WELCOME TO THE YOGA AND JUDAISM CENTER

The primary focus of this yoga is not on physical exercise, but is rather "yoga beyond the mat," focusing on meditation, mysticism, philosophy and psychology.
Likewise, the focus on Judaism here is on "Hebrew Spirituality", the spirituality within Judaism, not the religion.
Your comments and posts are welcome.

Quote of the Week 303 - What Prompts the Search

Why can’t human beings sit still? We sit down, but the momentum in our bodies is still racing, scared. I wanted to know what was underneath that. I wanted to know what was underneath my thinking.

-- Michael Stone, “On Track with Paul Newman” article in Shambhala Sun magazine, Sept. 2014 edition

CURRENT TEACHING SESSIONS


I will be conducting the following session at the Atlanta SE Limmud over Labor Day Weekend from 7:15 to 8:30 on Saturday evening in the Library.



Bereishit/Genesis – In the Beginning

World Without End, Eternity, Infinity, Time, Space, Manifestation, Creation. This presentation will focus on the opening verse of Genesis from the perspective of the mystical traditions of Judaism, India and the Western Esoteric Tradition and correlations that exist between these traditions.


Western spiritual traditions rooted in Hebrew Spirituality, tend to focus on a dualistic notion distinguishing a Creator and Creation; and Eastern spiritual traditions rooted in the spirituality of the Vedas, upon which yoga is based, tend to focus on an illusory/partial reality Manifestation arising from, but ultimately not distinct from, a unified substratum/full reality. The Western Esoteric Tradition, with roots in both Jewish and Vedic sources, synthesize aspects from both. Perhaps in the mystical aspects to these traditions, these distinctions begin to blur. And perhaps conceptions/accounts of Creation/Manifestation are not just descriptions of the workings of the external universe (macrocosm), but also of the internal universe that exists within each of us (microcosm). Included will be a mystical Jewish analysis and interpretation of the nuances of the Hebrew words in the opening verse of Genesis and its relationship to a common clause utilized at the beginning of most Hebrew blessings.


Genesis like you’ve never seen it before!



Thursday, August 14, 2014

Quote of the Week 303 - What Prompts the Search


Why can’t human beings sit still? We sit down, but the momentum in our bodies is still racing, scared. I wanted to know what was underneath that. I wanted to know what was underneath my thinking.

-- Michael Stone, “On Track with Paul Newman” article in Shambhala Sun magazine, Sept. 2014 edition

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Yoga-Like Techniques in the Jewish Tradition - Lost and Found?


Yoga-Like Techniques in the Jewish Tradition – Lost and Found?

I recently received the below questions via email. I am sharing here my slightly revised response:

“I am investigating the ways in which certain elements of Judaism seem to have been stripped out of or fallen away from our practice over time.  Most notably, traditions like Yoga have preserved physical techniques and practices for sublimation or energy or for entering higher states of consciousness. 

Do you know of any Jewish literature (preferably from the Tanach or Gemara) that discusses actual practices and techniques a Jew can use in order sublimate sexual energy? What about other techniques/practices like integral breathing that are described by our sages?

Why have these techniques been lost to the Jewish tradition?” 

It is difficult to answer the question about why certain techniques of spiritual development have been lost to Jewish tradition. I can offer some observations and speculations (Jews have a long history of engaging in speculation!). For whatever reason, traditional Jewish practice that has evolved over the centuries has focused mostly on a few spiritual approaches that parallel certain yogic approaches. The primary traditional Jewish approaches are threefold: 1) devotional, comparable to bhakti yoga, which engages the emotions, found in our prayer practices both in shul and at home; 2) intellectual, comparable to jnana/gyana yoga, which engages the intellect, found in our study practices both in yeshiva and solitary; 3) through action, comparable to karma yoga, as contained in the directive to observe the mitzvot. What is lacking in these traditional Jewish approaches are techniques related to training and coordinating the body, breath, and mind leading to meditation. This is the system of ashtanga/raja yoga. My intuitive suspicion/hunch, based upon some hints and evidence I have found in my studies, is that these kind of techniques probably have existed and continue to exist in Jewish practice, but have been and remain traditionally reserved for secret circles of kabalists, and have not been committed to writing the way that other elements of our “oral” tradition have been eventually written down, or in the manner found in yogic literature. I believe that mystical Judaism, even more so than many other mystical traditions, maintains that such practices are rightly preserved for direct transmission from master to disciple through demonstration and unspoken revelation, more than any kind of traditional verbal or written teachings. So in some sense, these techniques have not been “lost” or “stripped out of or fallen away from our practices over time”, but rather sustained, but through small secretive circles, even to this day. If you are meant to be exposed to such teachings, then you will be invited/happen upon them when you are ready. I am a great believer in the idea that the guidance you need will come to you (often times in unexpected ways), but you need to be open and receptive to it (without expectations or pre-conceived notions), or you may miss it.

Concerning Jewish techniques for sublimating sexual energy, breathing, meditation, for entering higher states of consciousness, I am not aware of very much in Tanach or Talmud. You generally have to go to what I call “secondary” sources. One reference is made to what has become known as the “prophetic position” in the Tanach at I Kings 18:42 concerning Elijah bending down to the ground and putting his face between his knees. I imagine this as similar to the child’s pose in yoga. There are other references to raising up from this kneeling position and spreading the hands upward (II Chronicles 6:13 and Ezra 9:5). An oft-cited quote in support of Jewish meditation comes from I Kings 19:11-12, Elijah perceiving the “still, thin sound/still, small voice”.

Concerning secondary sources, I commend you to the works of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. You can find an entry on my website under “Bibliography/Book Reviews” about him and his writings. There is also a website dedicated to him with a particular article on point: www.solitude-hisbodedus.blogspot.com/2009/05/prophetic-meditative-position.html

A secondary source relating specific Jewish breathing techniques quite similar to yoga-type of breathing techniques is a Chasidic site: www.inner.org/meditate/default.htm

Concerning sublimation of sexual energy, I refer you to an article on my website under the “Articles” section, “Spiritual Sexuality: Kundalini, Tantra, Taoism and Judaism”. It refers to an article on a Jewish website which I viewed critically.

I am happy you discovered my website and found it inspiring. I encourage you to look over my articles on Jewish meditation. These are not just inventions that I concocted from my imagination, they are based in traditional yogic and Jewish practices (as confirmed by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in his books). Try them, you might like them!

 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Quote of the Week 302 - The Value of Solitude


This much is certain, that, without absolute solitude, I cannot produce the smallest thing.

-- Johan Wolfgang von Goethe

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Quote of the Week 301- The Right Path


You know you’re on the right path if your capacity for holding paradox expands, your sense of humor broadens, your commitment to justice deepens, your compassion for and protection of life grows, and your love of people transcends race, color, creed, tribe, religion, politics, and sexual preference.

--Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Quote of the Week 300 - The Sense of the Mysterious


The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is.

-- Albert Einstein, The World As I See It (1949)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

In Memoriam - Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi


I have an entry on this blog under Bibliography/Book Reviews about Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi. He was gathered to his people this past July 3 at the age of 89. My spiritual life and ability to rediscover the spirituality within Judaism has been greatly augmented by his work and his influence on other modern teachers and leaders. I was personally in his presence only once, several years ago, when I attended a weekend Shabbaton led by him in Philadelphia, a city in which he spent a good deal of time during one period in his life. The venue was a grand old-fashioned movie theater, as is found in some cities. I remember at lunch, he sat with his family and friends at a big round table. There was a moment when everyone left him to go get food for themselves and for him, and he was sitting all alone at the table. Although I was nearby and this presented an opportunity for me to go over and speak/be with him up close and personal, I chose to leave him alone. It was enough for me to be with him at this event and share that moment with him as it was, and I had nothing particularly inspiring to say to him or to ask him. My only inclination was maybe to introduce myself and tell him how much I appreciated all that he had done, but somehow, I felt that was too egoic, and I just left him alone for those few minutes until his family and friends rejoined him at the table.

Someone who interacted with him much more over the years, Rabbi Gershon Winkler, has written a wonderful tribute to him, and he has given me permission to share it here with you:


     download_zalman.exe

A Tribute from Gershon...



This is exactly what Reb Zalman told me way back in 1984 when I spent my first of many long wild whirlwind days working alongside him: "Gersh," he said. I remember it so clearly as if it were an hour ago. "Gersh," he said, as he swerved to miss a double-parked car on a narrow Philadelphia street. "Gersh," he said, pulling up to the storefront of an optometrist. "Gersh," he said. "When I die, I want the universe to download me on the cosmic computer as 'zalman.exe.'" I later learned "exe" was computer lingo back then for "execute," as in "implement." It was his dream, his hope, his prayer for as long as I would know him, that what he brought us in his fresh and innovative interpretations of the wisdom of the ancients would continue in its ever-creative unfoldings and not go with him to the grave.  Zalman worked night and day building that seemingly impossible bridge, often - very often - compromising his ailing physical embodiment in the process. It was his gift to us, that bridge, that beautiful user-friendly bridge over which we could meander to nurture our souls from a paradigm long lost while we fumbled about in an age that promised utopian hope while delivering apocalyptic befuddlement.



They came and took him last week, right from under our noses. They took him back on the Fifth Day of the Hebrew Moon of Tamuz, which happens to be the very same date that Ezekiel the Prophet, some 2,400 years earlier, received his very first vision, the famous vision of the Merkava, the Heavenly Carrier of the Divine Intent and the angelic forces behind its ever-unfolding mystery.  It was no accident that Zalman left us on that very same day. He was no less a visionary himself, no less a seer.



Reb Zalman, you see, was one of the last of the Keepers. He was an ardent Keeper of the richness of the world we left behind when we crossed over the chasm from near-annihilation to renewed restoration following the Holocaust. Certainly, many elders brought that richness with them, all those old guys with the graying beards, some with numbers tattooed on their arms. They still had it, and they brought it with them across the great abyss, and they tried to hand it over to us but we - emerging from the womb of a brave new world -- couldn't understand their language, and so we left them to the shtetls of Brooklyn and Jerusalem and went after the younger breed and the seeming purity of their vernacular. After all, unlike the old ones, the new ones had not been tainted by the stains of man's inhumanity to man. They brought us a whole new Judaism, absent the heavily bandaged attributes of the old ones, absent the stench of smokestacks. We needed the joy and the hope that only the new ones could muster for us.



But it wasn't too long before many began to feel the emptiness that the new ones could not fill; the richness was still only in the hands of the older ones, the ones admired from afar but who seemed unapproachable. And so many became disenchanted, and some dropped out altogether. And yet others bee-lined it for ashrams to sit at the feet of young Yogis, middle-aged Roshis and aging Swamis.



Then they came. Those two old guys from the other side of the chasm. Shlomo Carlebach and his colleague Zalman Meshulam Schachter, two yeshiva boys from the old school who sensed the thirst and responded to a growing generation of disenfranchised Jews and an ebbing Judaism. They saw how the transplant wasn't taking. They recognized how the Oriental body of Judaism resisted its Occidental transplant. Daringly, they stepped into the new but with only one foot, whilst the other remained firmly entrenched in the old. And it came to pass that Zalman said to Shlomo: "You reach for the heart and I'll tackle the mind."  And so it was. From campus to campus, from Rainbow Gathering to Rainbow Gathering, these two tricksters of the old world spun their magic in and around ever-increasing crowds, watering the flock of Israel once again, this one singing to parched hearts, this one speaking to emaciated minds, both gifting their songs and their teachings, their stories and their music, deep deep deep within and beyond the hearts and souls of hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands. Until one could no longer keep count and it didn't matter.



And of course so many of the new ones tried to emulate the two old guys, strumming guitars, kvetching out like tunes, imitating teaching styles, telling stories, but you know and I know and we know that there never again arose anyone quite like either of them.



And when Shlomo left us, somehow we were still hopeful, because Zalman was still here. And he told us the stories and taught us the songs and moved us to davening and opened our hearts and challenged our minds and fostered ample leverage for the continuity of our renewal. And of course, we thought, we presumed, we hoped, Zalman would never leave us. He went on and on and on in spite of surgeries and hospitalizations and weaknesses and recurring health problems. He had eventually moved to the pristine air of Boulder, invested in a juicer, married , and his wonderful Eve, started taking so much better care of himself that undoubtedly he was going to outlive us all.



And so, when he didn't - outlive us - we were shocked. We are shocked. The last of the old guys who knew our language, is gone, and the bridge is shaky, because -- I need to say this -- even though Zalman knew our language, I doubt if most of us really knew his.



Since the beginning of my personal and colleagueship journey with Reb Zalman in 1984, I was always keenly aware of his loneliness. I am speaking not of loneliness in terms of companionship but in terms of connection with the traditional old-school yeshiva culture in which he was born and raised. Periodically, he would call me for no reason other than to connect with someone with whom he could speak freely while quoting Aramaic or Hebraic aphorisms interwoven with obscure Yiddish phrases. "Gersh," he would say on that rare occasion when I answered the phone, "I just need to talk Rashi with someone."



His calls were frequent and continued throughout the years, mostly to touch base with how I was doing, could I send him the source for this or that or the other, what was I working on, what was Miriam working on, how was Miriam, the children, the grandchildren, my health, my finances, etc.



As one who was raised and ordained in the traditional yeshiva world, I was awed not so much by Reb Zalman's capacity to quote verbatim the ancient source texts of Midrash, Talmud and Kabbalah - that was to be expected of any rebbe - but of his uncanny capacity to hold mountains of worldly wisdom as well, and his unique skill in the rare art of articulating both in ways that spoke to the novice no less than to the learned, and to non-Jewish audiences no less than to Jewish ones. 



As we approach Yom Kippur 5775, I am reminded of the last time Miriam and I saw Reb Zalman in person and the warm loving hug that he gave to us both. It was on Yom Kippur 5774 (fall of 2013).



He will be missed for a long time. And then some. The world without Reb Zalman feels like a computer without a program. May the universe download him speedily in our times: zalman.exe



Click "Enter."


Quote of the Week 299 - Spirit and Art


Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.

--Leonardo da Vinci

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Quote of the Week 298 - What God Does and Doesn't Do


I don’t believe that God causes mental retardation in children, or chooses who should suffer muscular dystrophy. The God I believe in does not send us the problem; He gives us the strength to cope with the problem.

--from When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

New Audio: Interview with Gareth Young/NewMindSet on my Early "Walkabout" and other subjects

I was recently interviewed by Gareth Young for his web-based initiative on creating a New Business Mindset. For a little introduction, click here: http://garethjyoung.com/stevegold/

To go straight to the recording, click here:

http://content.blubrry.com/newmindset/SteveGold.mp3 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Quote of the Week 297 - Mysticism and Atheism Shake Hands


Nonduality may be said to be the place where mysticism and atheism shake hands. The cosmology may be identical, as there are no puppet-masters pulling the strings of our reality. Yet the stage is now a cathedral.

--Jay Michaelson, Everything Is God; The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism, page 30

Monday, June 2, 2014

Upcoming Sessions at Columbia, SC JCC, June 22


I will be conducting the following sessions at the JCC in Columbia, South Carolina on Sunday, June 22, 2014. For anyone coming from outside Columbia, as I will be, if you come in on Saturday, you are welcome to join me for dinner Saturday night. Just contact me to let me know. Please contact Laurie Slack if you are interested in attending.

Date: Sunday, June 22, 2014

Time: Session 1, 9 AM to 10:30 AM; Session 2, 1 PM to 2:30 PM

Location: Katie & Irwin Kahn Jewish Community Center
306 Flora Drive
Columbia, SC 29224

Contact: Laurie Slack, Jewish Programs Director, 803-787-2023 x201; lauries@jcccolumbia.org for reservations


Session 1: Yoga and Judaism Body-Breath-Mind-Spirit Practices

Yoga is most popularly known as a system of physical exercise developed in India to tone, balance and calm the body and internal organs. It is also part of a more comprehensive system designed to facilitate spiritual development through progressive steps of a journey from without to within. It leads from the body to the breath to the mind and ultimately to the spirit. Call and response chanting is also a spiritually beneficial practice within the yoga system channeling emotions in a uplifting direction.

Current day pioneers in Jewish spirituality are connecting Jewish mystical teachings and practices with traditional yoga practices. This session will begin with physical exercises, followed by breathing and relaxation exercises, followed by meditation, and ending with call and response chanting, intertwining mystical Jewish concepts and practices with yoga practices. Come find out and experience the prophetic posture and yoga-like meditation techniques described in Jewish sources.

Bring a yoga mat, a blanket or pillow for seated meditation (chairs will be provided for those who are not comfortable sitting on the floor). Anyone who wants to bring a drum to augment the chanting session is welcome.

It is recommended that participants come to the class on an empty stomach, or if you must eat, finish a light breakfast at least one hour before the start of the class session. Yoga and meditation ais best done on an empty stomach.

The session will last approximately 90 minutes, beginning at 9 AM and ending at 10:30 AM.


Session 2: Bereishit/Genesis – In the Beginning

World Without End, Eternity, Infinity, Time, Space, Manifestation, Creation. This presentation will focus on the opening verse of Genesis from the perspective of the mystical traditions of Judaism, India and the Western Esoteric Tradition and correlations that exist between these traditions.

Western spiritual traditions rooted in Hebrew Spirituality, tend to focus on a dualistic notion distinguishing a Creator and Creation; and Eastern spiritual traditions rooted in the spirituality of the Vedas, upon which yoga is based, tend to focus on an illusory/partial reality Manifestation arising from, but ultimately not distinct from, a unified substratum/full reality. The Western Esoteric Tradition, with roots in both Jewish and Vedic sources, synthesize aspects from both. Perhaps in the mystical aspects to these traditions, these distinctions begin to blur. And perhaps conceptions/accounts of Creation/Manifestation are not just descriptions of the workings of the external universe (macrocosm), but also of the internal universe that exists within each of us (microcosm). Included will be a mystical Jewish analysis and interpretation of the nuances of the Hebrew words in the opening verse of Genesis and its relationship to a common clause utilized at the beginning of most Hebrew blessings.

Genesis like you’ve never seen it before!

This session will last approximately 90 minutes from 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Upcoming Presentation, Friday, May 30, 7:30 PM


Manifestation and Creation, East and West

World Without End, Eternity, Infinity, Time, Space, Manifestation, Creation. This presentation will focus on correlations between Western spiritual traditions rooted in Hebrew Spirituality, which tend to focus on a dualistic notion distinguishing a Creator and Creation; and Eastern spiritual traditions rooted in Sanatan Dharma, which tend to focus on an illusory/partial reality Manifestation arising from, but ultimately not distinct from, a unified substratum/full reality. Perhaps in the mystical aspects to these traditions, these distinctions begin to blur. And perhaps conceptions/accounts of Creation/Manifestation are not just descriptions of the workings of the external universe (macrocosm), but also of the internal universe that exists within each of us (microcosm). Included will be a mystical Jewish analysis and interpretation of the nuances of the Hebrew words in the opening verse of Genesis and its relationship to a common clause utilized at the beginning of most Hebrew blessings. 

Presenter: Steve Gold

Date: Friday, May 30, 2014

Time: 7:30 PM to 9:00 PM

Location: Karin Kabalah Center, 2531 Briarcliff Road, NE, Suite #217, Atlanta, GA 30329; 404-320-1038. (This is near the corner of N. Druid Hills and Briarcliff, in an office park behind Quicktrip and Boston Market).

Cost: $15.00

Please call to pre-register.