by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
We receive a question by email about Kosher Yoga for Pregnant Jewish Women (Pre-Natal Yoga), is it ok? We’ve written extensively about problems with (kosher) yoga in the past, here’s our newest reply…
It's easy to think that yoga is just exercises. And indeed there's nothing wrong with "just exercise". But yoga is always more than "just exercise". It starts with breathing techniques that then bring along focusing thoughts in certain ways and pronouncements or sounds that to focus one in certain ones...which are forms of meditation. It then usually includes where to focus those thoughts...on universality, on nothing(ness), etc. At which point any experienced Hindu Guru recognizes the pattern as the basic meditative processes of Hinduism.
Every yoga program Reb Gutman Locks (a former Hindu Guru now an orthodox Jew who writes frequently here on Mystical Paths) and I have looked at have shown themselves to contain something inappropriate (meaning clearly not kosher) within the first 5 minutes of research. This also and specifically includes programs described as kosher yoga or kosherized yoga or Jewish yoga or Jewish mystical yoga and/or held in orthodox synagogues, Jewish community centers, and even Chabad houses. Some of the things we've found have literally been frightening and almost unbelievable.
We've also received direct reports of people, orthodox Jews, who have been involved in kosher yoga programs who found it interesting enough to go out to the book store and pick up some additional information on yoga. A few years later they're heavy meditative yoga practitioners but no longer Jewish religious practitioners.
I am certain that the people trying to kasher (make kosher) yoga are well meaning and think they're bringing the benefits of a health improving exercise to the Jewish community. But yoga is a foreign religious technique that's masquerading as an exercise, not an exercise technique with a little bit of foreign religious ideals.
The confusion on this point is that like many foreign things sold to an American audience, it's heavily watered down in it's first presentation. So with just a little bit of "om'ing" and a little bit of "focus on nothingness" during mostly exercises, it certainly doesn't SEEM like anything can be wrong or anything seriously spiritual is going on. But the foundation is laid and builds up from there.
Net net, we can't say every "kosher yoga" system is a problem as we haven't personally examined every system. But we have found some problems even in "kosher" yoga systems developed by orthodox Jews which even have a rabbinic approbation or two.
However, if someone has been taught a specific yoga exercise or two that helps with a specific health problem, and it involves ONLY the exercise, there should be no problem as it's for health and avoids any of the thought focusing or meditative aspects.
But as an exercise system, yoga of any sort should be avoided. There seems to be adequate alternatives, such as Pilates, that offer similar benefits without the spiritual risks. This applies to pre-natal exercise systems as well. There seems to be no shortage of such systems which are carefully tailored to a pregnant woman’s unique exercise needs.