Last Thursday, June 21, I, along with another one or two hundred people, welcomed summer and celebrated the sun. At 6:30pm, a solid hour before the blazing yellow planet was due to set, we rolled out our yoga mats on the deck outside of Ella Yoga and slathered on sun screen, getting ready to begin 108 Surya Namaskara or sun salutations , a free event sponsored by the studio. I had a perfect spot, a few feet from the small square stage and between two friends: my yoga teacher friend Ruty with whom I practice every Tuesday to one side and my childhood friend Judy and her friend Debi to the other.
I looked up at the sea of faces and smiled at my new community: Orita, also from our Raanana teachers’ practice, along with her teacher and our guide for the evening, Shimon; Tal from the Anusara training I did in December; Yana from the juice fast and yoga retreat; Einat, Yodefet, Anat, Orly and Ella herself, all of whom work at Ella either behind the scenes or as teachers. I also eyed a woman breastfeeding her baby and a young mom with her two boys, the three of them sharing two mats. I waved hello to some friends from afar and went over to others for a hug.
Around 6:45, standard Israeli time, Shimon, a renowned Ashtanga instructor in Israel, took his seat, wearing a basic white t-shirt, thin sweats and an almost inconspicuous microphone. His silvery hair and bronzed skin shimmered in the sun light. He sat quietly in sukasana, closed his eyes and waited. Slowly, we quieted too. He opened up the practice with AUM (otherwise known as OM) and a short dharma talk. Then he called up Orita to take her place on a mat next to him to demonstrate a sun salutation as he said the names of the pose and counted in Sanskrit.
And then it was our turn. With our eyes on Orita and our ears on Shimon, we stood strong and still in mountain pose, in anticipation. He called, we moved:
1 ekam urdhva hastasana upward salute inhale
2 dve uttanasana forward fold exhale
3 trīṇi ardha uttanasana spine extension inhale
4 catvāri chaturanga dandasana plank to low plank exhale
5 pañca urdhva mukha svanasana upward facing dag inhale
6 ṣaṭ adho mukha svanasana downward facing dog exhale
7 sapta ardha uttanasana spine extension inhale
8 aṣṭau uttanasana forward fold exhale
9 nava urdhva hastasana upward salute inhale
10 daśa tadasana standing with hands at heart exhale
Over and over. One after the other. Again and again: 10, 20, 30 and so on. I breathed but I didn’t break. Every so often, Shimon would tell us how many we had finished: 40, 80, 100. As a group, we moved up and down faster than the sun. Beads of sweat dripped down my forehead and crept into the crevices of my body, the heat lubricating my joints. Some people stopped and sat on their mats to watch. At one point, Judy and I turned our backs away from Shimon to face the sun and the sea. We continued to move, listening to the words and numbers, lifting our arms, lowering our bodies, from pose to pose. All the while, we watched the sun slowly descend and hover before disappearing completely, as if into the water. Toward the 98th, I paused for the first time to take pictures of the sunset and noticed some passers-by had stopped to admire us, taking photos with their phones.
By the 100th sun salutation, Shimon began dedicating them, to Orita, Einat, Yodefet, Ella and others. And then, before we knew it, we reached 108, our final one. Dripping with perspiration and tired in my arms, I felt strong and centered. For the final few minutes, we sat on our mats, facing the teacher, our eyes closed, thanking each other and ourselves for the practice, the breath, the body. Judy pointed up toward a restaurant overlooking the deck at a wedding with a chuppah or wedding canopy and what looked like a rabbi with a black hat, awaiting the bride and groom, guests milling about on the terrace. I quickly grabbed my camera to catch it on film. While we chanted our final AUM, the wedding party recited the traditional seven blessings.
After opening our eyes, Shimon and Orita, whose brother owns Vaniglia gelato stores in the Tel Aviv area, stepped off the stage. People passed around baskets with wipes to clean our hands and then Orita’s brother arrived with two helpers and what looked like a dozen kilos of different ice cream containers, cups and spoons. We were invited to get glida, to cleanse our palette and fill our empty bodies. The scoop of cookie crunch was just what I needed.
With ice cream in hand, Judy and Debi and I sat on our mats, discussing what we thought, how our 40-something-year-old bodies felt. At that moment, I felt great, empowered, like I could climb a mountain. The repetition of that many Sun Salutations had become a moving meditation, allowing me to turn deep inside, forgetting the outside world, enabling me to turn off my one-on-one chitter chatter. To practice so intensely surrounded by community adds another layer, one of togetherness, unity, deep connection. Now, all that waits to be seen is how my body—and mind—will feel in the aftermath.*
*Note to soon-to-be-47-year-old self: 108 forward bends, jump backs, down dogs, planks, push ups, back bends might be excessive. By Friday, I felt weak in my upper arms and by Saturday, I could barely stand up, my upper legs were so tired and sore. I vow to take it easy and let my body rest this week…