Can Jews Practice Yoga? Yes!
Some believe that Jews should not engage with yoga’s modern postural practice, because it has its roots in a Hindu religious system that’s contradictory to monotheistic Judaism.
This question has been resolved for many of us observant Jews, who understand that yoga, as Matthew Remski states, is “like the story of the self: developing endlessly along variant trajectories.”
Yoga developed with modern influences, and later became a secular physical practice. For many, yoga postures have become a practice with the power to disassociate from theology, and they inform the way we move and breathe in this world.
The desire to embrace yoga alignment has created a fringe community of Jewish-identified yogis whose moral and spiritual practices are Jewish, but whose bodies are informed by yoga. This fringe community was something I stumbled upon in my transition years, as I became a religious Jew. I didn’t set out to create this community; it came together because like-minded people wanted to share their passion for yoga under the mutual recognition that we were Jews, not Hindus.
Bridging my love for yoga and my turn towards Judaism, I was asked by many Jewish women to create a yoga teacher’s training program to train Jewish women in a supportive environment, where one’s Jewish identify was affirmed.
This establishment of yoga programs for Jews came together as a community was birthed. On Facebook, we share retreats and programs that dive into asana postural practice and breathing, yet we ask each other, “Does anyone know a great tefillah (prayer) service in California?” We discuss books that show ways for Jews to practice yoga without giving up their Jewish observance; we talk about Jewish music that can be the backdrop score to our daily asana practice; and people help each other to find ways to learn yoga without delving into eastern religious spiritual practices.
To be a Jew practicing yoga, is to be part of a people trying to maintain our cultural or religious connection in the midst of our love for a life-affirming movement form given to us from our friends in the East.
To the Jews who believe we are practicing idol worship, I would say: Would you stop people from practicing sports or dance? Do you fear the philosophy of these physical practices is going to draw Jews away from their moral and spiritual mission as Jews? Instead of being paralyzed by this fear and the fear of yoga, why not join our fringe yoga community that keeps us informed of what it means to stay on the path of mitzvot in Jewish bodies that are working towards being healthy, properly aligned, and pain free.
Kinneret Dubowitz is the director and founder of KinneretYoga and manages the Jewish Women’s Yoga Network. You can email her at [email protected] or check out the Facebook group “Jewish Women’s Yoga Network”.