In Judaism, Hashem is everything, and therefore He created everything. If we truly believe this, then we must also believe that everything, including things that are “not Jewish,” are also His creations. While there is a debate in certain communities over the value of secular learning, I find there to be great value in learning as much as you can, no matter where it comes from… because, of course, it all comes from G-d. And in fact, as I once heard Rabbi Steven Leder put it, the more knowledge you have will actually put you closer to G-d and Judaism.
What is fascinating to me, is when I hear something from another culture or religion, and learn later on that it is actually steeped in Judaism and, quite often, originated from Judaism. The lessons I hear in Yoga is where this seems to happen a lot. And again, if I believe that Hashem controls everything, which I do, I also have to believe He puts me in front of the things that I need to hear and see and learn. And I come to those lessons right when I need them most.I do not believe my Yoga teacher Krista is Jewish. But she is highly spiritual and speaks amazing lessons during the yoga class I do with my cousin Rachel two times a week. Of course there are the amazing physical benefits… and I can tell you I am so much more flexible, and we know that Judaism teaches us to honor the vessel that holds the soul… there is also the spiritual guidance. One needs to open their minds and give into the knowledge that is out in the world. After all, it all comes from Hashem.
The last class, Rachel was out of town, and when she is, I usually skip it. I suppose part of me is afraid to go solo, even though, as Krista says, we are where we are and that is how we come to class… and wherever we are is fine and where we are supposed to be. She also says that we all need to “stay on our own mat.” In other words, do not worry about anyone else, do not look longingly at the flexibility of the person next to you. Be in you and with you and celebrate that journey.Something told me there were things I needed to hear… and I certainly knew that my sore and stiff back needed the stretching, so off I went… There were three major life lessons she shared with us during the last class… and as I share them with you, I have no doubt you will hear and feel the Judaism that is behind them and a part of them.
Lesson #1: Serenity And Surrender Is Strength
When you are trying to move into a position in yoga, stress and strain and struggle will not help you, but letting go without judgement, easing into it and slowly allowing yourself to relax into it, creates the pose. It allows the pose to happen. And it may not be perfect, but giving into it, giving into G-d is strength. Humility is strength. Gratitude is strength. Fully knowing that G-d is One and that G-d is Everything is freeing. It gives us serenity and peace and the most strength possible.
The “Serenity Prayer” is certainly not considered “Jewish” and while I could find the equivalent in the Torah I am sure, let me quote it as many people know it, especially those in 12-Step Programs:
“G-d, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
– American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)Lesson #2: Giving And Taking Are The Same Things
Deepak Chopra says: “Every relationship is one of give and take. Giving engenders receiving, and receiving engenders giving. What goes up must come down; what goes out must come back. In reality, receiving is the same thing as giving, because giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of energy in the universe.”
Read Loving Kindness by the Chofetz Chaim (Yisrael Meir Kagan) and you will know this to be true. My rule of thumb on this is simple: I have no problem asking for a favor, as long as I am willing to do the exact same thing for the person I am asking, or for anyone else. Period.
Sometimes we need to take and ask, and sometimes we need to give. Both have amazing benefits for both parties.
Lesson #3: You Have To Empty Space To Create Room For The Right Things
This may be the biggest one for me, as I contemplate a move from my house and the much delayed need to purge a great deal of crap. If we are overweight, we need to shed pounds. If we are depressed or our minds are on overload, we need to purge bad thoughts and clear out space. It is when we are empty of the negative, that the positive has room to take over.
We have to empty space in order to allow the right things to come in: Breath, G-d, Love. We have to create space, we have to literally MAKE emptiness in order to fill it with the right things. In yoga, you literally breathe and move your body in order to create more space, because when that space is open, so is your heart and your mind. You will get into a pose and think you cannot go deeper or further, and yet, mystically, magically, you can breathe in a little more… adjust… and find more physical and mental space in a position… in a pose. We can all do this in life.
And when your heart and your mind are open, when there is space… that is when G-d can come in.