Am I a meditation teacher? A yoga instructor? An artist? These practices are each a way to connect spiritually. Jewish tradition teaches: Shaviti Hashem L’negdi Tamid – Placing God before me always.
My first exposure to yoga was for college credit at Brandeis University in 2000. Since then yoga has been woven into my life at various intervals. It felt natural to focus the mind and body in unison, to be directing my heart and my consciousness through embodied action. And through my own spiritual journey and path to becoming a rabbi, I found that yoga can also be prayer.
Yoga is a physical structure to explore the physical self and beyond - into the spiritual, emotional, and psychological self simultaneously. It is preparation for the body to encounter the difficulties of life and the difficulties of the mind with equanimity, patience, and compassion. The reason for engaging in this spiritual activity (just like all spiritual activities) is not about self-satisfaction, though it may feel good. It is about raising our lives to a holier level – one which recognizes and honors Divine Purpose to the cosmos.
The first time a yoga teacher explained that downward dog is a resting pose, I was enlightened. I could lay into the pose and find comfort in it. I no longer struggled trying to lift myself up, but could deepen into it and relax my shoulders. Then another teacher asked me to find theShabbat in this pose, and the concept was immediately transformed into something I experience Jewishly.
The second yoga class I ever taught was called “Yoga for Forgiveness” and was in the afternoon of the Jewish fasting holiday of Yom Kippur. We opened our hearts. We forgave ourselves and others, and asked for forgiveness. We were able to create physical memories for the act of forgiveness, so that in all our days we could act in the world with more grace.
After thirteen years, I finally had the space to become a yoga teacher, and gain certification in this ancient art. The amount of yoga I had to practice was incredible, but even more so, was the experience of doubt. Would my muscles support me? Could I bend in quite that way?
There is a fantastic story in the Talmud about Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest rabbis of all time, from the 2nd century. It is taught that when he was 40 years old, he desired to study Torah, but he didn't even know the Hebrew Alphabet. Being a shepherd, he was tending his flock, and saw water slowly dripping on the rock. He noticed that the water had actually carved out the rock formation. Of course this didn't happen overnight. It was a long and slow process. He remarked that if water was capable of carving a rock, surely he could learn Torah. And after thirteen years, he not only had mastered Torah, but was sharing the teaching with the masses.
In yoga teacher training, I witnessed and experienced how each day a bit more of the rock was carved away—I slowly became stronger and learned to answer doubt with action. I found that yoga is very much about emunah—faith—in oneself and in God. That recognition and trust is already half the practice.
How I incorporate yoga classes into my rabbinate:
- Parasha (teaching the weekly portion)
- Middot (the refining of character traits)
- Moadim L’simcha (exploring the Jewish Holiday)
- Avodat HaLev (as a prayer service)
What you can expect if you come to my Jewish yoga:
- To be compassionately challenged in body and mind
- To be safe (emotionally and physically)
- To feel an authentic Jewish connection
- To understand the usefulness of engaging the body