Torah and Veda are two ancient sources of spirituality still vibrant today. Torah is conveyed through the sacred language of Hebrew and Veda is conveyed through the sacred language of Sanskrit. The focus here is on meditation, mysticism, philosophy, psychology and the underlying spirituality that has been incorporated into religions, and not as much on the religions themselves. Your comments and posts are welcome.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Jewish Hatha Yoga? and Why Connect Yoga and Judaism?

I have received a few questions via private email requesting that I post responses on this blog, so here goes.

One question concerns the apparent lack of guidance in traditional Jewish sources concerning proper care and maintenance of the physical body as found in Eastern traditions like Yoga in India and systems like Tai Chi, Chi-kung and martial arts in other areas of Asia. A related question is that in the Eastern systems, physical exercise is not seen merely as proper maintenance and care of the body, but utilizes the body as a vehicle for cultivating and integrating spiritual transformation and expression. It is curious that Western traditions generally have ignored the type of highly developed systems of physical/spiritual culture and expression found in the East. We do have a tradition of spiritual-based dancing in Judaism and other Western traditions (the hora, etc, sufi-dancing), and some modern Jewish explorers have suggested that the davenning movements engaged by some Orthodox are yogic-type attempts at limbering the body, especially the spine. There are two systems I am aware of developed by modern Jewish sources that attempt to fill this gap. One is contained in a book by Diane Bloomfield called "Torah Yoga", and another is a system called "Ophanim" developed by Zvi Zavidowsky, which involves postures similar to Hatha Yoga based upon the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet. You can obtain more information about these practices through web searches and YogaMosaic.com (there is a web link in the left column of this blog), which is a network of Jewish Yoga teachers.

It is also important to emphasize the body-breath-mind-spirit link. One particular theory in yoga is that the physical exercises are merely preliminary stages meant to tone and quiet the body so that it can more fully benefit from the more advanced breathing and meditation stages that lead to deeper spiritual self-transformation. There is currently a tremendous emphasis on the physical posture aspect to yoga, to the point that yoga in the minds of many people is tragically synonymous only with physical exercise, but my emphasis is on the stages of yoga beyond the physical, as these should not be ignored. The body cannot be fully understood or utilized as an expression of divinity without developing and integrating the deeper aspects to which it is connected of breath, emotion, mind, soul and spirit.

Another question concerns my need to connect Yoga and Judaism, as it would appear that both systems are sufficient self-contained spiritual systems. In accord with this idea is what Yoga teaches that it is okay to experiment with spiritual self-transformation methods, but eventually, it is helpful to choose a specific path and delve into it in depth, rather than remain a spiritual dilettante. One answer for me is that, like many, the traditional Judaism that I grew up with did not adequately address my spiritual yearnings, and like many, I sought answers elsewhere, and found satisfaction through Yoga and meditation. It was through Yoga that I eventually was lead to explore my Jewish roots, this time finding much more satisfaction in Kabala and Jewish mysticism, avenues that have opened up to a much greater extent in recent years. I am now continuing to work on a synthesis between the two traditions that incorporates the best features of both, and I continue to see remarkable connections, both historic and current, that exist and begin to blur what appear to be surface distinctions. In the interests of keeping this response short, I will commend you to read my book for further elaboration. It saddens me to come upon so many people of Jewish birth who have pretty much abandoned their own spiritual roots in favor of other systems, but it also saddens me to come across so many people within traditional Judaism who are so disconnected from any real spirituality in favor of an insulated and separate ethnicity. I see it as my particular mission and aim of my book to address these constituencies, to suggest to the first to not totally abandon Judaism, and to suggest to the second that there is more to Judaism than the inflexible doctrine and dogma still so prevalent in Orthodoxy without any real and deep spirituality. I have also found many people that are not of Jewish heritage to be attracted to what I am teaching, as they see the common spiritual core we all share, and particularly that Judaism is the foundational spiritual system upon which many more recent Western traditions are based, just as yoga is the foundational spiritual system upon which many more recent Eastern traditions are based. The fact that there are many connections between these two seemingly very different and distinct foundational traditions is an important revelation for people to recognize as underlying our common humanity.

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