Monday, December 24, 2012

// // 5 comments

Good Yoga – Bad Yoga?

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

th (7)Comes word that in the middle of an ultra-orthodox chassidic Jewish community in New York, a group of Jewish women have formed a yoga practice.

This comes after a recent article on an ultra-orthodox Breslev chassidic yoga class in an ultra-orthodox Jewish community in Israel.

“…a pioneering group of Jewish women at … are stretching and bending, kosher-style…  Mainstream Western yoga classes are off limits for observant Jews for a number of reasons…  Still, they are drawn to yoga for the same physical, mental, and emotional benefits that have created the yoga boom in Western secular culture. …these women are forging a path that offers them the best of both worlds…

“The challenge of yoga intrigued me,” said the (teacher), “but I was worried that it might not be compatible with Judaism.” She consulted numerous rabbis and got varying opinions. Some religious authorities pronounced yoga ‘strictly forbidden!’- but (the teacher) kept digging.”

These women are practicing “Power Vinyasa”.  Let’s do a little digging of our own:

- Power yoga is a term used to describe a vigorous, fitness-based approach to vinyasa-style yoga. The term came into common usage in the mid 1990s, in an attempt to make Ashtanga yoga more accessible to western students.

- One of the founders of Power Yoga says, “I never diverged from teaching Ashtanga. Power Yoga was simply a name.”

- Ashtanga, the closing relaxation is very important and is an opportunity for entering a (yoga) meditative state.

- Ashtanga Yoga consists of eight ‘limbs’.  7 & 8 are ‘meditation’ and ‘spiritual consciousness’.

- A focus of Ashtanga yoga and Power Yoga is the vital aspect of internal purification.  The founding yogi teaches this is the six poisons that surround the spiritual heart. “It is said that God dwells in our heart in the form of light, but this light is covered by six poisons…”

- Avoid the moon. Both full and new moon days are observed as yoga holidays in the Ashtanga Yoga tradition.

Ok, what about this particular course?  The teacher’s teacher said, “her special brand of yoga has an aspect of mind-body unity; practicing a yoga pose, feeling a connection to your soul and therefore to your Creator, and getting enlightened by that…”

Continuing in the article on the New York class, “one of the students…. agrees that it’s the physical and mental benefits that hooked her into yoga. “I like the holistic feel. It’s fun and powerful…”

Let me finish with a statement from Reb Gutman, our blog expert on Hinduism, meditation and yoga.  “I have no idea how to get them to understand.  They want to do this!

The Yetzer Hara, the evil inclination, does not come in the middle of the ultra-orthodox Jewish community and try to trip people up (draw them into aveyrot – sin) with a desire for bacon. 

I credit the Jewish teachers with good intentions.  From the description they’ve removed the obvious Hindu external aspects from their class.  No Hindu names, bowing, no sun salutation.  They play Jewish music and (probably) make the yoga meditative statements using Jewish terminology.

But the foundational basis of these practices is Hinduism, and it should therefore be no surprise that performing these practices results in Hindu style responses.  “Feeling the connection…getting enlightened by that.”

Zumba.  Pilates.  Krav Maga.  There is no shortage of secular exercise and movement practices offering similar health benefits. 

There is no good yoga for a Jew.

[ I’m going to add one narrow exception.  I was approached by a chassidic Jew suffering from Parkinson's disease who told me a particular set of yoga movements offered him significant relief.  Yoga as a medical treatment for a significant medical condition would appear to be permitted (consult your personal rav). ]

5 comments:

Yishai said...

About your medical exception, I wonder if this applies to Tai Chi/Qigong too. I went to an acupuncturist for a while, who helped me very much with a certain health condition. He prescribed to me certain very simple qigong exercises (of course with no obvious "spiritual" content.) It seemed to help my condition. Apparently there is something called "medical qigong." Of course, it would be better to design exercises, based on the shape of Hebrew letters or whatever (as R' Locks has suggested), and presumably this would provide whatever benefits qigong or taichi provides (letting life energy flow through the body, building up that energy, etc.).

If I understand correctly, people are allowed to eat treif if it's part of a necessary medicine and doesn't taste like anything. I guess someone could make an analogy to these arts -- with "taste" being something cognizable as beliefs or spirituality from another religion.

Anonymous said...

I would add that there is NO way to kasher Zumba. Rav Zacharia Wallerstein has an amazing shiur on how treif it is. It's very vulgar and you can't kasher it with Jewish music....it's roots are Latin slutiness. kol tuv

Anonymous said...

I would say that we do not have to wait to become ill to do these medically beneficial exercises. Prevention is always better. Qi gong and Tai Chi are well known for strengthening bones and for regenerating the organs (clearing the meridians)for flexibility, good balance & relaxation. These are also exercises that do not put one at risk of common sport injuries (that even just using the treadmill can cause). We orthodox women have a tendency to neglect ourselves and take care of everybody else. And when we finally decide to take our health seriously we are told it's assur. Of course we have to remove any goyshe religious element in the exercise but to assur it after that's done just because it originated in such or such a place is a bit extreme and imho does more harm than good. Just like we have psychology that also needed a birur for orthodox jews to make use of, so too this. Isn't it all about making birurim, using chochmah of the goyim and purifying it? After all we know that chochmah goes to the goyim because we did not deserve it and we have to get it this way.

Akiva said...

Anonymous - you can say that, but gedolim have said otherwise.

Yoga is NEVER just physical positioning. It always includes focused breathing and meditation.

What's wrong with Pilates (if you want stretching exercises) or Zumba (if you want active gym room exercise)?

How are you supposed to remove the religious elements if you don't even understand what they are?

Akiva said...

Anonymous on Zumba, can you send me a link to the shiur?

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