This essay appears in our January 2014 Digital Issue. The entire issue is available for download.
When I first stepped on my mat ten years ago, I worried that practicing yoga might lure me away from Judaism. In each class, I couldn’t help noticing the statue of Lakshmi, goddess of abundance, watching over us. As I followed the teacher’s instructions for each pose, I wondered if I was unwittingly becoming a member of another faith and betraying my Jewish heritage.
But participating in my weekly yoga class and learning new asana poses beneath the unseeing gaze of Lakshmi, I felt something awaken in me as I listened more closely to the sound of my breath and the pulse of my heart. With each forward bend, I rooted my feet into the earth and rediscovered gravity as it exerted its pull on my shoulders and arms. With each twist, I turned toward the unknown and opened more space in my hips. With each movement, I became more mindful of the intricate design of my body—the blink of an eyelid, the caress of breath on my upper lip, the muscles, ligaments and bones supporting me in each pose—and could sense a divine presence in the world. Without words, without prayers, I felt a deep sense of abundance, a deepening appreciation for each moment of life.
This increasing sensitivity to the passage of time and my body’s ability to move in ﬂuid motion sent ripples of awareness off the mat into my practice of Judaism. Sitting in our Reform temple on Friday nights, I held a prayer book and paid closer attention to how my body felt as I recited the prayers. By listening carefully to the words of each prayer as they left my lips, I could feel my breath move in and out of my lungs and through my nostrils. And I could feel God’s presence in the words and in the sacred space of the sanctuary.
BRUCE BLACK the author of Writing Yoga (Rodmell Press), lives in Sarasota, FL. He is the founder of The Jewish Writing Project and a contributor to Yogamint. His work has appeared online at Yogi Times and MindBodyGreen, and in publications such as Reform Judaism Magazine, The Jewish Week, and The Jewish Exponent, in addition to Tiferet Journal. You can read more of his work at his blog, Writing Yoga with Bruce Black.
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