Embodying Middot - Endurance / Netzach

Netzach - Endurance

On the map of the Sefirot, Netzach, often translated as endurance, perseverance, or eternity, is one of the Ten Measurements or Emanations of divine energy, and when mapped on the body appears at the right hip or right thigh, opposite to Hod, often translated as surrender, gratitude, glory, or present moment. The image of the map functions as a mirror, and the right and left sides balance one another, with a central pillar offering qualities that appear at the crown, heart, pelvis, and feet. Generally, the right side of the body is forward moving, expansive energy and the left side of the body is retreating, containing energy. So Netzach, located at the right leg or hip, can be expressed in movement as stepping forward, and Hod, located at the left leg or hip, can be expressed as stepping back. In addition, the triad of Netzach, Hod and Yesod are connected with action and activity in the world, how we walk and move in our lives.

Netzach as Eternity
Netzach is often translated as “eternity.” The first, most obvious way Netzach applies to the asana practice is the way in which we can bring stamina to our practice and build strength by holding poses for an extended period of time. But there is a gentle and surrendered aspect to endurance that is important as it relates to embodying this middah. When we employ endurance with the aspect of eternity in mind, we realize we cannot “power through” and give our all-out effort every moment throughout the practice, firing every muscle in a forceful way, or we will quickly burn out. If we approach embodying Netzach with the idea that we will live and breathe into the pose for ‘eternity’, building a sustainable and sustained practice over time, we must bring a softness of efforting, and find a way in which we can rely upon our bones, our breath, the spaciousness inside and around us in order to maintain the pose. 

For example, in Warrior II (Figure 7), when holding the pose for an extended period of time (which for some practitioners may feel like an eternity!), one way to find Netzach, Endurance, in the pose is to lift the torso up off of the hips, and unbend the front leg slightly so we are not relying too heavily upon the quadriceps muscles to support us. For the same pose, if we are holding the arms up out to the side from the muscles in the arms only, we can easily become tired. But if we consider the idea that the arms are extending all the way from the center of the spine behind the heart, and imagine that the arms lift with the support of the air underneath them (as if they are wings), energy extending outward, we can maintain the pose with endurance for a much longer time.

We are able to practice more easily and in a more sustainable way- for eternity! - with Netzach if we take the focus off of one particular muscle group in any given posture and allow other parts of the body or draw upon other sources of life energy (hiyyut) for the asana.

Netzach as the Part that Stays
In a vinyasa or flow practice Netzach can beautifully support us in moving through the poses with a quality of stability, steadiness and consistency. If we place our attention while moving from pose to pose on the parts of the body that stay in a relatively fixed position, we can find balance and strength.

For example, when moving from Warrior I (Figure 8)  to Warrior III (Figure 9) to Tree Pose (Figure 10), if we focus on the front standing leg as Netzach, or the part that stays, throughout the sequence, we can move the second leg through the postures - first in back for Warrior I (Figure 8), then it lifts for Warrior III (Figure 9), then it comes up bent to meet the standing leg for Tree (Figure 10) - around the steadfastness of the leg that stays put.

Similarly, if we move from Triangle (Figure 2) to Side Angle (Figure 11) to Warrior II (Figure 8), we can focus on the back leg as Netzach, grounding us, keeping us steady, and as the part that stays strong as we move the upper body and front leg through the changing shapes.

By focusing on the quality of Netzach in these types of flow sequences, we experience a sense of calm, steadiness, and solidity. The Netzach of a standing leg serves as an unwavering support, a source of strength - the part that stays when all else is moving.

This physical practice of maintaining a focus on the ‘staying’ part of the body can translate to our lives in the most helpful way. When there is turmoil, either within ourselves or in relationship with others, our ability to stay calm and focus on the quality of steadiness can be strengthened by this physical practice (Thich Nhat Hanh offers the image of being the mountain in the storm, or the rock in the rushing stream).

Netzach as Waiting
Netzach comes into play most helpfully for an asana practice with sitting forward bends. In poses such as Head to Knee Forward Bend (Figure 12) or Seated Forward Bend(Figure 13), there is an aspect of Netzach that relates to waiting and watching that can be extremely helpful. When approaching a forward bend from a seated position, it is most important to lift the hips so that the pelvis and torso can turn over the legs as one unit, so as not to take the pose into the lower back. The next step is to lengthen and lift the front of the spine and stay in the pose for a long time with an extended long back. When we sit and breathe and wait, watching with patience the small openings in the body, the pose itself begins to take on the waiting and watching with patience aspect of Netzach. Staying with these forward bend poses for a minute, two or three, before even beginning to release the spine into a rounded position, allows us to move into the pose much more deeply.

In practicing Netzach as waiting with patience, not pushing beyond our limits or trying to change what is true, we are practicing for all the ways in which we can do this in our lives. In his description of patience (Savlanut) in Everyday Holiness, Alan Morinis correlates patience with a kind of endurance or tolerance of circumstances, be they difficult or uncomfortable. “Patience is here depicted as a tool we can call on to help us endure when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances we did not choose or could not avoid.”[1]  By practicing more challenging poses with this quality of Netzach, we can prepare ourselves to meet other challenges in our lives with an aspect of waiting and watching that builds our capacity to respond, rather than react, no matter what comes our way.

[1] Morinis, Everyday Holiness, 57.

POSTURE GUIDE

Throughout this guide, we will refer to the following poses:

Forward Bend - Uttanasana  (Fig. 1)
Triangle - Utthita Trikonasana (Fig. 2)
Mountain Pose - Tadasana (Fig. 3)
Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana (Fig. 4)
Seated Twist - Marichyasana III (Fig. 5)
Hand to Big Toe Pose - Supta Padangusthasana (Fig. 6)
Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II (Fig. 7)
Warrior I - Virabhadrasana I (Fig. 8)
Warrior III - Virabhadrasana III (Fig. 9)
Tree Pose - Vrksasana (Fig. 10)
Side Angle - Parsvakonasana (Fig. 11)
Head to Knee Forward Bend - Janu Sirsasana (Fig. 12)
Seated Forward Bend - Paschimottanasana (Fig. 13)

By opening these pages, I acknowledge that this material is owned by Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative.  I understand that I am prohibited from reproducing, distributing, or selling the material - in full or in part -without attributing ownership to Jewish LearningWorks' Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative. It was created by Julie Emden, Director of Embodied Jewish Learning - Julie offers workshops, classes and a Yoga and Jewish Wisdom Teacher Training.  She can be reached at jemden@jewishlearningworks.org