Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Yoga – Deal with It

imageReb Gutman had a conversation with a respected Chabad shaliach and author about yoga and yoga programs in Chabad houses…

Reb Gutman to Shaliach:

What is going on with this love of yoga?

Here is a recent article of mine summing up why I say no to yoga and apparently so did the Rebbe and definitely so does Yitzchak Ginsberg from Kefar Chabad. He calls such things as “kosher yoga” shatnez.

     One of your kids was by me for Shabbos a while back and told me that you practice yoga every morning!!!  How is this allowed? Remember I am not talking about the physical movements. I am talking about ANY association with a practice designed to unite you with Hinduism

Shaliach’s Response:

The situation here is that the Hindus are "reclaiming" yoga. As though it was something they've been doing for thousands of years (everything they do they claim they've been doing for eons) and Westerners have stolen it away from them.

The truth is that the whole thing developed in the last hundred years or so, as Hindus were trying to come up with a competitor for European gymnastics and Chinese martial arts. Very little of it has much to do with real yoga or Hinduism (???). But they ascribe all these meanings to it and try to make it into some sort of spiritual path. And now, they're pushing that side of it more than ever.

To say now that "yoga is forbidden" is extremely counter-productive. Who is going to listen? What we need today is a kosher alternative, so that people looking for the therapeutic benefits these stretching and breathing exercises provide can find it without getchkas (icons) and incense and chanting.

I can see your point about the name "yoga." Yes, that has a very unkosher association. Problem is, when we call it something else, people don't come. They want yoga. So they end up in the place with the getchkas, ch'v (G-d forbid), and the instructor sneaking in her line about "everything's transient and nothing has meaning."

So, yes, you've got a point. But we've got a reality. We’ve got to deal with it.

Our Response:

- The history of yoga coming to the West shows the opposite from what you describe.  Yoga has a well described “mesorah” (l’havdil), meaning each path shows it’s connection through a series of teachers to a “source” teacher and philosophy.  Most are showing connections 200-700 years old.  When it was brought to the West, some of the more blatant Hindu religious practices were dropped to make it more appealing for Western consumers.  But the philosophical basis and goals of the practices and model is Hindu.  We fully support Hindus reclaiming the connection of yoga with Hinduism.

- If you examine any Hindu religious leader’s practices, or even just pictures of such, you’ll frequently find them in yoga poses (we don’t recommend you go looking for such).  While yoga may be divorced into an exercise and meditation system in the West, in the East it’s clearly an integral part of Hinduism.

- We accept the point, and have made it in a few of our articles, that “yoga” as a marketing term to draw in unaffiliated Jews is what it is.  As you said, if people are looking for yoga then it has to have the word yoga to get their attention.

But we’re finding it’s NOT just a marketing term.  As a teacher of a yoga program in an ultra-orthodox Jewish community in New York wrote “we’re doing sun salutation, of course I can’t call it that but that’s what it is”.  Sun salutation, a Westernized name for the position literally called “sun worship” in Hindi.

Stretching exercise, any exercises, are fine – no kosher or Jewish religious issues.  But for a Jew, association with “sun worship” or meditating on nothingness, or focusing on bringing up “serpent energy” is not.  And somehow, with yoga, no matter how “kosherized”, these elements always sneak in.

Like the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s unsuccessful search for a “neutral meditation” – to give Jewish practitioners of Trancendental Meditation an alternative to use as a path to exit that system, so far attempts at a “kosher yoga” have OBVIOUSLY been unsuccessful – no deep review or arguing over minor points required.


  1. Rabbi Mordechai Scheinberger from the old city a son in law of the Sulam has directed teachers on how to teach Yoga with taking out the bad stuff. It is taught at the Elima college of alternative medicine combining Chinese acupuncture with Jewish spirituality and kabbalah, Which is located in Or HaGanuz a village in the eastern Upper Galilee . The rabbi and spiritual leader of the community is Rabbi Sheinberger.
    Basically I was taught that yoga and most eastern religions goal is a state of nirvana . There are different steps to get to it one basic step is meditation . To help ones meditations they have an earlier step of stretches and breathing exercises ( this does not include the meditations which is the next step in yoga ) whose purpose is to relax the body and get your soul and body to be in touch to help the mind meditate .

    This part is therefor fine as it helps ones body and mind . For all the exercises the Rabbi still said to change the name and for the sun salutation he additionally had them change one of the parts so that it would be a different exercise.
    I therefor disagree with you and consider this way of teaching Yoga 100% Kosher and great for you.

  2. why do you need yoga. Hashem looked into the torah and created the world. so all the answers are in the torah. there are many jewish forms of meditation, wonderful ways, as can be found in breslov and and other places. i am sure if you took time to look for it. my husband is a hindu. everything about yoga is hinduism. period.
    rabbi lazer brody of breslov has also some good lessons. its very easy to be side tracked. when you have the answers in your torah, why look for it from the nations.

  3. Can Reb Gutman Locks - having excessive expertise in the area - create for us Orthodox/Traditional/Chasidic/frum/Jews who care (whatever you want to call us) Jews who don't want to do Yoga but really want to benefit from the stretches and breathing exercises, a patently JEWISH form of the techniques based on Chazal and other sources? I'd be thrilled to give some leads or ideas (or take time off to learn/discuss/explore the idea with him this summer in Israel) such as the discussion about what the correct position is for bowing when saying the blessing in Shmoneh Esreh for example - it's a three-way argument if I'm not mistaken and maybe each way can be a different stretch? By Modim and bowing there is explicit reference to "if you don't bow then your spine becomes a snake" so maybe have that in there? Upon hearing the rooster crow, or other animals, that praise God based on the book of Perek Shirah... can't we create our own system? And who better to do this than Reb Gil!!
    I mean come on, we have references of the Kohanim bowing in the temple and prostrating themselves, especially the very difficult (and dangerous) practice of kidah... I mean, these guys had to have taken practice classes before performing such actions properly. Couldn't we incorporate such profound ideas into our own system? A "Jewish" way to sit that instead of a lotus maybe we resemble a rose? Or maybe a parallel to prophets who sat from what I understand is in some fetal position? There's gotta be good stuff here that we can totally create if we put our minds together. And then we can even teach it and help people rise up in spirituality and holiness? (I'm thinking to myself, what the "Shema" pose would look like... or the "Roll the Torah back to Bereishit" stretch. You know?


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