Zen in the City: Yoga at the Great Lawn

10,000 yogis gather in New York's Central Park

What do you get when you combine the world's largest yoga event, the scintillating energy of New York City and a hot summer night's dream? A living reality, that's what. Amidst the car horns, ambulance sirens, summer heat and fast pace of the city, yogis left their work chakras in the office to seek out deep breaths and inner peace on Central Park's Great Lawn on June 22.

As world-class teacher Elena Brower and 200 yogis from a variety of New York City studios assembled backstage, we knew we were prime for a valuable experience. There was no denying the energy and the collective soul of a vibrant city when its people were gathered in the heart of a park, nature’s best friend.

As more than 10,000 yoga participants showed their tickets and received blue yoga mats from Gaiam and JetBlue and water bottles from SmartWater, they were smashing records in terms of celebrating the first ever summit, if you will, of yogis. Backstage there was a certain zen to the energy as performers enjoyed gingerbread cookies by One Lucky Duck and health bars by KIND. Participants twirled hula hoops around their waists as a woman on stilts weaved in and out of the waiting crowd.

Attendees seemed excited to be part of the action at this first-time event. Jean Ysera from Brooklyn decided to come to Yoga at the Great Lawn because it seemed interesting and fun. “I’ve never done this before with 10,000 people enjoying yoga in Central Park!" she explained. "Also, I hadn’t been on the Great Lawn for a big event.” Although she does yoga about once a week, she’d like to do it more and is hoping this event may perhaps spark a renewed interest.
For Joanna Hessling of West Caldwell, attending the event was a no-brainer. She works in the Hearst Tower, only a hop, skip and jump from the Great Lawn. “I’ve never actually done yoga outdoors,” Hessling said. Plus, she practices regularly so this was another way to get her yoga in. “I do yoga twice a week and I just joined a yoga studio last week. It’s just a great opportunity to spend the second day of summer.”
For others, like volunteer Jannette Patterson, a vegan from Central Park West, the event marked an opportunity to contribute her time and become part of the action. “I volunteered because I’m inspired by Sharon Gannon to get involved in yoga in different ways. I thought I could spend the afternoon and hand out yoga mats. It’s an amazing event with so many people here!”
Yogi aficionados assembled their mats for Yoga on the Great Lawn and took in performances by 13 Hands, World Poetry Slam Champion Buddy Wakefield, comedian Reggie Watts, Wah! and O’Nkosi Rhythms. But New Yorkers weren’t the only ones in on the action. The event was streamed live and broadcast to satellite classes around the country, including The Standard Hollywood and The Standard Spa in Miami Beach. Though to get the full experience, you definitely had to be there!
After performers and participants rocked out to an impressive chant of “Yo-Ga, Yo-Ga” (insert flashback to the 1970s classic Animal House with “To-Ga, To-Ga”), it was time to begin the main attraction. With a cello playing in the background, along with several other instruments, Elena addressed the crowd, saying there was a possibility of rain. Although thousands of participants collectively booed, as they say in Hollywood, "the show must go on." And so it did, albeit briefly.
Words cannot adequately describe the collective “Om” that reverberated through the uptown section of this city. In an otherwise bustling, fast-paced city, serenity was claimed in Central Park. As yogis collectively owned stillness in the city that never sleeps, whether they were a beginner or a novice mattered not. 

As the event moved along at its own peaceful pace, the easy poses let New Yorkers block out the noise and focus on their breath while letting in the serenity of the Sukhansana’s leg fold. And the standing forward bend was no different. As yogis pressed their fingertips into the grass, deep inhales and then exhales released the city’s stresses into the full Archa Uttanasana pose. As yogis owned their own peace and gratitude within their lives with a few of these initial poses, no quicker could you say, “downward-facing dog,” did it abruptly end with a rain storm.
Although Mother Nature didn’t play her part, perhaps she will cooperate more next time; the event will supposedly be rescheduled for late August or early September. Perhaps the mellow, introspective tone of the night in an otherwise frenetic pulse of the city could be summed up best by the parting words from the announcer: “Please exit the space with a calm yogi attitude.”

Thank you for signing up!


Rhiannon421's picture
User offline. Last seen 6 years 3 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 07/08/2010

Unfortunately, my experience was nothing like what was described in the article. I waited in a very long line for two hours, and by the time I got to the Great Lawn, it began to rain. When it was announced that the event was cancelled, people began pushing and shoving, and it got so bad that someone had a panic attack!

Add comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.