To celebrate Summer Solstice, Jivamukti Yoga Jersey City teamed up with the HDSID (Historic Downtown Special Improvement District) to produce the first Yoga Fest Jersey City. It was held on the Newark Avenue Pedestrian Mall, and over 500 people attended throughout the day.
The event kicked off with 108 Sun Salutations led by 26 teachers (I taught 4 rounds) and then featured a one-hour Vinyasa class with Jai Sugrim. Participants also got to partake in 108 Japa Mantras and a 15-minute meditation.
Why 108 Sun Salutations?
Sun Salutations are the standard warm-ups for yoga asana practice, often known by their Sanskrit name Surya Namaskar. Surya is one of the Sanskrit names for the sun. Namaskar comes from the root namas, which means “to bow to” or “to adore,”and is also the root of namaste.
108 is a sacred number in yoga. It is the number of prayer beads on a mala, which yogis use for japa meditation. According to Shiva Rea, "there are 108 pithas, or sacred sites, throughout India. And there are also 108 Upanishads and 108 marma points, or sacred places of the body." In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Lord Krishna in Vrindavan had 108 followers known as gopis.
As a cosmos-minded yogi, my favorite "facts" about the number 108 have to do with the sun and moon. According to the Wanderlust website, the "diameter of the sun is about 108 times that of the diameter of Earth," which is true. It then goes on to say "The average distance between the Earth and the Sun is 108 times the sun’s diameter. The average distance from the Earth to the Moon is 238,800 miles, about 108 times the moons diameter."
I took out my digital abacus and did the math, and it turns out that the average distance from Earth to sun is 109 times the Sun's diameter, and the actual average distance from the Earth to the Moon is 110 times the Moon's diameter. Still pretty close, but I don't think we should round down to suit our mystical worldview, the world is mystical enough!
Truth is, we spend our relatively short lives on a rock with a paper-thin layer of atmosphere that protects us from cosmic radiation. We are kept warm by a star that truly is 108 times its own diameter in distance from us, on average. We live in a Goldilocks Zone and our existence seems highly improbable. When our ancestors looked up into the sky, they saw the sun as god. With our iPhones, selfie sticks, and driverless cars, we sometimes need to be reminded. This is all a miracle; bound by the laws of physics yet still shrouded in unfathomable mystery. Surya namaskar gives us an opportunity to honor the sun and everything it implies, when we set our intentions.
It looked like rain all day during the Yoga Fest, but perhaps due to the sincerity of the yogis practicing 108 Surya Namaskars, the rain held back and the sun prevailed. A layer of clouds kept the pavement cool, making it perfect weather for yoga asana practice.
Vinyasa Class with Jai Sugrim
The first time I went to practice yoga at Jivamukti Yoga's flagship studio in NYC, I took a Spiritual Warrior class with Jai Sugrim, circa 2010. Eventually I became a Jivamukti Yoga teacher, moved to NYC to work for them in 2012, and was laid off just this past Friday. Everything that has a beginning must have an end, alas.
While Jai and I were both resident yogis at Jiva NYC, I got to be a student on Yoga Sutra Now, a 65-episode television show on yoga of which Jai was the creator and host. Jai left Jivamukti NYC not long after that, and I have only seen him randomly since then. It was great to reconnect and see him in action again, a true master of his craft.
More Yoga Fest Photos
I took my fellow Jivamukti Yoga teachers Katherine Szekely and Jessica Stickler for a photo shoot with the beautiful murals that grace the walls of downtown Jersey City. I have professional-quality lenses for my iPhone 8 with the Moment system, and set it up to do this handstand selfie of the 3 of us.
Rishila, Reetu and Dima from Surya Yoga Academy in Jersey City. They taught 4 rounds of Sun Salutations each, and then shared these beautiful smiles.
One of the high points for me was meeting Mindra and his family and checking out their harmoniums. They later played kirtan on the stage.
Austin Sanderson, who completed the Jivamukti Yoga teacher training with me in 2011, opened Jivamukti Yoga Jersey City in 2014. Austin's vision for a yoga festival similar to the Solstice in Times Square brought us all together for this event. Next year promises to be even bigger, with continuous music on a second stage.