I had no idea when I first incorporated Yoga into my life that it could add depth to my Judaism. In the past several years, however, that’s exactly what has happened. The beauty of Shabbat is that it not only occurs once a year, it is a gift each week. The beauty of my Yoga practice, too, is that it is consistent and, for me, almost a daily practice. I think if I share my typical Friday with you, you’ll see them complement each other in the most sacred way.
Fridays are my late day, I get to sleep in a bit because my first class doesn’t begin until 11:00 at Cityplace in Uptown. Yay me. After a long, tall cup of coffee, I have the opportunity to make a few business calls, catch up my e mails and put my challah ingredients in my breadmaker for later. The wash gets going, I pay a bill here and there, and then rush, rush,rush I’m off to teach. Almost like any other day, right?
After I teach my Friday morning corporate class I’m headed back home. Central Expressway is good to me today. More time to check a few more small tasks off my list before sunset.
When I arrive home my breadmaker light is flashing. Perfect. Flour out, cookie sheet at the ready, and I braid my dough just the way it has been done for generations. Just these few minutes of Jewish ritual make me feel connected, and remind me that tonight will be a separation from the rest of the week. There will be space from what can be mundane.
At 1:20, students begin to walk through my open door. We have the added pleasure of having built friendships these past two years. After a bit of catch up, we settle into the Yoga studio. We get straps and blocks, a blanket here and there, and maybe even a sandbag. You see, this isn’t just any practice, we are beginning to prepare for Shabbat.
Our playlist is soft and easy, and there sits in the air a hint of lavender. I remind my students about “Ahimsa,” a Sanskrit word which translates to “no harm” in English. Always an important reminder, but especially significant with Shabbat a few hours away.
The first poses feel sticky, or stiff, as we lay on our mats and reach behind us in a deep stretch. We can feel how our bodies have been affected by compression, be it by gravity or sitting in meetings, or even bending at the neck over our cell phones. We breathe. Long and slow. In and out through the nose, loud enough that our own breath is audible for our own ears. Acknowledging this fact takes us deeper. We begin using a strap at the bottom of the foot raising a leg to the sky. Perhaps a few more sticky moments. We breathe into those very spots with all the air we have and voila, softness begins to take over. And slowly, we have put space back into our beautiful bodies. Our bodies that house a spark of the divine. And we know it. And we feel it. And we dwell on it.
More asanas, more breath, an inversion or two, and it’s already time for Savasana. I watch my Yogi’s melt into their mats. I play a few extra tones on my singing crystal bowl to enhance their rest in what is surely the most important Yoga pose of them all. Because I am their teacher, I have the good fortune of observation. Their bodies are free of tension built up from a week of work. We have created more space in our stretching and strengthening. The body has surrendered and the mind is now quiet. The last tone resonates and we slowly move to sitting. Eyes closed, we recall our intention for the practice just concluded.
As we stand up and make our way to the living room, someone asks “Who’s going to services tonight?” It may be a Yarzheit, or a wedding blessing, or even another opportunity to see each other again very soon. We say our goodbyes.
An hour or two later, Barry’s car pulls in the drive. Friday afternoons are different. We tend to any work left undone at this point. We discuss any business at hand because we make the space to let go of all of it for Shabbat. The life of a Yoga instructor is somewhat intense, classes all the time, etc, and my day off on purpose begins when the sun sets until I teach again on Sunday morning.
The challah has risen and goes into the oven, and we set out our candles and Kiddush cup. We change clothes, say our blessings, and head off to Temple Emanu-El. We are seated. Eyes seem to close almost on their own as one of our Rabbi’s reminds us to put both of our feet squarely on the ground and find quiet. We are encouraged to listen to our own breath. I’m already there. Was there, really, the first time we stretched our bodies out on the mat with gratitude for this borrowed, sacred body.
The long and the short of it is this: Yoga teaches you how to live in the present moment fully. On the heels of that “Pre-Shabbat Deep Stretch Class,” I am so much more ready to receive the gift of space and rest that Shabbat offers us, and, moreover, ready to embrace my time talking to God. Do Yoga and Judaism compliment each other?
For me, they certainly do.
Debbi Kay Levy took her first Yoga class on September 5, 2010, and tried to make it her last. Upon being convinced by her teacher to try it just a couple more times, the joy that a Yoga practice brings took hold. One year following that first practice, Debbi was in California working toward her teacher training and she now has a Crystal Alchemy certification and a Usui Reiki Tradition of Natural Healing certification. You can find Debbi practicing and teaching at the J and at her Dallas studio Transformation Yoga. When you can’t get to a studio, you can follow Debbi for Yoga inspiration on Facebook TransformationYogaTexas, Instagram @Debbiklevy, and on her website www.Transformationyogatexas.com.