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Hastings summer sunset June 2016 web

June sun setting over Hastings and St Leonards

Solstice yoga on the pier

The druids will be at Stonehenge as usual for the Summer Solstice, but here in Hastings a traditional yoga celebration – the 108 Salutations – will be taking place on the pier, as the sun sets on the longest day of the year. Toby Sargent talks to one of the organisers to see what it’s all about, and whether the ancient ritual of yoga has any place in the 21st century.

Yoga. What does that word mean to you? The lotus position, muscle-scrunching contortions designed to instil a mood of serenity and contemplation, a hippy-dippy alternative to basic keep-fit?

There’s no shortage of sceptics but, for all that, it’s a well-established and respected form of therapy these days, endorsed by the NHS and widely practised by young and old from all backgrounds.

Pier yoga team Web

The Yoga Pier Team: Hannah, Monika, Lisa, Rebecca and Nina

And it’s coming to Hastings pier on the evening of midsummer’s day, when a group will gather to celebrate the sunset, by taking part in the time-honoured yoga celebration of the sun: the 108 Salutations.

Organised by the Yoga Pier team of five experienced instructors – Hannah Caney, Rebecca Gildea, Monika Mathieu, Lisa Powell and Nina Savarese – the event is expected to draw in more than a hundred participants.

A ‘salutation’ in this context, by the way, is described by one writer as ‘basically a 9-part squat-thrust in which you start and finish standing, and do a backbend in between.’ Sounds simple enough, yes? Not really, to be honest. Just one salutation is physically challenging, I’m told, so 108 would be gruelling indeed.

Water and spiritual consolidation

Fortunately the Yoga Pier team are breaking the event up into manageable chunks of 20 salutations at a time, with breaks for water and spiritual consolidation between. But even so, those wanting to take part are advised to train beforehand, and there will be free boot-camps leading up to the day for those that need it.

I had a chat with Rebecca Gildea who leads the Yoga Pier Team and who has practised yoga for 30 years and been a qualified teacher since 2011. She also runs a successful events management company and is co-owner of the excellent Rock a Nore Kitchen.

Health benefits

She is very much in tune with what makes Hastings tick, and sees the event as the first step in a new direction for the town, with a nod perhaps to Victorian times when people came here principally to feel the health benefits of the seaside: “The motivation for the event was the pier being built, but it’s just the first of four events over the year. I want to bring well-being here, develop the sector, and promote health tourism for Hastings.”

Yoga solstice ad web

But isn’t yoga the sort of thing that only super-fit, young people can get into? “Not at all”, says Rebecca: “There are lots of very fit yogis who are 80 or 90 years old, but you do need to practise. It wouldn’t be suitable for a complete beginner to do all 108 salutations, but if you want to come along and do just one, and then sit and watch the sun setting or perhaps the rain falling on your head, you’re more than welcome.”

Murmuration

“It actually becomes like a murmuration when you see everyone doing it”, Rebecca says, “and so just sitting and being around the energy of that is fabulous. However to really get the ultimate out of it, you really must practise.”

To help get people ready, she and the team will be running boot-camps in the run up to the solstice, practising the salutations in manageable sessions. There will be one in Alexandra Park at the bandstand each Monday morning at 07.30, and another on the harbour arm in the old town at 09.30.

Brown rice and patchouli oil

But yoga . . . It’s all a bit hippy-dippy, isn’t it? Part of that whole 1960s brown rice, patchouli oil and tie-dyed kaftans sort of thing? Rebecca’s having none of that. She continues: “That’s a misinformed perception. I’m no pixie ‘I can see your aura’ type of person. Yoga was originally described as the science of thought: a system developed to handle existential angst. There’s no hippy, Scooby-Doo approach here.

“The feeling once you get into it is that the body takes over and your mind becomes still.”

If you fancy giving it a try, get some practice at the free boot camp sessions and book a space (£10.00) for the event on 21 June via yogaonthepier@gmail.com

Posted 13:30 Saturday, Jun 11, 2016 In: Health Matters


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