June is a great month for yogis because the warm weather encourages the outdoor practice. It’s an especially fun month for NYC yogis because we get to do yoga on scenic rooftops, parks, and Times Square. Yes, we do yoga in Times Square! For the past twelve years, when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky and daylight is the longest day of the year we celebrate the first day of summer as a yoga community for a few hours in Times Square. Thousands of us unroll our gifted mats and do downward dog at this free yoga fest at Crossroads of the World. We can all give a collective Namaste to Douglass Stewart, who co-founded Solstice Times Square: Athleta Mind over Madness Yoga.
Photo by Alan Finger
We were able to catch up with Douglass to ask him the follow questions:
What was it that first drew you to yoga? I was injured as a dancer and started doing yoga to support my alignment.
When did you start to consider yoga as a career path? I can’t really remember the first moment I decided to be a yoga teacher, it didn’t seem like a deliberate choice I mean.
How did you get started as a yoga teacher? I was going to yoga classes at Yoga Zone. I ended up taking the training and about a year later I was teaching an early morning class.
What would you say are some of the biggest rewards about what you do? I’m inspired when I see in myself and in others the many benefits of yoga influencing my choices, consequently my life in general.
You co-founded Solstice Times Square: Athleta Mind Over Madness Yoga with Tim Tompkins, President of the Times Square Alliance. Where did that idea come from and why did you decide to put it together?
I could see how yoga had become such a great support for me as I transitioned from dance to the “real” world. It provided me with a structure and discipline, something steady and sure. I felt that if people could open their office doors or put down what they’re doing for an hour and practice anywhere; Times Square, the Brooklyn bridge, or a park…, it might help change the direction of things for a moment or two. Anxiety just might give way to peace.
I read that Tim Tompkins was a yoga instructor. Did you already know him before you came up with the idea?
I met Tim Tompkins just after I finished my yoga certification at Yoga Zone. We practiced yoga together and I was grateful that he allowed me to practice my new yoga skills on him. He has gone on to receive his yoga teachers certification. We hatched the idea about 14 years ago. I think Tim had just become president of the Times Square Alliance and I had just finished filming quite a few episodes of yoga for the Yoga Zone TV show. As the show ended its final season, I wanted to continue offering yoga, even if the setting was not as pristine as the beaches of Jamaica where the show was shot. Tim saw an opportunity to bring yoga into Times Square to promote business and especially yoga studios. I imagined people would open their offices in Times Square, do a simple sun salutation and return to work inspired.
How long did it take from idea to fruition for this yoga fest?
There were just 3 people that attended the first event. Tim, Caesarina and me! It was during the most dramatic rainy weather NYC had experienced at the time. The whole city was under weather watch and everyone was instructed not to go out unless it was absolutely necessary. So much for our idea of capturing the rising sun on the Summer Solstice! The New York Times arrived, however, and they published our story with a picture. We have grown exponentially since.
How do you go about selecting the charities you partner with?
We’ve partnered so far with those charities that are in some way inspired by the process of yoga and who incorporate that in their outreach.
What does your own diet and fitness regimen look like?
I love good food. I eat a simple diet consisting of fruits, nuts, rice, lentils and seasonal veggies. The joy of living in New York, of course, is all the many various cuisines. So when I’m out I’m more likely to explore…
How do you balance a busy schedule with a healthy lifestyle?
I practice yoga every day. I have since my mid-twenties. Without my practice, I feel less generous with myself and others. My yoga practice is the foundation for the day as it unfolds, often supported and inspired.
What would you consider “your mantra?” Only the Highest Good.
How did you discover Ayurveda?
Through my yoga certification training, we were introduced to it as being a major tenet of ISHTA Yoga founded by Alan Finger.
What’s your dosha? Pita leading and Vata, Kapha following almost evenly…
The Center is the NYC LGBT community center serving 6,000 visitors each week, providing groundbreaking social service, public policy, educational, cultural and recreational programs designed to nurture and empower LGBT people. Tell us about your involvement with The Center.
My friends and family have been very generous to me and I wanted to be able to offer something too. I imagined the LGBT Center as a sanctuary or a safe place to find peace. I thought yoga would be a great addition in that setting and so I’ve volunteered a yoga class there for nearly 15 years.
What’s your favorite Dosha Pops Flavor?
I haven’t tried them all yet but when I do I’m sure I’ll be balanced.
Photo by Amy Hart
Many thanks to Douglass Stewart for sharing his passion with us. We’ll see you on the mat!