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I Did Yoga Outside With 10,000 People Dressed in All White

And I was an anxious mess the whole time

If you'd been in a helicopter flying over Central Park's Great Lawn on Wednesday around 7pm, you would have seen an ocean of bodies clad all in white, dipping and stretching in unison on sunflower-yellow yoga mats. Then, somewhere toward the front of the crowd, you'd see a speck of purple, a small bruise on this otherwise mostly unblemished mass. That purple speck would be my derrière, doubled over in a downward facing dog.


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This was the New York City stop of the Lolë White Tour, the women's activewear label's celebration of peace, love, and mountain pose — and also a promotional opportunity for the brand's admittedly lovely White by Lolë line. Since 2011, the White Tour has brought al fresco yoga to landmarks in cities like Paris, Montreal, and, last year, to the Museum of Modern Art; this year's tour includes a gathering en plein air at the Eiffel Tower and in the Old Port of Montreal, where the company was born (as was I).

The event here promised to unite 10,000 yogis, dressed all in white, for 60 minutes of back-bending bliss performed to the strains of musician Donna De Lory, followed by a serenade from indie folk crooner Ingrid Michaelson (whose sweet ukulele ballad "You and I" you might recognize).

"I love what is peaceful, I love communion between people, I love what is aesthetic," Lolë CEO Bernard Mariette told Racked of the philosophy behind the White Tour. He's deeply tanned, making his white clothes and white teeth gleam all the brighter, and he has a thick French accent — France French, not Canadian-French. "We wanted to put everything together: communion, aesthetic, and peace. We decided to do an event all in white, for peace."

I couldn't find white shorts for the occasion, so purple Asics running shorts with a white stripe down the side would have to do. At least they weren't black, the shade typically favored for all occasions by the moody teenage goth that lives inside of me. I was mostly looking forward to the session, except for one little thing: large crowds make me anxious. Like, really anxious.

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That anxiety tends to bubble over and manifest in the sort of casual cruelty that's unique to New York: the kind where you bump into people on the street because you're staring at your phone instead of looking where you're going, but then give them the death glare as if they're the ones in the wrong. Given my near-pathological distaste for crowds, grime, humidity, strangers, and public transit delays, I'm constantly mystified as to why I chose to live and work in New York.

So how would I reconcile the same tranquility I get from yoga with the experience of doing it with 10,000 people — enough to fill Times Squares a few times over?

Yoga, on the other hand, is my sanctuary, and has been for about six years. These days, you can find me sweat-soaking my mat at Yoga to the People in Williamsburg. No matter how difficult the class, no matter how bad my balance, and no matter how wild and unkempt my hair is by the end of it, I always, always leave class feeling unstressed and carefree. So how would I reconcile the same tranquility I get from yoga with the experience of doing it with 10,000 people — enough to fill Times Squares a few times over?

Not very well.

It wasn't the crowd itself that stressed me out. In fact, the 10,000-strong throng was extremely well-managed thanks to the army of friendly volunteers in yellow tee-shirts patrolling the event, guiding yogis to their places, helping unwrap the very stubborn plastic around the yoga mats, and generally being smiley and serene and lovely. But no matter how well organized the event itself was, the very event-ness of it all produced in me the kind of emotional and intellectual overdrive that is the very opposite of Zen.

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For instance, before the session began, a very loud loudspeaker announcement asked that we please place all of our personal items in the yellow Lolë bags that had been provided for just that purpose and move the bags behind our mats. This was done, I assume, to enhance the aesthetic for photo ops. Then there were the pungent Porta-Potties ringing the Great Lawn — necessary, I suppose, but so not chill.

But I seemed to be the only one with concerns. The women in white leggings and tanks and tiny Lululemon tennis skirts around me seemed super serene, and as the session began — preceded by a few songs from Michaelson — I tried to channel their cool and focus with the setting sun on my shoulders.

From the stage, three yogis — Elena Brower, Colleen Saidman Yee, and Rodney Yee — began to lead us through the sequence while volunteers strategically scattered through the crowd served as visual aids for those too far back to see. This session was not my preferred kind of yoga, like the sweat-your-foundation-off Bikram-style or the fast-flowing vinyasa yoga I do at Yoga to the People. This was very much the peace-and-serenity-and-chant-om-a-few-times kind of yoga, complete with exhortations to be present in your body and to extend your arms to the sky as a graceful offering. But to be fair, this is the probably best kind of yoga for a humid Wednesday evening. And I will admit that doing yoga on an uneven grassy surface makes for a surprising amount of core work.

Here's a selection of the thoughts that leapfrogged through my head while I tried really hard to be present in my body:

I have to pee. There's no way I'm using one of those Porta-Potties.

It's so humid out.

Oh God, I'm not wearing enough deodorant.

Is my butt showing?

I want a Clif bar.

Is that a piece of grass tickling my leg, or a mosquito?

Everyone here is in better shape than I am.

Okay, now I really have to pee.

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Somehow, I stuck it out until final savasana — corpse pose. I collapsed on the mat, feeling ashamed of myself. And then, finally, it happened: peace. The humidity had broken! One of the yellow-shirted volunteers came by and tugged gently at my feet, giving my legs a little stretch. It felt amazing. I melted into the mat as Donna De Lory sang soothing, indecipherable words that nudged my brain toward blackness.

At the end of this sweet, sweet rest, I rolled onto my right side and buried my nose in the grass. The grass was startlingly green. Does grass always smell this good? Then Ingrid Michaelson returned to the stage to sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The yogis onstage joined hands and swayed to the music. Some of the volunteers in the audience did the same. I began to pack my things, imagining I radiated pure light and joy — or, at the very least, not toxic stress and exasperation.

"Today was unbelievable, the energy," Mariette said afterwards. "Every time, I'm thinking, it cannot be better. And now we're here, and it's magic." And then I left Central Park and hailed a cab. Why spoil my bliss by taking the subway?

The cab driver promptly took a bad route. Horns honked. People shouted at each other on the street. We wound up stuck at a red light for 15 minutes, then sardined in evening traffic on the Queensboro Bridge. My iPhone battery went from green to red. I wish I was back in Central Park, lying in the grass.

I eventually made it home, back to the air conditioned sanctuary of my Brooklyn 
bedroom. Finally, I was at peace.