The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, the significance of which humanity has celebrated culturally for thousands of years. This year I took an active part in this celebration as a yogi and had the honor of teaching in the Times Square Alliance and

7am class, June 21, 2015 - photo courtesy of Times Square Alliance

7am class, June 21, 2015, taught by yours truly

Athleta sponsored Solstice Times Square event in Times Square, New York City.  Started by New York Yoga teacher Douglass Stewart of Ishta lineage and his student and devout yogi Tim Tompkins, Solstice Times Square has grown significantly from an original three yogis  in 2002 to roughly 10,000 in the last thirteen years!

With Douglass Stewart, co-founder of Solstice Times Square - photo courtesy of Danielle Colding

With Douglass Stewart, co-founder of Solstice Times Square – photo courtesy of Danielle Colding

This year, the June 21 Solstice also marked the inaugural year of The International Day of  Yoga. Thousands of yoga practitioners descended upon the brightly lit four block radius of signage, advertising, throngs of people, Broadway shows and innumerable spectacles for free yoga, and to participate in the transformation of one of the most madness-inducing centers of the world to one of peace, presence and wellness. The new International Day of Yoga holiday added Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and many ambassadors and dignitaries from the United Nations to this eclectic gathering. Sri Sri Ravi led a brief yoga practice and the dignitaries spoke on the phenomenally unifying and healing potential that the technology of yoga, ancient though it is, can have on the UN’s mission for world peace, human connection, humanitarian endeavors.

Participating in this event as a yoga teacher was magical for me. What a freakin’ privilege! One of organizations I work for called Bent on Learning was a recipient for the proceeds of participant donations for the last few years, and when Times Square Alliance approached them about suggesting a teacher for the new

With my MainStage demonstrators, donning their Bent on Learning t-shirts -photo courtesy of Times Square Alliance

With my MainStage demonstrators and Douglass Stewart: Vivian Kurutz, Lalita Dunbar, and Kendra Jackson donning their Bent on Learning t-shirts -photo courtesy of Times Square Alliance

7am yoga class they decided to add at the 11th hour to an already existing 5-class schedule for the day, I said yes immediately to the offer. It was only in the week or so after that the international import of this year’s Solstice event and the larger than life production value of the event (four blocks filled with students, four stages with demonstrators on each and me on the main block stage, screens, cameras, onlookers, etc.) started to sink in. What an extraordinary responsibility: to have 60 minutes as a teacher to share yoga and mediation as practical tools for liberating the madness of mind and the harm it causes in ourselves, communities and the world at large. That’s when the pressure hit me. It wasn’t until my sister reminded me that I had done this before, “been on Broadway,” that is, that I started to put things into perspective.

My “first experience” on Broadway was as an understudy in a Broadway play called The Vertical Hour, by David Hare. It starred Julianne Moore and Bill Nighy. I got to go on three times. And the surprising discovery I had was that after many years of stage fright and overwhelming anxiety before opening night performances, the significance of finally making it to the theatrical acme of most stage actors’ careers, all the training and preparation allowed my heart and mind to be

Being interviewed by NDTV airing live in India to televise coverage of the International Day of Yoga celebration in America - photo by Danielle Colding

Being interviewed by NDTV airing live in India to televise coverage of the International Day of Yoga celebration in America – photo by Danielle Colding

ease. For the first time in my life, I performed without the debilitating experience of self-defeating self-talk and wrenching physical palpitations. It was bizarre and other worldly simultaneously. It was as if I wasn’t “myself” anymore. Similarly, my yoga practice, and in particular, my mindfulness meditation practice has helped me create space between emotional triggers that cause anxiety in me. Instead of resisting many of these triggers, I have grown accustomed to allowing them to be present, and in so doing, I find that they pass away freely, and with less physical and mental drama.

Needless to say, I enjoyed being a part of Solstice this year quite a lot. What has shifted about both my teaching and performing practices today is my attitude: I rarely if ever make them about me at all. Instead I ask myself, what do they need? What tools can I make accessible that will serve the needs my students have? What tools do I have available that can help me tell this story truthfully? This year, the need or narrative theme for Solstice Times Square was: “Mind Over Madness”. The teaching challenge that this created for me was clear: I must share practical and measurable yoga and meditation tools that my students today can walk away with and use in the future to serve the desperate need that we all have to find peace in the midst of chaos that life inevitably brings. The challenge and fun of finding a creative way to share yoga that would help answer that question was where my energy went, not being made crazy by my own fears and anxieties.

photo courtesy of Times Square Alliance

photo courtesy of Times Square Alliance

Not unlike the classes I teach at Harlem Yoga Studio, Harlem Wellness Center, and in schools, Solstice Times Square boasts one of the most diverse populations of yoga practitioners I’ve had the pleasure of teaching. I was also deeply moved by the incredible outpouring of support that came in the form of yoga demonstrators on the stages and “spotters” who assisted the Solstice event participants. Interestingly enough, most of these were from my “yoga tribe”, diverse and devoted yoga students like myself, who often don’t get to share in the “spot light” of a yoga stage such as this one. Their willingness to show up for me, to support me and the work I’ve believed in since the day I took my first class 17 years ago was not lost on me. I couldn’t have done it without them. After the event, students approached me for selfies from all over the country and world. When I walked through the students on the main block, I was so amazed to see a range from true beginner practitioners to advanced, from young to old, and with agile to fragile bodies. Add the wet ground from the rain that stopped just in time for the start of my class, and my soul couldn’t help but be stirred by the true power and unifying impact of yoga on the Soul-stice. It literally got people from all walks of life up out of bed to shift the energy of typically maddening location on what could have been a potentially dreary and lazy day. Look what yoga can do, y’all. Look what yoga can do!