Judaism, Yoga and Eastern Spirituality
Before coming to Israel, I had a great deal of confusion as to how yoga could fit into a Jewish lifestyle. How could I practice yoga with idols in the background? How could I bow to my instructor at the end of class? I would not and still don’t. But, did that mean that I needed to give up this healing, healthful, and joy-filled practice?
And just like that, my questions have been answered.
I’ve been lucky to find Jewish yoga instructors in Israel who share my Jewish values, and at the same time also appreciate the soulful meditative value of yoga. In particular, Eyal Karoutchi helped explain the integration of yoga and meditation with my identity as a Jew.
Here are some perspectives that I’ve picked up from him along the way.
All the Hebrew letters are contained within the body. Many yoga positions allow us to replicate the Hebrew letters with our body parts, from our arms to our legs, feet to our head. We can become a Hebrew letter and then meditate on the significance of that letter.
For instance, as we positioned into the triangle pose we became an alef. Chair pose was the reconstruction of the letter lamed. Our bodies can literally be a walking Torah. And as such, it’s no coincidence that yoga is a connector toward Judaism and not a distraction. What greater way to think of G-d then to become an alef both internally and externally; to meditate on our existence as G-dly souls and the meaning of oneness.
Still, I had remaining questions. What about the wisdom found in Eastern Spirituality? Yes, yoga was a great relief on my body, letting go of the tensions and stiffness created by walking all day, up and down the hills of Jerusalem. But what about the deeper essence of it all?
I was taught that Eastern spirituality is to be respected, but ultimately it would never unlock the full potential within me as a Jew.
Let’s imagine G-d as a source of light; divine sparks within everything in the world. Eastern spirituality may allow one color of light, such as purple, to connect and resonate within us. Another spiritual path may allow the divine light of yellow to reverberate. But Jewish souls have the capacity to connect with all the colors of the Divine light. So why limit ourselves and our full potential?
It is only Judaism that allows the full light, all of the colors of the Divine spectrum, to connect with the Jewish soul. We may get sidetracked at times by the truth in other paths. However, a full immersion into all the connectors to G-d is possible within Judaism alone — allowing our entire soul to be expressed instead of any single component.
From Jewish meditation on the letter yud (imbibed with wisdom and humility), to transforming my body into the letter alef, to relaxing my tendons after hours of walking, I’ve been given many different conduits within Judaism to connect with ourselves, our soul, and the Divine.
Yoga and meditation are not contrary to Judaism. They both, literally, have the capacity to turn our body and mind into a vessel of G-d.