After the birth of our twin sons in the late 90's, I had on and off issues with my lower back. I lost considerable stomach and back strength due to twin pregnancy and it seemed like I would never have an ache-free back, no matter how many sit-ups and chiropractic visits.
I decided that some kind of exercise regimen might be the solution. As I struggled to involve myself in some kind of daily exercise that wouldn't go against my nature, I felt like I was coming up with no answers. I knew that I despised gyms and most sports. I might fancy an occasional racquetball or tennis game, a long bikeride with my husband or frequent walks. I preferred to do something that was outdoor oriented, but in this not so dry Northwest...what to do?
alone with a mentor
One day, in my quest for a fitness solution, I stumbled onto Yoga. Not knowing much about it, tentative and skiddish, I decided to try it. A new yoga studio had opened up only a few miles from my home and it seemed at least a viable option. Not realizing how new the studio was, I found myself to be the only student on my first night there and for a few months thereafter. As I worked through my first practice, I not only realized how out of shape I was, but how amazing the practice was for my body. I had never learned to breathe or stretch as effectively as I had that night. I left feeling energized, oxygenated and somehow changed. This practice was a keeper.
Over the next month, I started to notice my back problems going away. Miraculously, I didn't have the aching I had grown accustomed to and overall I seemed to be strengthened. And more than that, I was noticing I was gaining more flexibility: inside and outside.
As I continued attending my yoga sessions, more students eventually came on the scene. Though jealous that my one on one yoga time would be over as new students started filling up the classes, I was grateful for the foundational time that I had with my teacher, Linda. As I was learning not only to be more flexible physically, I could also feel a change happening on the inside.
The breathing techniques, yoga postures and meditation brought inner peace and adaptability. Linda always was sure to tell us that the original practice of yoga was not tied to any religion and was used as a mind and body discipline. It was only later in history that certain religions began to tie the postures to religious concepts. Before Linda would end each class, she would always remind us to take what we gained from each practice out into the world and bring peace into the world. Class time was always a very spiritual time for me in a different way. Through becoming more flexible and working with the guf (body) and calming the mind, I was tapping into honing the physical and spiritual to work more efficiently and together. Moments in the car when I would normally snap due to traffic, being late, etc... were changed into moments to engage healthy breathing and bring myself out of the stress.
Many religions get hung up on theology and become all about what one thinks. Judaism is a very active, mitzvah-oriented religion. I enjoy that aspect of Judaism, as I can actively work on becoming a better person through good deeds. As I began to integrate yoga into my life, I felt that I was able to connect spiritually in a newfound way. Of course, traditional davening was always a part of my life and would continue to be. But this fresh means of relating mind and body was giving me a way to focus, concentrate and feel a special connection. Certain poses would remind me of Hebrew letters, liturgy and tradition. Then I began to wonder...has anyone else thought of connecting the very tangible physical practice of yoga with Judaism?
And the answer was: yes. A very amazing woman named Diane Bloomfield brought together traditional and mystical Jewish wisdom with yoga postures to create a very edifying and changing practice. I didn't feel like I was crazy for trying to connect my mind, body and soul in a Jewish way through an ancient practice. Her book and practice Torah Yoga1 brought me into a new reality of connecting the mind, body and soul in an innovative and meditative way. This contemplation on Torah principles while attending to the health of one's body seemed like a harmonious combination, almost too good to be true. As I would continue my practice of yoga, I would often have all these ideas swirling around in the movements.
Since my first yoga class, I feel like I have changed in so many ways. Not only do I continue to have no back pain, but I find that my ability to adapt and handle life situations is of a higher caliber. In my yoga practice I have had many opportunities to truly stretch myself and muster up courage to try very challenging postures. Not only has this helped me externally to grow stronger, but as well I feel that I have translated that into my ability to spiritually ascend new heights and go beyond my own self-imposed boundaries.
Genetics, diet, lifestyle, etc. can affect how our well our bodies adapt to aging. However, active work, no matter what the practice may be, is essential to adapting the body to manage age changes more gracefully. Likewise, our ability to stretch spiritually and adapt ourselves is a function of how we are willing to challenge our souls on a daily basis. Some people would say no pain, no gain. Pain indicates a rigidity, a resistance. I think there is a better way. No flex, no gain. We need to stretch ourselves on a spiritual and physical basis. Whatever you choose, put yourself into it. The physical indeed affects the spiritual. In this way, we can live up to the quote above and benefit those around us through our work. Namaste...
1. Torah Yoga: Experiencing Jewish Wisdom Through Classic Postures by Diane Bloomfield