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June 19, 2016 12:52 pm

A Safe Place for Jewish Women to Practice Yoga

avatar by Alyssa Gross

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A yoga posture. Photo: Wiki Commons.

A yoga posture. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Often as a yogini, the female version of someone who practices yoga, you’re asked to choose between your religious beliefs and your practice. As someone who experiences anxiety, I fell in love with yoga at first sight — and so did my body.

The meditative breathing, the rhythm of the postures (asanas), and the collective energy needed to be both mentally and physically in tune was deeply healing. I found myself growing calmer and more confident as my strength and abilities grew. My clarity and focus intensified. This was not about losing weight or fitting into societal norms. It was about well being and health, both mentally and physically.

However, I often had to ignore some issues in the room — the discussion on the importance of being a vegan in order to practice yoga and the discussions on gurus (the Jewish equivalent of a rabbi).

Yoga has many branches, often associated with Eastern spirituality, whose range is much broader than the sport we view it as in the West. As a traditional Jewish American, I continued the parts of the practice that I loved, and left the rest behind for my classmates.

After 10 months, the tears welled up in my eyes as I was able to do a headstand for the first time. Not being particularly athletic and a bit zaftig, as one might say, this display of physical feat turned my spark into a flame. Yoga was it.

Plus, I never bowed at the end of class so I was doing the right thing, wasn’t I? I ignored the statues and focused on my practice. That’s okay, isn’t it?

Six months ago, after dealing with a family emergency that caused my anxiety to flare up, every mentor I spoke to said “go to Israel.” Rabbis, rebbetzins and mentors all had the same piece of advice: Go to Israel.

I felt like Abraham being told to go. Here’s where the leap of faith and serendipity come into play. I was suddenly introduced to a program led by Kinneret Dubowitz, a three-week intensive yoga instructor training program in…. Israel! A program for women, attended by Jewish women of all religious degrees. Finally, my beliefs wouldn’t be questioned. I felt that I’d be able to integrate my Jewish self with my yoga self.

A program in Israel to become a yoga instructor. Could I? Should I? After practicing yoga for just under a year, was I ready to take a leap of faith?

Israel isn’t just our home. Yes, is it our home but it also invites you in every way possible. American Jews often travel to Israel in search of the deep well springs of spirituality. Now, I get to feed my body and soul. And, Go, I shall.

Click here for more information about Kinneret Dubowitz’s program this July 2016.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Alyssa is a thirsty soul looking to help create and sustain spirituality, mindfulness, and positivity within community. She invites you to come along. Follow her on Instagram

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  • Alyssa, I’m so happy for you! I hope you have a wonderful time combining being in Israel, with studying yoga!

    I am Jewish also, but my parents were very secular. I learned Yoga from a man from India, back in 1970-71. We read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

    My family was into Freud, which meant listening to one’s free associations, just watching one’s mind in general, so it was easy for me to get into meditation as a way to know God (or for me – to discover whether God existed or not).

    And after awhile I did start having experiences that felt like God was with me – I checked them out, finally, with other students of my teacher – reassuring me that I wasn’t nuts…

    I myself find all the gods and goddesses of Hinduism a little frightening – so many of them – bewildering! But my experiences in meditation have helped me just sense a divine presence – ha-Shekhinah – in my heart, and have left me feeling very loved by Hashem.

    So I’ve become more religious, have learned Hebrew modern, Biblical and prayerbook – and doing Yoga has deepened and enriched my experience of being Jewish! I hope it does the same, for you!

    Much love to you,
    Debbie Michels from Los Angeles

    • Alyssa

      Thank you so much Debra. Your kinds words mean a lot to me. Meditation is a deeply Jewish concept and practice. Thank you for sharing your journey.
      Many blessings to you,

  • Jay Lavine

    Being a vegetarian or a vegan is not a dietary lifestyle a Jew should ignore. It is very much in keeping with Judaism’s ethical weltanschauung, which entails a deep respect for the sanctity of all life (see The Emergence of Ethical Man, Soloveitchik, Ktav, 2005). Many people of Jewish background fail to delve into the real meaning and spirit of Torah, instead choosing to do things in a certain fashion simply because they’ve always done them that way, a low and non-Jewish form of behavior.

    • Alyssa

      Thank you very much Jay for pointing that out. Yes, indeed, a healthy and balanced diet is extremely important. Vegetarians and Vegans alike are welcome in my book.
      Best Wishes,