Undeterred by COVID-19, Israelis celebrate Int’l Yoga Day maintaining social distancing

Harinder Mishra

Jerusalem, Jun 22 (PTI) Undeterred by the COVID-19-enforced curbs on social gatherings, Israelis assembled in smaller groups and observed the sixth International Yoga Day with a lot of fanfare across the country.

'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 (IYD). 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, a Yoga practitioner for the last twenty years, told PTI.

Israel, a country with probably the highest number of practitioners and Yoga teachers per capita of population, has seen Yoga sessions in parks even during the lockdown amid the coronavirus crisis with people strictly following social distancing norms.

Unlike in the past when hundreds of Israelis would gather in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the sixth IYD has seen smaller groups of people celebrating the 'annual festival' at scattered venues, including the beach in Tel Aviv.

In Jerusalem, The First Station, a hub of cultural activities, saw the culmination of the celebrations with some twenty people participating in the 'Glow Yoga' session late in the evening.

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.

'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. Even government ministries and the Jerusalem prosecutor’s office offer weekly yoga sessions to workers,' Chen, a Yoga teacher, who volunteers at schools and kindergartens, told PTI.

Styles span the dynamic and therapeutic traditions, including ‘Ashtanga’, ‘Iyengar’, ‘Kundalini’, ‘Vinyasa’ and more, she said.

` 'Vinyasa and Ashtanga tend to be the most popular style of Yoga in Israel. 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', Ayo Oppenheimer, a Yoga teacher whose daily sessions at the Gan Sachar (Sachar park) in Jerusalem attracts hundreds of people during normal times, pointed out.

'But at the same time 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.

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. Being a mom of two small children, especially during these past two months of social distancing with everyone inside the house, Yoga has been so powerful just to stay grounded and connected,' Ayo emphasised.

'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,” she added.

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 practicing it during the nine month period.

Ravital, a mother of three young kids, enthusiastically 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 RAX RAX