by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
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). ]