What is the summer solstice?
For 2013, it was Friday, June 21 when the rays of sun directly strike one or two of the latitude lines. It marks the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere (and simultaneously the beginning of winter for the southern hemisphere). The summer solstice is also the longest day of the year, and days from now on out will become shorter.
Why do we celebrate the summer solstice?
Traditions go way back to pre-Christian traditions, where, for the Greeks, it marked the beginning of the new year and the month-long countdown to the Olympics. If you want to take a deeper look at history, read this fantastic article from Scientific American.
Outside of culture and tradition, there are psychological reasons why we celebrate the solstice. Studies have tried to prove that some people’s happiness is linked to the amount of sunlight they get in one day. While I wholeheartedly agree (as would my college roommate, Bek) it’s still difficult to prove.
Then, in 2011, a group of researches examined tweets from 2.4 million people all over the world from a period of February 2008 to January 2010. The test was to see if we were emotional at specific parts of the day, the day of the week, and what amount of sunlight was available on that particular moment. The conclusion? “By the time the solstice rolls around, then, we’ve been on a happiness up-slope for half the year—a build up of positivity if ever there were,” via Scientific American.
So, MY conclusion is that celebrating the summer solstice means we embrace the sun and it’s healing benefits because we know that it’s not going to be available year-round. A perfect excuse to practice yoga on Monument Circle in Indianapolis, wouldn’t you say?
Why yoga & the summer solstice are connected
Just as Scientific American mentioned the connection between the sun and happiness, I connect happiness with yoga. In yoga, there is a sequence of poses called Surya Namaskar, which translates to “Salutation to the Sun.” It is considered auspicious for yogis to wake up at dawn on the summer solstice and perform 108 repetitions of Surya Namaskar. We practice sun salutations in yoga class, but definitely not 108 of them. (How long would that take??)
Here’s an image of a Surya Namaskar in sequence, as shown by a cow:
In Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras (affiliate link) 3.26 it’s written in translation, “One learns from the perfect discipline of the sun and solar system.”
Monumental Yoga during the Summer Solstice
I had heard through the grapevine that Indianapolis was offering it’s own summer solstice ceremony by practicing yoga with multiple teachers on Monument Circle, which is the heart of downtown Indianapolis.
At first, I thought – yay! Yoga with lots of other people. What a fun time.
Then, my second thought was – It’s a Friday at noon. 80% humidity and 90 degrees. Hot pavement. Elevated towards the sun. Can I really do this?
Of course, I can. If other people can, then so can I. After almost 3 months of practicing yoga on a regular basis (3-4 times a week, sometimes more), it was more a matter of “could I deal with the heat” vs “could I handle the poses,” so I decided to sign up. Yvonne and Paul, two people that also attend Santosha School, wanted to attend, so we carpooled our way downtown.
Monumental Yoga was a bit of a mystery to me until it actually happened. I along with a small group from Santosha School made a space at the very front of the monument just behind our teacher. While I thought about moving to the back, or the grass, in the grand scheme of things it didn’t seem to matter where I was, so up front I stayed.
5 yoga instructors were placed at the top of the monument for everyone to watch as they would emulate the flow of the practice as taught by 5 other yoga instructors. These verbal instructors had a microphone and gently guided us on our way to yoga enlightenment. Gentle coaching through a slow-moving sun salutation series was what we received, and I loved it. Our teachers understood that this was hot yoga at it’s finest, and they taught us movements that were a beginning level for everyone.
“A wise yogi knows when to take child’s pose,” one of the teachers said. It was hot, and I definitely took a few breaks for drinking water and to wipe the sweat that poured off of me.
This was me BEFORE we started.
I didn’t have many pictures because I was busy paying attention to the teachers, but that ended up being okay because the dozens of television stations and media outlets hovered around us, photographing and filming our every move.
Indianapolis was just a small part of the movement that was happening all around the world. Check out photos from New York City, where 15,000 yogi’s practiced yoga in Times Square.
Want to learn more about yoga? Follow my “Say Om” board on Pinterest!