Thousands of sun-worshipping yogis lined their mats up in the middle of Times Square to celebrate the summer solstice on Saturday. More than 11,000 people followed the Athleta sponsored events “Solstice in Times Square: Athleta Mind Over Madness Yoga” as they gradually moved from pose to pose with their bare feet.

“It’s the longest day of the year. In the yoga tradition, this is the day you worship the sun,” Christina Cielusniak, 25, a yoga instructor from Wayne, N.J., told NY Daily News.

The summer solstice occurs when the sun aligns directly over the Tropic of Cancer, which is the moment the earth’s tilt toward the sun is at a maximum on June 21. This is the only day of the year that the sun is at its highest point in the sky, making it the longest day of the calendar year, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

Solstice means “standing on the sun” and marks the midsummer point when the earth returns back into the dark half of the year. The sun is an important aspect of yoga. In fact, one of the most familiar stances is Surya Namaskar, which means “sun salutation” and represents a symbolic movement of the human reliance on the sun.  For thousands of years Hindus, who are one of the original creators of yoga, have revered the sun they call Surya because they believe it is the creator of all life. The sun salutation pose stems from the word namas, which means to bow or adore the sun and is used as a reminder of our place in the world.  

“So it really is this metaphor for the larger challenges of our lives. How do we stay present, how do we stay focused with all the distractions,” Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, told CBS News.

Tompkins led the first of eight free classes given on Saturday. The alliance aims to improve “cultivating the creativity, energy and edge that have made the area an icon of entertainment, culture and urban life for over a century.” Tomkins has been the president since 2002 and while New York City is one of the most famous cities in the world, he prefers sailing and practicing yoga.

“I am struck at how it actually is possible in the midst of all this busyness to get yourself into a different state of mind,” he said.

Yoga is a meditative practice that is designed to weld the mind and body together through ancient philosophies. It reaps health benefits that range from lowering high blood pressure, to decreasing tension along with strengthening to flexibility, according to the National Institutes of Health. With over 15 million Americans practicing yoga each year, it’s not a surprise that thousands rolled out their mats this weekend to pay patronage to the sun.  

Amateurs and yoga instructors alike were able to find their center in Times Square, where they participated in a total of 24 classes on Saturday and Sunday. The event was held both June 21 and 22 to give as many people as they could the opportunity to participate in the free classes, which were live streamed on several websites. The Times Square Alliance supported two yoga-related charities, Bent on Learning and Urban Zen, and promised to match the total donations up to $10,000.