Jerusalem, Jun 22 (PTI) With the COVID-19 related restrictions relatively lifted in Israel, the country celebrated the seventh annual International Yoga Day with a great deal of fanfare while maintaining social distancing and limiting the number of people.
Israel recently removed mask requirement even in closed spaces, having earlier done the same for open areas, and with restrictions on gatherings largely lifted, the enthusiasm around the popular annual celebrations made a big comeback.
A country with probably the highest number of practitioners and Yoga teachers per capita of population, Israelis held Yoga sessions in parks even during the lockdown period while following COVID-19 norms, maintaining social distancing and limiting numbers.
Despite Monday being a working day, Yoga enthusiasts in Israel found time to arrange several events in parks, beaches, promenades, old railway station turned social gathering spots and other picturesque spots across the country starting early in the morning going into late evening.
“It’s heartening to see the growing popularity of yoga, especially in Israel where the International Day of Yoga has now seeped deep into the consciousness. We thank everyone for their efforts and cooperation to celebrate this occasion. It is India’s gift to the world, and all the more relevant now in view of Yoga’s emphasis on overall well-being,' India's Ambassador to Israel Sanjeev Singla told PTI.
'While the pandemic considerations have restrained us this year, we hope to mark it on a bigger scale next year when we would also be celebrating the 75th anniversary of our independence and the 30th anniversary of the upgradation of our bilateral relations,” Singla said.
Almost every form of Yoga has patrons in Israel but Ashtanga Yoga with 95 centres across the country is clearly the favourite. Vinyasa and Vijnana with more than fifty centres across the country rank among the next favourites.
There are more than 1,100 registered Yoga teachers in Israel and Yoga centres can be found in almost every major township of the country.
Another popular stream of Yoga is the Iyengar School of Yoga which has 30 centres across the country. Its centre in Jerusalem's Talpiyot area organised an open week from June 20-25 on the occasion of International Yoga Day to familiarise interested Israelis with the form amid growing interest.
The Iyengar school has about 200 registered and approved Yoga teachers across the country, said President of Iyengar Yoga Association of Israel Oshrat Meir.
'We usually do a big event every year on International Yoga Day but given the uncertainties this year we have not been able to organise anything of that scale. We may do an event later sometime,' Meir said.
Ephrat Michelson, Yoga teacher and a practitioner of Iyengar form since 1985, quoting Geeta Iyengar, the late daughter of BKS Iyengar, said: 'for the yogis, every day is the day of yoga'.
'This day is meant for the world, not for the yoga practitioners. It is the call for the students and teachers of yoga to spare some effort to reach out to those who do not know, yet, the marvel of this science. Although yoga has a physical appearance, it is not a performing art. It is there for the study of oneself,' Michelson said.
'The occasion of the International day of yoga is a chance to express the aspect of beauty and harmony when the limbs of the body work together, and fellow practitioners practice together. So, in this festivity we go out to the surroundings, demonstrate in public, take photos with the background of our special town, and raise the awareness of the people to ignite them,' she stressed. A team of eleven Yoga teachers led by Michelson is conducting an open week on the occasion of International Day of Yoga to 'open doors to newcomers to have a taste of the nectar of Yoga'.
'It is a week of interaction with the society where we live, that expresses the spirit of Yoga as a philosophy that carries a message of friendship, warm heartedness and seeking for peace,' she said at her Centre.
'Preschool yoga, prenatal yoga, workplace yoga, yoga for soldiers… yoga in its many forms has found its way into virtually every area of Israeli life. Even government ministries and the Jerusalem prosecutor’s office offer weekly yoga sessions to workers,' said Chen Eytan, a Yoga teacher, who volunteers at schools and kindergartens.
Styles span the dynamic and therapeutic traditions, including Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini, Vinyasa and more, she said. 'Yoga is unity, and there is no better way to unite other people of the world than all of us practice together, spreading love and hope to the universe,' Chen said.
'There is a Yoga session in the promenade of Armon Hanatziv. At the old train station there are a lot of yoga activities throughout the day. There is a session of 108 sun salutations given by Maayan Shenhar in the evening and later the glow in the dark yoga with Sasha Leshem. Sira Yoga studio is having a big party with traditional raga music and indian food,' a young Yoga enthusiast listed down among some of the other activities planned just within Jerusalem for the International Day of Yoga.
Ayo Oppenheimer, a Yoga teacher whose daily sessions at the Gan Sachar (Sachar park) in Jerusalem attracts hundreds of people during normal times, organised a series of events in the past few days to celebrate International Yoga Day taking her team to the beach in Ashdod, Nes Harim forest and field school, and also Bloomfield Gardens.
'Vinyasa and Ashtanga tend to be the most popular style of Yoga in Israel. It is interesting because we Israelis are sometimes intense by nature, we are passionate, and we just throw ourselves into things and Ashtanga and Vinyasa are pretty physically rigorous practices,' she points out in a video. 'But at the same time the whole phenomenon of practising 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.
Ayo has her Yoga studio in the Nachlaot neighbourhood of Jerusalem, a place which has a mixed population comprising the religious, secular, students, artists - old and young people - co-existing.
'Everyone here comes together in a live and let live way. There is so much overlap between Jewish spirituality and the world of Yoga,' Ayo emphasises.
Yoga is taught across Israel at schools and even kindergartens and the youngsters here are generally aware of its Indian origin. Among many interesting facets of the Israeli Yoga scene is the new growing trend of pregnant women practising it during the nine-month period.
A mother of three young kids narrated how she accidentally found out about Yoga for pregnant women during her first pregnancy that was 'very difficult in the first half' but 'got better as she started doing prescribed asanas'.
'I have never stopped since,' she added. HM MRJ MRJ