Hundreds of Israelis stretched out their downward facing dogs on the world’s largest yoga mat artwork in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, in honor of the third International Yoga Day.
Held internationally on the longest day of the year, Wednesday’s celebration in Israel had a special resonance, marking 25 years of Israel-India relations, and co-sponsored by the Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Fifteen hundred yoga mats, creating a 1,400 square meter artwork, depicted a colorful and rainy future Israel in the 100-year-old state of the year 2048.
Amit Trainin, an illustrator and professor at the Bezalel and Minshar art institutes, designed the yoga mat painting, inspired by more than 500 people who submitted visions of their ideal Israel.
Sharonna Karni Cohen, an Israeli raised in London, conceived and oversaw the yoga art installation. She is the founder of Dreame, a three-year-old start up which commissions artists to draw personalized artwork and prints it on different items.
“We thought it was a beautiful idea [for the yoga mat art] so we joined hands with Sharonna,” said Anju Kumar, the Indian deputy ambassador to Israel. “The message of yoga is for the good of everyone, peace, happiness, and holistic well-being. Yoga means unity between the internal and external being. When the internal conflict is over, it helps external conflict.”
Karni Cohen said she wanted the work to reflect optimism.
“I’ve been fascinated with the future of this country ever since I’ve been living here for the past seven years,” said Karni Cohen. “I think it’s important to emphasize being optimistic. This artwork is meaningful to me and symbolizes peace to the thousands of people who will come here today to practice yoga.”
Trainin, the artist, said 499 of the 500 people who submitted their visions of a future Israel imagined a positive and cheerful place. (The negative vision was from a journalist.)
“Most of the visions kept repeating themselves; the words ‘peace’ and ‘green’ came up a lot,” said Trainin. “I wanted to create this idea without showing Jews kissing Arabs because it is so cliché. Instead, I wanted to create a place that seemed welcoming.”
Trainin imagined a country filled with rain and rivers, including a Haifa where the industrial smokestacks were transformed into teapots that create rainclouds with their steam. “I grew up in a place where there wasn’t enough rain, and I always dreamed of living in a place with a lot of rain,” said Trainin, who grew up in Kibbutz Beit Nir next to Beit Shemesh.
International Yoga Day is practiced around the world. It started in December 2014 when India passed a resolution at the United Nations to recognize June 21, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year, as International Yoga Day. In a rare show of solidarity, 157 of the 193 member states at the UN accepted the resolution, and the first International Yoga Day was celebrated on June 21, 2015.
On Wednesday, countries around the world were holding public yoga events in a variety of different places — from 51,000 people practicing asanas with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Lucknow, India, to under water yoga in submarines, to events on rooftops and aircraft carriers.
In Israel, the Indian Embassy marked International Yoga Day at the Tel Aviv Port in 2015 and Jerusalem’s HaTachana First Station in 2016. “This year is a special year because it marks 25 years of diplomatic relations between India and Israel, so we wanted it to be in a special place, which is why we chose Rabin Square,” said Kumar.
Modi will visit Israel in the first week of July, in what will be the first ever visit by an Indian prime minister.
The event in Rabin Square included a number of yoga classes in different styles, a video message from President Reuven Rivlin, and speeches by Indian officials marking 25 years of diplomatic relations. Instructions to inhale and exhale and stretch towards the heavens echoed across the evening traffic as the last rays of the sun slipped below the horizon. Hundreds more were expected to join as events continued through the evening.
The Indian Embassy also oversaw yoga programs in a number of schools across Israel as part of International Yoga Day, to encourage yoga practice in the younger generation.
Karni Cohen, who oversaw the implementation of the yoga mat art, said the most meaningful part of the event for her took place before the yoga even started. “Fifty of my friends showed up at 6 a.m. They came to puzzle together all 1,500 yoga mats,” she said. “I feel like, this is something that would only happen in Israel.”