Arguably the first observant rabbi
to write about Jewish meditation for
the general public, Kaplan's books
are widely considered "kosher" even
among Judaism's Orthodox and
Other rabbis explain yoga's appeal to
modern Jews as a complementary form
of expression for the otherwise cerebral
"People of the Book."
"It's a little bit of a corrective," says
Rabbi Paul Yedwab, of Temple Israel in
West Bloomfield — and a certified yoga
instructor. "Judaism was a physical
religion. You had to walk up hills to
make sacrifices three times a year.
"Unfortunately, we were torn out of
our land and forbidden to use our
bodies in farming or the military,"
Yedwab says, adding that our intellec-
tualization may have been a "master-
ful coping technique" but perhaps not
congruent to Judaism's founding. "Yoga
ties the body back to the mind, just like
building a sukkah does, or walking the
land in Israel."
What does give Rabbi Yedwab pause
about yoga, he said, is "the bowing"
that concludes some, but not all, class-
es. It occurs when the teacher brings
his or her hands to "prayer position" in
front of the heart and says, "Namaste,"
which can be translated from Sanskrit
as "bowing to the divine light" in each
Because Judaism is concerned both
with one's intentions — as well percep-
tions within the community — when
performing a deed, Yedwab avoids the
namaste portion of class. "You don't
want to give the wrong impression of
bowing to a teacher," he says.
Not all of Judaism's spiritual leaders
have signed on to yoga as a comple-
ment to the faith. The late Lubavitch
rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, who
the body back
to the mind,
or walking the
land in Israel."
— RABBI PAUL YEDWAB
rarely delved into these types of
esoteric arguments, forbade practices
like yoga back in 1978 because, he said,
the movement involved "certain rites
and rituals" bordering on idolatry.
But Chabad rabbis today advise
against "throwing the baby out with
the bathwater." Rabbi Tzvi Freeman,
who frequently blogs for Chabad.org ,
says yoga's gifts of increased strength
and flexibility ought not to be dis-
In addition to its spiritual benefits,
many physical and physiological ben-
efits can be derived from yoga. Bikram
yoga, one of the more athletic types,
consists of a series of 26 postures done
for 90 minutes in a room heated to 105
degrees Fahrenheit. The heat allows
muscles to stretch safely, and profuse
sweating results in detoxification.
"It's like the first layer of Coca-Cola
coming out," says Jenny Barrett, owner
of Bikram Yoga in Farmington Hills,
quoting the movement's founder,
Barrett, who is opening a second
studio in Troy early in 2011, says the
mental concentration required to
execute the poses helps quiet the mind,
which may help set the stage for a
"[People] feel more connected to
their religion when they are practicing
because they have less stress in their
system," she says many students have
"The breath work associated with
yoga is an active form of meditation,
and Jews have been meditating for
years," Rabbi Goldberg says. "What do
you think the Jews were doing in the
desert for 40 years? They were mostly
camping, they didn't have to prepare
food, there was no stock market —
what else [was] there for a Jew to do?"
Whatever the perceived or real
conflicts with organized religion, yoga
has taken deep root in America — an
arguably religious country. A 2008
study commissioned by the North
American Studio Alliance found that
more than 15 million Americans
practice yoga regularly.
And while the exact number of
American Jews taking yoga classes is
unknown, in Detroit at least, it seems
everyone knows someone who is a
regular practitioner of the ancient art.
"People want to quiet their minds
and get into their bodies," says Dan
Gottlieb, a Detroit-area yoga instructor
who had no trouble finding a job here
or building a steady following after he
returned home from teaching yoga in
In the final analysis, yoga can be
part of a web of religious activities and
experiences and also serve as a catalyst
for spiritual growth.
"A yoga pose does not help you meet
God, but it does relieve the pressure of
our over-stimulated lives so we are in
a more conducive space to connect to
something higher than self-centered
ego. It's a starting point$ says Detroit
native Eric Paskel, now of Los Angeles
and owner of Yoga Shelter, a nation-
wide chain of yoga studios.
"When you are spiritually tired, you
are open to spiritual insight," Rabbi
Yedwab says. "Working your body is a
good way to get to your soul." RT
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