Israelis stay socially distanced while celebrating International Yoga Day

Although mass gatherings were off limits, smaller groups met to practice a variety of yoga styles.

 (photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)
(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)
Hundreds of Israelis gathered at open spaces across the country on Sunday in celebration of the sixth annual International Yoga Day - in a socially distanced manner, of course.
Thanks to regulations brought in to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the mass gatherings of hundreds of yoga enthusiasts which have marked previous years' celebrations were not an option for this year's event, but smaller groups came together to practice the various forms yoga has to offer.
“Gatherings of more than twenty people are not allowed, but we, the yoga and India enthusiasts, could not keep ourselves from celebrating the International Yoga Day. It is something that has become a part of our daily lives and there was no way not to show our respect to what we love today,” Ruth, who has been practicing yoga for 20 years, said, according to The Hindu.
Jerusalem's The First Station, a cultural arts venue, played host to a whole day of free yoga events, including yoga classes, movement workshops focusing on breathing techniques and calming practices incorporating yoga lessons, yoga for children, and the traditional 108 blessings ceremony.
The event was a reflection of the yoga scene in Israel in general, where every form of yoga has its adherents.
“Preschool yoga, prenatal yoga, workplace yoga, yoga for soldiers - yoga in its many forms has found its way into virtually every aspect of Israeli life," said Chen, a yoga teacher who volunteers at schools and pre-schools. "Even government ministries and the Jerusalem prosecutor’s office offer weekly yoga sessions to workers.”
Among the forms on offer are Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini and Vinyasa, as well as merged forms such as aerobic yoga.
“Vinyasa and Ashtanga tend to be the most popular style of Yoga in Israel," yoga teacher Ayo Oppenheimer said. "It is interesting because we Israelis are ‘intense’ by nature, we are passionate, and we just throw ourselves into things and Ashtanga and Vinyasa are pretty physically rigorous practices.”
With more than 1,100 yoga teachers in Israel, and yoga centers found in nearly every major town in the country, Israel has one of the highest rates of yoga practice per head of population in the world.
Ayo's daily sessions at the Gan Sacher park in Jerusalem can draw hundreds of people during regular times, as Israeli's flock to her grounding practices.
"The whole phenomenon of practicing yoga in Israel is powerful and exciting and it just makes sense as yoga is about balance, to balance out that Israeli passion and chutzpah and vibrancy and vivacity for life with just the ability to breathe and calm and chill out and connect inside. That’s where the magic happens,” she said.
Yoga has become particularly important to Ayo during the coronavirus lockdown, as the skills she has mastered through the practice enabled her to keep calm, even while at home all day with two small children during the lockdown.
"There is so much overlap between Jewish spirituality and the world of yoga. [It has] been so powerful just to stay grounded and connected,” she added.
But she said that teaching really brought the experience alive for her.
“When I teach I am so profoundly present and connected. I am aware of everything my students are doing and need, and yet there is a part of me that is floating, that’s flying and I bless everyone to experience that at some point in life. That sense of just flow."