by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
An anonymous commentor brought some challenges to our previous (anti) yoga article…
This is the well known Rebbe’s talk on Transcendental Meditation – a very popular practice that spread throughout the U.S. during the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Those who present this video as haskama, approval from the Rebbe, for meditation or practices such as yoga omit many of the key things the Rebbe said…
The words of the Rebbe (from the video / talk), my additions in ( parens ) :
"Two conditions however:
1 - Such "meditation" therapy is ONLY for an UNHEALTHY person, NOT for a healthy functioning person who is living an active productive life. (Though this includes someone who is healthy but has (mentally) convinced themselves they cannot function without meditation (meaning meditation practitioners of non-kosher types can hold that they "need" meditation to function and therefore are permitted a kosher type.))
2 - The meditation practitioner is QUALIFIED to determine that which is allowed by Jewish law from that which is idolatrous (meaning he must be an expert halachic decisor, fully versed in hilchos avodah zarah, and an expert in meditative techniques.) He must ALSO be a medical expert (to determine the person is in actual need) to prescribe the meditation IN CORRECT MEASURE - NO MORE - NO LESS, for just like any other form of medicine, as discussed in the works of Jewish ethics and Chassidus, medicine IS HARMFUL TO A HEALTHY PERSON.
And this should not be mixed with other issues: There are those who wish to achieve additional benefit by offering "Kabbalah Meditations". Meditation on Kabbalah and Torah's inner teachings is certainly worthy and commendable.
But here we are talking about fellow Jews who have stumbled into a form of idolatry, so first and foremost they must be rescued from that predicament..." (end of the Rebbe’s words)
The commentor responded…
I'm sorry that I didn't include all of the qualifications he gave in the sicha.
It is clear, however, that according to the Rebbe, there is such a thing as yoga minus avoda zara, but it should only be for an unhealthy person, not a practice for everyone to do, like you said.
I should comment that I myself do not practice yoga, nor am I particularly in favor of it being practiced indiscriminately. However, according to the opinion of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, it is not as black and white issue as is being presented on this blog, yoga being "impossible" to separate from its origins in an avoda zara culture. If that was the case, the Rebbe wouldn't have said what he said.
The Rebbe is talking about Transcendental Meditation, not yoga.
The Rebbe says directly this is for people that are heavily involved in this type of meditation and can't live without it - in such a case a neutral alternative is ok.
The Rebbe further says a neutral version of meditation can be prescribed, like a medication, for people with serious medical need.
NOT SAID is that the Rebbe sent several shluchim around the world (reference writings of Atara Sofer, a"h, and her daughter wrote to Nshei Chabad magazine on this topic 2 years ago) to find such a "neutral meditation". These shluchim reported back failure - no such neutral meditation was found (meaning every one found had some level of avodah zarah in it.)
Now we here have been referring to yoga programs being indiscriminately offered throughout orthodox Jewish communities as a general practice of exercise and health.
If a Kosher Yoga program is being offered exclusively to heavy yoga practitioners that are looking for an alternative way out, great. Or if a kosher yoga program is being offered specifically as a solution to certain major health problems, and it's been properly checked (as the Rebbe specified - a heavy checking by a multidisciplinary expert), also great.
In other words, as a targeted medicine for addicts and the seriously ill, the risks can be worth the reward. But it's NOT ok for the general community.
How in the world is it that we are so exceptionally careful in the religious community regarding kosher food, kosher entertainment (no TV), kosher education, kosher dress, but something as potentially scary and damaging as yoga is “ok, lots of religious people do it”???