can do yoga in New York, you can do it anywhere.” Hu, who led one of the seven hour-long classes offered during the 22nd annual Solstice in Times Square event, expressed her feelings about transforming the typically frenetic environment of Times Square into a peaceful yoga space. “It felt like we were turning this place of Times Square, which is usually full of a lot of passion, a lot of that rajas energy, into a big yoga playground.”

Hu, known by her initiated name Brinda Kumari Devi Dasi, led nearly 300 participants in connecting their bodies, breath, and minds, sharing stories of Lord Shiva, whom she described as “the first creative being who practiced all 8,400,000 yoga poses.”

Originally from Shanghai, Hu grew up atheist and moved to New York in 2012. Before discovering Bhakti Yoga, a devotional form of yoga, she felt a lack of purpose. Now, she believes her mission is to share the ancient wisdom of yogic philosophy. “It’s not just a physical workout class, but rather it’s a way of helping us to connect with our souls. It teaches (us) how to conduct ourselves in society, how to interrelate with each other, how to deal with our internal world, but also gives us the compass of how to really live our lives.”

Although the International Day of Yoga is an annual event, Hu emphasizes that anyone, regardless of age, fitness level, or spiritual inclination, can benefit from yoga at any time. “Maybe their body feels less achy, and maybe they find a peace of mind for a moment,” she said. “It’s incredible how everywhere around the world, people are celebrating this day that’s dedicated to the practice of yoga.”

The International Day of Yoga, established by the United Nations in 2014 following a proposal by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aims to raise global awareness about the benefits of yoga. The UN acknowledges yoga’s origins in the Indian subcontinent and its “unmatched power to deliver healing, inner peace and physical, spiritual and mental wellbeing.” Today, it is estimated that around 300 million people worldwide practice yoga.

“On this important day, let us all be inspired by yoga’s timeless values and its call for a more peaceful and harmonious future,” stated UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Dileepkumar Thankappan, known globally as Guru Dileep ji, played a significant role in establishing International Yoga Day at the UN. “I came from an interfaith family,” he explained. “I believe yoga is a universal teaching and should be beyond culture, language, ethnicity. It’s spiritual culture. Even imams will sing bhajans (devotional songs).”

In the West, yoga and meditation are often seen as physical exercises, popularized by practices like Hot Yoga or Core Power Yoga. However, the International Day of Yoga also serves as a reminder of yoga’s rich Indian heritage. Anu Sehgal, founder of the educational organization The Culture Tree, emphasizes the importance of acknowledging yoga’s origins in India. Growing up in an interfaith Hindu and Muslim family, Sehgal often took her school yoga classes for granted but later found comfort in the “universal” values they taught.

“Because yoga originated in India, yoga has been a part of our DNA,” said Sehgal. “There is just so much history that is transmitted to Indians, even Indians that are not born in India, about this ancient science that started in India. I think it prevails in our consciousness and culture at different levels.”

The Culture Tree, along with the Indian Consulate, is hosting an International Day of Yoga event on the historic ship Wavertree at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport. Sehgal hopes this event will help city-dwellers learn practical techniques to incorporate yogic philosophy into their daily lives. “People have to understand yoga is as much about our bodies as about controlling our mind,” she said. “It is about, you know, the root word yuj, which is uniting and joining and controlling our senses and ultimately our mind. That is the key thing. Once your mind is in control, you can do anything.”

Sehgal will also attend the UN’s International Day of Yoga celebration, featuring India’s top yoga and meditation practitioners. She believes the timing of the day, the longest of the year, is intentional. “I think today should be a real celebration of life and nature,” she said. “In our busy days, we just forget to appreciate things that have existed for centuries. You take a pause, you celebrate with family, with friends, you do some rituals, you do some prayers. But it’s all about just reminding ourselves that there is so much more to our lives than all the chaos that is happening.”

Nikita Bhasin, a 27-year-old Indian American yoga teacher and Hu’s mentee, integrates yoga into her daily work life at a startup. Raised in a religious Hindu household, Bhasin became a certified teacher at 17. “Having this practice and chanting and playing harmonium and learning more about the philosophy has helped me build more confidence to step into my identity,” said Bhasin, who now lives in New York.

Bhasin emphasizes that yoga does not have to be linked to Hindu religious devotion. “Yoga is a science, it’s a practice and then, religion is another practice, and you can connect them if you want to, but you also don’t have to,” she said.

Recently started teaching at Kala Yoga in Brooklyn, Bhasin was invited by Hu to be a demo teacher in Times Square. She described the experience as “pretty powerful,” with the contrast of Times Square’s usual hustle and the calm of hundreds of people practicing yoga. “It’s important to celebrate yoga and have a day to do that, which gives us the space and the attention,” she added. “But for many practitioners, like to me, every day is Yoga Day.”

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