Jewish Wellness

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

Embodying Middot - Perspective / Menuchat Hanefesh

Menuchat Hanefesh - Perspective, Equanimity or Resting of the Body-Soul

How can we bring Menuchat Hanefesh to an Embodied Practice?
The phrase Menuchat Hanefesh can be literally translated as “resting the part of the soul that is closely associated with the body.” In our mystical tradition, there are five levels or aspects of the human soul, and Nefesh refers to that aspect that is closest to the world of action, Assiyah, and to the physical/embodied plane of existence. Whenever we are talking about Nefesh we are emphasizing the level of soul that is closest to the body, addressing the deepest connection between the physical and spiritual as it manifests in the form and matter of the body itself.  We take the phrase Menuchat Hanefesh into a physical practice in a few ways.

Menuchat Hanefesh as Resting, Finding our Foundation
With every breath we experience a filling and emptying of the lungs.  We also experience a rhythm of lifting and settling of the sternum and upper chest, and a corresponding rhythm of descent and ascent of the diaphragm. If throughout a movement practice, at the end of every exhale, we can accentuate the descent of the body to meet the earth, we are able to feel the part of the body that contacts the earth as a source of rest, grounding and foundation.  For example, we can feel the weight of the sit bones a little more deeply if sitting, or we can feel the full contact of our entire torso onto a mat or blanket if lying down, or we can feel the softening of the soles of our feet, with the base of the toes and the circumference of the heel capturing our weight evenly if standing in Mountain Pose / Tadasana  (Figure 3).  By connecting the balance of ascent and descent in the body, we can experience the way in which the breath assists us in resting more deeply into the earth.

Similarly, in every position, there is a foundation or resting place - a place where our physical body contacts the earth. In Forward Bend (Figure 1), and Triangle Pose (Figure 2) and Mountain Pose (Figure 3), our feet are the resting place/ foundation for all of these poses. In Downward Facing Dog (Figure 4), our hands and our feet are the resting place/ foundation. In handstand our hands are the resting place/foundation; and in complicated twists like Marichyasana III (Figure 5), our sit bone and lower calf/heel on one leg, and our foot on the opposite side are the resting place/ foundation.

In every case, if we bring our attention to the natural way in which gravity assists the deepening of contact between that resting point/foundation in the body and the earth, we experience Menuchat Hanefesh.

Menuchat Hanefesh as Moving from a Place of Rest
Here is one place where the concept of Menuchat Hanefesh also exists in our interpretation of a verse from Torah.  There is a beautiful teaching about a line in Torah about Jacob when he flees for his life. The text reads, he “left from Be’er-Sheva and went to Haran” (Genesis 28:10).  Be’er Sheva is the name of a town. The word Be’er Sheva can also be translated as “The Well of Seven,” which according to many teachings is Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, when we dip into a deep well of rest, divine connection and inspiration. The Hebrew word Haran also has the root, Hara, which is anger. So there is a teaching that the line “Jacob left from Be’er Sheva to Haran” as “Jacob left his place of deep rest and went toward anger.”  Some sages teach that Jacob, when he went toward Haran or anger, did not leave Be’er Sheva but actually kept one part of himself tied to Be’er Sheva at all times. He kept himself connected within, to a place of deep rest and connection to the divine. This is the place from which he was able to dream his dream. So, this line from Torah offers for us an instruction for how to meet challenges in our lives from a place of rest, perspective, or witnessing:  When you feel yourself moving toward an unsettling emotion, stay connected to the place of calm, rest, equanimity or perspective.

Similarly, if during any active movement practice we focus on staying connected to a place of rest energetically, we can create a balance of effort and rest in a way that deeply acknowledges all parts of our being, avoiding any injury which often comes from overexertion or pushing too hard. The practice of maintaining awareness of the resting place brings us perspective to our endeavors at every moment - a perspective that we can bring to our practice and off the mat into life, as well. By focusing on the resting place in any given active pose, and staying connected to that place, we are able to stay grounded and cultivate disidentification from the challenges that may come to us.

For example, when lying on the floor supine in Hand to Big Toe Pose / Supta Padangusthasana (Figure 6),  if we place our attention on the back of the torso resting into the earth as we take one leg up to the sky, we can lengthen down the side waist from upper chest to hips evenly on both sides and let gravity assist in the resting of the organs, lungs, and kidneys into the support of the earth beneath us. If we focus upon this place of rest/Beer Sheva as we effort/Haran to lift the leg, we can experience the way in which the place of rest can always serve as a resource to us in our physical practice. Furthermore, we notice it takes even less effort to lift the leg when we take the opposite leg and arm long onto the floor, with a focus on the upper thigh bone (femur) resting down into the earth, and the entire length of the body resting, as the abdominals engage to lift the leg.  The more we place our attention to a place of calm or rest in the body during the actions of a physical practice, the less effort it takes.

Menuchat Hanefesh in our Anatomy
This balance of Haran/Effort and Be’er Sheva/no effort is perfectly mirrored in our anatomy as well, in the agonist/antagonist muscle pairs. Certain muscles in the body contract when other muscles relax, and vice versa, and this allows us to move with more freedom. For example, in the aforementioned Supta Padangusthasana (Figure 6), energizing or contracting the quadriceps muscle on the top of lifted leg allows us to support the hamstring muscle at the back of the leg to reach to it full length and softness. The contraction of one muscle group corresponds to the relaxation of another partner muscle group in order for the body to function optimally.  Similarly, if we raise our arms above our head and contract the pectoralis muscle at the front of the chest, we restrict the stretch of the trapezius and find restriction in the shoulder joint for Downward Facing Dog (Figure 4). But if we soften the pectoralis, we are able to find much more freedom of movement in the joint, and the arms lift higher, in greater alignment with the upper arm closer to the ear, etc. The kinesthesiology of the workings of the muscles themselves reflect the teaching in this text.

Thus, we can cultivate the quality of Menuchat Hanefesh by balancing effort with rest, by staying connected at all times to the part of ourselves that is in contact with the earth, and by paying close attention to the natural ways in which our muscular system functions. All of these approaches can support us in having perspective in our lives. From this place of perspective, we are able to respond rather than react, to move through our practice and our days with equanimity and perspective - an ability to be present with a “calmness of soul,” Menuchat Hanefesh as described by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin in his book Chesbon Hanefesh.[1]

[1] Morinis, Everyday Holiness, 100.

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

 

Embodying Middot - Humility / Anava

Humility as Emptying
‘Humility pertains to Keter’ - Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Tomer Devora. 16h Century.

The first quality/middah studied in Mussar practice groups is Anava/Humility, for a very important reason. Keter, the point from which all creation is originally derived, is the first Sefira,[1] but it is the most unknown. Just as Keter, the ineffable source of all being, is the first Sefira, so also must Anava be the place from which we approach an embodied Mussar practice. Keter is associated with Ain Sof, without end, the unknowable aspect of God.  As Rabbi Bachya ibn Pakuda says, “all virtues and duties are dependent on humility.”[2] Thus, humility is related to the aspect of not knowing. By emptying ourselves of preconceived notions of how we are to practice, we enter the space of not knowing, not assuming, not being in habit. We are starting anew, and this allows us to bring ourselves to our practice with open awareness and curiosity. “A person must teach [her] tongue to say ‘I don’t know’” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 4a).

When we empty ourselves of all that we think we know about our bodies (and its limitations and capabilities) we became like the desert.  As the Sefat Emet[3] teaches, we received the Torah in the desert because we needed to become like the desert to empty ourselves of slave mentality. If we approach our embodied practice each day anew, each new breath, as if we do not know how to move into the asana, we break out of habitual ways of moving through our practice, and this translates to our lives. 

Emptying Using Breath
When we lie upon the mat, before we begin to open our hips, back, neck, shoulders, and limbs, we can bring attention to the dynamic of the breath entering and leaving the body.  When we pay close attention in this way, we are filling (on the inhale, we receive breath into the lungs through the nose or mouth) and emptying (on the exhale, we release breath from the lungs through the nose or mouth) hundreds upon hundreds of times each day.  Lying with our hands on our upper chest, above the collarbone, we can feel the rise and fall of the upper rib basket and sternum. Placing our hands on the bottom of the rib basket at the lower ribs, we can feel the sensation of the descent of the diaphragm that expands the belly on the inhale; and the lift of the diaphragm that empties the belly on the exhale. By simply focusing on the inhalation and exhalation of the breath throughout our entire practice, we can experience the sensation of emptying in the body.

Humility as Truth
Alan Morinis, in his book Everyday Holiness, says the reason we begin with Anava in our Mussar practice is that we need to have an accurate assessment and understanding of self as a foundation and starting point for the work: “Humility is not an extreme quality, but rather a balanced, moderate, accurate understanding of yourself that you act on in your life.”[4]  Although there is great value in emptying preconceived notions or old habits when approaching a pose (or a conversation with a loved one, or many situations in our lives), we must also be safe in the physical practice and this means being aware of what is true for our bodies in the moment.

How do we bring Truth to the embodied practice? We must tune in to the truth of our bodily sensations as we practice.  We are the only ones who know what is safe and best for our unique body-beings in any given moment. Especially if we have injuries, past surgeries, or if we begin to feel pain of any sort - we must listen to ourselves and understand what is true from within. Rav Avraham Isaac Kook says, “I just need to position myself in the posture of deep listening to myself, to listen to the secret discussion of creation in its room of rooms and I will hear and my soul will be alive.”[5]  This level of deep listening to what is true for our bodies, moment to moment as we practice, is another essential aspect of Anava.

The aspect of Emet or Truth in Anava is most applicable and important in the practice of forward bends.  The focus of the practice, especially in forward bends, is an investigation of what is TRUE, not what ‘should be’.  When practitioners focus on a goal -  touching their toes or bringing their head closer to their legs - this, too often, leads to injury. Most of us have tight hamstrings and we compensate for this tightness by overstretching the lower back and hurting ourselves.  What is most important in a forward bend is to keep the front of the spine long and lifted, and to turn the entire pelvis and torso over the heads of the thigh bones (femur) as one unit, only as far as is reasonable for our bodies in the moment. What is true for one person is not true for another.  Looking within for what is true, with deep listening inside our ‘room within rooms’, as Rav Kook so beautifully describes, is essential to the practice, and can be seen as a metaphor for the way we engage with others in the world, day-to-day.

Humility as the Right Amount of Space
Maimonides teaches that humility is not about extreme self-debasement or extreme pride, but about taking up the right amount of space, as is appropriate for who we are.  We need to assess in any moment what amount of space is appropriate for us to take. In some cases, it is appropriate and even necessary for us to step forward, in others, it is right to step back.

There are numerous ways that ‘taking the right amount of space’ applies to an embodied practice. First, in the asana practice, placing our feet a certain distance apart from one another in all of the standing poses brings different levels of comfort and/or benefit to the body. For example, if there is too much space between the feet in a Forward Bend / Uttanasana  (Figure 1), we literally may not be able to turn the pelvis up and over the femur bones - anatomically it is impossible. Or, if we stand with the feet too close to one another in a Triangle Pose / Utthita Trikonasana  (Figure 2), we limit the ability of the torso to comfortably turn up and over the front leg.  Even in Mountain Pose / Tadasana (Figure 3), the amount of space between our feet affects our ability to balance on the inner or outer foot, or upon the base of the toes or circumference of the heel in a way that most effectively supports our unique body’s structure, and the ability of the spine to lift and flow freely up to the sky.

Second, we can look within the body and apply the same principle to the moving joints within the anatomical structure.  For example, there is the matter of space taken by the head of the femur (thigh bone) in the hip joint.  If we move into Trikonasana  (Figure 2) or Uttanasana (Figure 1) with the image of head the femur being centered in the hip joint, spaciously surrounded on all sides by the acetabulum, we create the right amount of space for freedom of movement in the pose, particularly as we move into and out of it. The concavity of the acetabulum moves up and over the head of the femur in the externally rotated front leg with more ease based upon the way in which every single part of the anatomy is placed in space. 

When we practice with full awareness of the amount of space we take up with careful attention to the placement of our limbs or to the alignment of the bones within our limbs, we open our awareness to all of the spaciousness within, to all of the ways in which we inhabit our flesh, muscles, bones, and breath, and as a consequence we are more likely to move into the world and engage with others with conscious awareness of more spaciousness inside.

[1] The Ten Sefirot (Measures or Enumerations), a visual model and map that denotes a dynamic process of finding balance from our mystical tradition. Originally conceived and documented by Rabbi Moshe De Leon (1250-1305 CE), a Spanish rabbi and Kabbalist, the Sefirot map includes manifestations of divine qualities considered to be present within all of us.  When in balance and harmony this body-map can offer a picture of a balanced life.  

[2] Alan Morinis, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar (Boston and London: Trumpeter, 2007), 46.

[3] Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Gur Poland (1847 – 1905)

[4] Morinis, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar, 50.          

[5] Rak Avraham Isaac Kook, Orot HaKodesh

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

Embodying Middot Introduction

Explore three qualities through your physical body!  Read below for an introduction and click the buttons below for a deeper dive into specific qualities.

Embodying Middot
We can infuse any embodied practice, including Yoga, with an awareness of qualities which might deepen our spiritual growth.  Each trait can be invoked in any and every pose we do.  Practicing these qualities on the mat helps us integrate these qualities into our being.  This gives us a greater chance of continuing to exude the qualities we’ve cultivated in the world beyond our mat.  There is no ‘perfect pose’ for any given middah. Rather, we can take the same exact sequence any given day and infuse the practice with whatever kavanah (direction or intention) we wish to cultivate within ourselves.

Click-through the buttons above to explore three middot,  AnavaMenuchat Hanefesh, and Netzach, through various postures (images at bottom of page).

Each of these middot must balance with its opposite to work in harmony together.  To cultivate only one quality to its extreme is detrimental to our growth and antithetical to the idea behind cultivating and developing character traits in the first place. In the Mussar tradition, we each have our own life’s curriculum, with our own strengths and our own challenges. The goal is to create balance by engaging with our traits as we grow and change.

When we approach these qualities or middot by strengthening our kinesthetic understanding of each principle, we are able to engage with these middot in our lives from an organic, embodied, grounded place.

Why Yoga?
While we do not have an asana (posture) practice in Judaism, many teachings from the Jewish mystical tradition place great emphasis on the deep connection between body and soul.   According to the Hasidic rebbes, every day-to-day activity is for the purpose of connecting our physical beings to our spirit, and for revealing divinity on the physical plane. In fact, the rabbis of the Talmud are said to have spent the hour before morning prayer in ‘movement’ or ‘meditation.’ (Berachot 30b).

This is where Yoga comes in. The Sanskrit word Yoga means “to merge, join or unite”.  It refers to the unification of the “soul with the eternal truth.”[1] The word Asana means “holding the body in a particular posture with the bhavana or the thought that God is within.”[2]  When we infuse our Yoga practice with teachings from the Jewish tradition, we are not practicing ‘Jewish Yoga,’ rather, we are bringing our whole selves to our practice. 

The popularization of Yoga in the west has awakened a yearning among Jewish Yoga practitioners to connect our physical practice to the spiritual teachings of our own faith. For some practitioners this happens organically, for others, the invitation to connect the two is a long-awaited opportunity to feel at home in a body-based spiritual practice.

The practice of Yoga is one of many physical practices that can support us in bringing our attention to the present. This toe. This breath. This line of energy from the lesser trochanter through to the inner arch of the foot. Our Yoga practice is a means for us to enter more deeply into awareness of all aspects of ourselves. 

We are most joyful and whole when we can bring our whole self to the world. When we connect our personal practices for fitness and well-being with our spiritual practices, we can practice Yoga, dance, run, move, sweat, laugh, learn, meditate, rest and restore without leaving our Jewish selves behind.  We can show up in our Jewish body-souls to our practices for well-being with an integrated sense of presence. 

[1] Geeta Iyengar, Yoga:  A Gem for Women (Timeless Books: Palo Alto, California, 1990), 9.

[2]  Ibid., 25.

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

 

  

Yoga Postures and Themes for Passover

Explore freedom from an embodied perspective with these Passover-theme related yoga postures offered by Julie Emden, Director of our Embodied Jewish Learning Initiative.  Julie offers workshops, classes, and a Yoga and Jewish Wisdom Teacher Training. She can be reached at: jemden@jewishlearningworks.org. 

These postures and themes were created for At the Well, a project supporting Jewish women to celebrate Rosh Hodesh all over the world.  See more resources from At the Well for the month of Nissan here.

Materials : yoga mat and blanket
Opening Kavanah - You are the Authority

The foremost theme for this month and gift of Passover is that we move from slavery to freedom, from constriction to expansion, from responding and reacting to other’s demands of us to acting from a place of true sovereignty and authority from within.  Please take on these suggested practices (and those from any body-based practice) with this in mind, and consider your own body’s unique needs when practicing yoga.  At Sinai upon receiving Torah, at the same time that we camp at the base of the mountain as one soul, we each also hear our own unique message, and we each receive our own unique place or letter in the Torah.  And when we receive manna in the desert, the amount we each receive is according to our individual needs - no more, no less.  Do not do anything that is not right for your body, in this moment, in this time.  You are the authority and you are sovereign over the gorgeous domain that is your body-soul-heart-spirit being, for this practice and always.

Theme 1:  Moving from Constriction to Expansion - Mitzrayim

When we look at the Hebrew word ‘Mitzrayim’, we see the word ‘Tzar’, which means constriction, surrounded by the word ‘Mayim’, which means water.  All of the joints in the body are surrounded by water in the form of synovial fluid.  As you practice these poses, bring awareness to the fact that the joints (tzar) in our bodies - our wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles - which enable us to move and create change  in the world!- need mayim, softness, and  fluidity in order to be healthy and strong.

Hip Openers - Lying on the floor
Lying Two-Knee-Spinal-Twist 

Eye of the Needle 

Happy Baby

Theme 2:  Softening the heart - Exodus 8:28 - “And Pharaoh hardened his heart…”

As Pharaoh witnesses and experiences the ten plagues, we hear over and over that his “heart is hardened”, and the language in the text indicates that his obstinacy becomes habitual.  Releasing habits that no longer serve us to live in integrity with our deepest potential and desire is another theme for the month of Nissan. In fact, Moses is told at the burning bush to ‘take off his shoes’ (Exodus 3:5),  but the Hebrew can also be translated as ‘unlock your habits!’  Day to day, as we sit and move with postures of leaning over computers and steering wheels, we can create a habitual shape in the body of shoulders rolling forward, chest collapsing and a ‘closing of the heart’.  These poses support us in opening our hearts and shoulders, and also bringing awareness to the spaces behind our hearts.  They provide a countering to the habitual way we often move through the world.

Heart Openers

Supported Backbend Lying back over a rolled blanket or Bolster

Cow-Face Pose arms    

Eagle Pose Arms 

Theme 3: Stepping into the Sea on Dry Land - Exodus 14:22 - “And the Israelites entered the sea on dry land”

You may have seen the movie, or considered the scientific research about the parting of the sea in the Exodus story.  What is possibly as fascinating as the notion that the sea parted for the Israelites, is that the text says that the Israelites stepped onto dry land ‘b’toch’, inside of, the sea.  What?!  How could the land be dry, even if the sea had parted? And have you ever tried to walk on wet soaky sand just after the waves recede on a walk at the beach? It’s not easy.  This is our task in Nissan, and in our lives.  How can we maintain stability, stay grounded and connected to our foundation, in times of turbulence, change and upheaval? How can we stay upright and connected to what is solid, perhaps relying merely on our bones, our etzem, our essence, during times of intense change and transformation. These standing poses can help us feel our feet, solidly rooted and firmly planted and the limbs of our legs rising up from that foundation, as a resource, a source of strength and support for us as we move through the world and reach for our dreams.

Standing Poses

Mountain/Mt Sinai Pose

Warrior 2

Side Angle

 

To experience these and more, join Julie for one of her Passover workshops: