Yoga Anywhere | Mindfulness in Times Square

Photo by Diana Zapata

Photo by Diana Zapata

I recently wrote about the importance of savoring summer before, in the blink of an eye, the season slides into fall.

On the first day of summer this year, my friend Aditi and I had the pleasure of participating in Solstice in Times Square with the intention of guiding thousands of yogis, ourselves included, in cultivating a sense of stillness in one of the most electrifying hotspots in the world.

Hotel Edison was kind enough to provide us with a sweet stay-cation suite to reboot after the longest day of the year. Here’s how it all went down:

aditi

Take a bird’s eye view of Times Square and it’s not hard to tell which people are tourists and which are New Yorkers. The New Yorkers are the ones walking as fast as they can away from Times Square. To the rest of the world, Times Square epitomizes the spirit and essence of NYC, but for those who live here, we know that its constant noise and endless hectic energy can start to become weary. It comes as no surprise, then, that blocking off Times Square to practice yoga is a much needed solace. Sasha and I were lucky enough to not just participate in the event, but to be a part of it.

sasha

New Yorkers walk with a mission. We know how to get to where we need to be as quickly as humanly possible, like ping-ponging through the tourist-laden crowds of Times Square. Although cluttered with lights, sounds, smells, and an overwhelming plethora of varying distractions for the senses, Times Square still remains a fascinating hub of life – something I try to remember when my teaching or dance class schedule takes me out of Brooklyn and into that pulsing melting pot.

To practice yoga in Times Square, I feel, paints a general picture of what yoga is in and of itself: bringing the attention back to the mind, body, and breath amidst an array of noise, whether it comes from thoughts, emotions, physical feelings, or external sounds. My experience two years ago as a student in Douglass’ class ended with me surprisingly asleep in savasana, unlinked to the palpable buzz surrounding us. That is yoga.

aditi

Have you ever had a moment in which you felt so much thanks that it that humbled and overwhelmed you? That’s the gratitude I felt when I knew I would get to reach out and touch THOUSANDS of yogis teaching in Times Square. On one hand, I felt the challenge of guiding 2000 people into an experience of yoga. On the other, I knew I was going to do what I do most days: teach yoga.

As a teacher, there is a need to “hold space.” In layman’s terms, I would describe this as creating a boundary within which the class can feel supported by the teacher. No student can truly try something new or feel safe within a practice unless they feel supported by their teacher. For me, knowing that this kind of energy was going to take over one of the busiest parts of the city made me feel absolutely elated and excited. For weeks, I dreamt about leading a chant of Om with a thousand voices and hearts.

 

I extended an invite to a community of new teachers at my studio to assist the class, and was overjoyed by the support and camaraderie of my community. To have some of my best friends on stage with me was the icing on the cake. Have you ever had a moment where you feel so much thanks that it that humbles and overwhelms you? That’s the gratitude I felt when I knew I would get to reach out and touch THOUSANDS of yogis teaching in Times Square. On one hand, I felt the challenge of guiding 2000 people into an experience of yoga. On the other, I knew I was going to do what I do most days: teach yoga.

sasha

Being on stage this year with my dear friend Aditi and her business partner Rachel filled me with an enormous amount of gratitude. After studying together in several NYC trainings, Aditi and I have been fortunate enough to partner on her Well+Good Sweat Series and sweat friends video, and a Mindful Morning at Athleta Soho of which Aditi is the store ambassador.

Aditi and I are, aside from teachers, dedicated students of yoga, and so it was wonderfully special to be able to support her as she led thousands of bodies through both challenging and therapeutic postures. Representing these lovely teachers and ladies, taking their excellent class, and moving intentionally with the breath alongside a sea of people in one of the world’s most well-known epicenters was, in Aditi’s words, far beyond humbling.

aditi

While I was teaching, I felt at home – just a teacher guiding students through an experience of yoga. Of course it was the largest class I ever taught, and of course, the momentum of thousands of yogis in Times Square felt bigger than anything I had previous experienced.

When we chanted Om, I felt everything woosh inwards. Times Square seemed to pause at the collection of everyone’s energy directed towards a singular sound and it penetrated the pervasive descriptors of the space. “Hectic,” “noisy,” and “busy” fell away, and all of a sudden we had a moment in which we were all human beings practicing an ancient art in the pursuit of yoga.

sasha

There is something incredibly invigorating about coming together as a community, all with the goal of yoga, or “oneness,” in mind. I had the pleasure of performing in 2015 during the same Solstice event, and demoing for Aditi and Rachel this year was equally as meaningful. Filling the air with the universal sound of OM at the end of class was one of the most powerful moments of the day; it was absolutely magical and unbelievably grounding to hear the blending of this spiritual vibration with the ongoing rattle of New York City.

aditi

After the class, I felt the residue of teaching, but I also felt like I had just spent a week at a boxing camp – physically and mentally exhausted. Luckily, Sasha and I were headed to Hotel Edison to reboot. We had in our arsenal:

  • restorative yoga postures to balance our nervous systems,
  • a knowledge of meditation to still our minds
  • Sauca essential oil products for added therapeutic effects

The hotel offered us a suite with two super comfy queen size beds, a balcony with a gorgeous sunset for eye candy, and a separate room with space for us to CTFO. We took advantage of all of it. We rubbed balms on our wrists and breathed in calming scents like frankincense and lavender. We put our legs up a wall and over a couch and felt our muscles relax. We sat quietly with our thoughts and tried to steady our minds.

sasha

I knew Aditi would need some serious R&R after class, and I myself had been bouncing around the city to teach throughout the day. Thankfully Hotel Edison of Triumph Hotels provided us with a beautiful, cozy suite above the noisy streets of Manhattan. We had a little terrace to enjoy the day’s welcoming breeze, Sauca essential oil balms to soothe muscles and minds [we could not get enough of the grounding meditation balm], and – as yoga teachers often do – turned the couch and beds into restorative props. As we know we are both fortunate enough to have healthy, able bodies, we also are there to remind each other to cultivate balance by taking good care of ourselves and one another.

We ended the longest day of the year by watching the sun go down on our sweet balcony peeking over the Hudson river, the sound of OM still wafting through the air and our hearts, and talked about yoga right up until we fell asleep in Edison’s plush beds.

aditi

Yoga seeks equanimity of the mind. To be in Times Square can feel crazy – whether we avoid the noise and bustle, or whether we are elated to be part of a day of yoga. If our goal is to find a sense of evenness, one should aim to see things as they are and find ways to cultivate balance. So the moral of the story is that regardless of time, place or location, YOU have the ability to slow down, take a deep breath, close your eyes and sit still for a few peaceful moments.

sasha

It is no coincidence that the International Day of Yoga and Summer Solstice land on the same day. They indicate the awakening of a season and a collective consciousness toward a more mindful personal, communal, societal, and worldly life. Aditi and I hope to inspire these and other teachings of yoga throughout our own communities and we were deeply thankful for the opportunity to share that with New York City in Times Square.

Originally posted on Sasha Yoga + Wellness, co-written by Aditi + Sasha.

Aditi Shah

Aditi Shah Yoga, New York, New York