by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
We’ve written over 30 articles here at Mystical Paths on yoga and programs describing themselves as kosher yoga – and why it’s almost impossible for any yoga program to be “kosher”.
Here we get a new twist on our standard question. A reader wrote…
I very much appreciate your repeated posts about yoga on Mystical Paths. However, I am saddened to say that basically every Orthodox Jew I've spoken to about it here in (major Orthodox Jewish area) has outright refused everything you’ve been posting despite my remarks to the contrary! Much more work needs to be done.
Now, a personal question. B'H k’h (hush hush) I am expecting and have been looking for an exercise program to help my back, which is already hurting and sore early on in the pregnancy. So far I have searched multiple directories and spoken to multiple people, and no one seems to know about any prenatal exercise ANYTHING in (major Orthodox Jewish area) besides the infamous (female religious teacher’s) YOGA classes, which come highly recommended by very frum (Orthodox Jewish religious) friends of mine. I spoke to her tonight, and she says she does use basic yoga postures (she mentioned the cat and some others I didn’t catch), that yoga is good for the entire body (digestive system, thyroid, etc.) and that breathing and mind-focus are part of the classes, but “of course everything is Torah-based.” She insists that she has consulted with many Rabbonim here in (major Orthodox Jewish area) and elsewhere over her 35 years of teaching yoga, she is Chassidish, and everyone who comes to the classes are “Heimishe women.” She exclaimed: “You have nothing to worry about!!!”
I would never think twice except for your articles, and I AM worried. Do you happen to have done any research about her classes, and please forgive me, if they really are divorced enough from real yoga to be “kosher”?
Otherwise, I have put some feelers out for very expensive private pilates classes, but this is all I have found so far as any alternative that is comfortable for me, and my doctor is worried I might be in the hands of someone without the proper prenatal experience to know what is safe and not.
Can it possibly be that the only alternative for a pregnant Orthodox woman needing specific strengthening exercises in (major Orthodox Jewish area) is YOGA? Do you know of any other leads? I'm truly desperate.
Thank you again for your time both for my question, and working to clarify this important issue! Like I said, if not for these articles, I wouldn’t have even thought twice.
Mazel Tov! Hashem should bless you with an easy pregnancy and easy delivery of a healthy child!
I haven't researched many yoga programs in different areas, only a few specific ones that readers have focused us upon. I tried to get some information about the one you mentioned and wasn't able to find anything useful.
However, I want to respond to a few things you wrote to add some perspective...
In kashrut we have the halachic concept of bitul b'shishim, nullified in a 60 to 1 volume. Meaning if a kashrus problem is found or a mistake made, if the volume is small versus the primary then it's still kosher. Example, if a person accidentally dripped 1 drop of milk into their pot of chicken soup...it's kosher.
Similarly we have a concept of bidi'eved, after the fact. Some things are not permitted if they were done that way intentionally, but if they're found after the fact and were unplanned they're still allowed. This applies to kashrus (if you intended to drip that drop of milk it doesn't matter it's less than 1/60th, but after the fact by accident it's ok) and other matters (such as a kohein who marries a divorcee, it's not permitted and the rav can't perform such a marriage - but if it's discovered after the fact the marriage remains in force).
Now we live in a time of hiddurim, additional stringencies added to most mitzvot (particularly kashrus). Even though we have bitul b'shishim and bidi'eved, few nowadays would eat a chicken that's kosher bidi'eved (meaning a kashrus problem was found but it's ok after the fact) or put up mezuzot that are kosher bidi'eved. Instead we have chickens that are kosher, mehadrin, mehadrin min hamehadrin, and have a long series of extra stringencies applied. Similarly our mezuzot are carefully written, checked by a scribe afterwards, then checked by a computer afterwards and re-reviewed (from the computer report) by a scribe again - and the least questionable things fixed (none of which is required k'halacha, all are extra stringencies we've incorporated into religious practice to make sure we're doing it exactly right).
After all that preliminary if I came to your home and said to you "eat this chicken, it's from a chassidish guy that's been selling chickens for 35 years, and everyone who buys from him is heimish", would you eat it? Or would you ask to verify the hashgacha?
Bitul b'shishim, nullified by 60 times it's amount, does NOT apply on Passover to chametz. If you were walking in an orthodox section of town and found a store over Passover selling big fluffy looking cakes (the type you don't normally see on Passover) and the store had lots of frum women in it, would you just walk in and buy? Or would you looked for a teudat kashrut (a kosher certification) kosher for passover? Or would you avoid it completely because it just doesn't look right, and when things don't look right they often aren't right? (Like if you found someone selling kosher l'mehadrin chickens for $1.00 per pound when it's regularly $5.00 per pound, would you say what a great deal or would you say 'this is too unusual and there must be some problem'?)
The arguments you presented were "lots of heimish women do it" and "the person selling it says rabbonim have said it's fine". If it was kosher food, in which (some) mistakes are permitted after the fact and small errors can be nullified, you wouldn't consider it for a second! You wouldn't buy because "someone says it's kosher", you'd demand proof!
There is no bitul b'shishim or bidi'eved for avodah zarah.
I feel for your discomfort and am certain the teacher has developed a program that works (otherwise she wouldn't come so recommended). There is nothing wrong with good exercises nor with stretching exercises. And it may be that yoga modeled breathing patterns provide positive benefits for labor. But it does not sound like the teacher has actual haskamot (letters of rabbinic approval), otherwise she would have offered to show you (as opposed to saying "don't worry").
I don't know of pregnant exercise options in (your major Jewish orthodox area). I did a quick google and found a few links but can't speak for the quality or appropriateness.
As for your question "can it possibly be", the yetzer hara (evil inclination) doesn't come to the frum community and say "eat treif". It has to come in sideways, otherwise we'd recognize it and reject it straight out.
We’ve repeatedly shown that yoga has a foundation in and basic beliefs of Hinduism. The original yoga positions are Hindu worship positions and are maintained in most programs (though the Hindu names may be removed). The breathing patterns are intended to bring a Hindu oriented meditative states. And the meditative focuses are Hindu oriented meditations.
So even when such programs are called “kosher” and the teachers say that the Hindu aspects have been removed, they usually still include positions that are associated with idol worship and are designed to move bodily energy to achieve Hindu spiritual-religious goals, breathing patterns intended to facilitate those energy movements and bring ones mind in tune with those Hindu body spiritual-religious goals, and though the meditations may be completely stripped of Hindu terms or meaning, the types of meditations (even if replaced with Jewish or Hebrew terminology or words from the Torah) are again aligned to bring together the body – energy – mind focus to achieve Hindu spiritual goals through Hindu style energy alignment.
And Hindu goals and approaches are simply not compatible with Jewish Torah goals and approaches and are clearly defined as avodah zarah by Judaism.
It’s worth noting that every Hindu priest (called a guru) learns yoga as an integral part of his (or her) religious training.
We can’t speak for every yoga program that calls itself kosher, nor is there anything specifically wrong with stretching exercises or patterned breathing. But the specific combined techniques known as yoga are designed and practiced with specific spiritual-religious goals in mind – ones that are foreign to and incompatible with Judaism.
( Note in the picture attached to this article, the woman’s hand and finger positions are specifically in a Hindu religious spiritual energy control position. It’s very likely she doesn’t know this and her teacher may not even know this as most American and Western yoga programs have been stripped of the intent. But this position has a specific “feeling effect”, energy affect, and avodah zarah religious meaning and is absolutely prohibited for a religious Jew. )