Posted by Marcus J Freed
Kosher Sutra: “Go and see how your brothers are doing” (Gen 37:8)
Soul Solution: Inner peace and banish depression
Posture: Pigeon Posture
Body Benefit: Opens hips and back
Every day brings new teachings. I learned today that once a year the leader of the free world, the President of the United States of America, spares the life of a turkey. It’s all part of the Thanksgiving festival and although Queen Elizabeth II would never try a similar process because of the sardonic reprisals of the British tabloids (regardless that we don’t have the death penalty), Thanksgiving is taken very seriously over here in the US. People even update their facebook status during the lead-up, listing daily things for which they are giving thanks.
Our Kosher Sutra is the instruction given by Jacob to his son Joseph. The latter has previously upset his brothers after he gave a bad report about their behaviour, and is being given a second chance to see the good in them. The siblings were further upset when they heard about Joseph’s famous dreams of his ultimate leadership and he is now being invited to revisit them and make amends.
We can read the whole passage from an internal, metaphorical perspective. How often do we cause depression through telling ourselves negative stories? We have the ability to bring ourselves to a state of being disheartened when we bring negative reports into our mind, about how our body is behaving, about what we should be achieving, about how we could have acted in a certain situation.
The Yoga Sutras discusses a principle called Santosha which translates as ‘contentment’*. Rather than criticising our body during a yoga practice or reinforcing negative thoughts, they suggested that we can cultivate an attitude of contentment in order to achieve satisfaction and ‘unexcelled happiness’.
Jacob tells Joseph to see the ‘shalom’ of their brothers, to literally see the goodness or the rightness of their work. According to the Radomsker Rebbe, Joseph is being encouraged to return to the scene of the crime and focus on their positive aspects rather than their negative aspects. He is being told to see the good and to talk about it. The Rebbe connects this with a Kosher Sutra in Proverbs 34:12 and understands it as ‘who’s the person who has a great life? The one who loves their days and sees the good’**.
We can begin our Bibliyoga practice by giving thanks for all of our limbs that are working. Count our blessings, one by one. There’s a lot to give thanks for. Today’s posture is Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana). I was going to suggest Peacock Pose but it’s a fairly advanced one. There isn’t a Turkey Pose, to the best of my knowledge. The instructions for pigeon are below, but if you’re too full from eating Turkey, then you are officially pardoned. At least for today; it’s the least I can do.
*Yoga Sutras II:42
**Huge thanks to my teacher, Rabbi Dovid Ebner who related this teaching which comes via Reb Elimelech of Lizensk.
PIGEON POSE - HOW TO DO IT
i. Begin on all fours and bring your right ankle so that it is behind your left wrist. Then push your right knee against your right wrist.
ii. Straighten your left leg behind you and slowly bring your right hip towards the ground.
iii. With one hand on either side of you, raise your sternum.
Variation: Place a cushion below your bent knee to soften the posture and reduce the stretch.
Advanced: Bend the left knee and take hold of your left foot with your left hand. Raise your right arm in the air and reach towards your left foot.
Benefits: Opens the hip flexors, lengthens the groins and hamstrings, improves flexibility in the back and opens the chest.
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November 23, 2010 | 1:59 pm
Posted by Marcus J Freed
Kosher Sutra: ‘And Yacov arrived safely’ (Gen 33:18)
Soul Solution: Total healing, body and soul
Posture: Bound-angle pose
Body Benefit: Strengthen hips & preparation for childbirth
We’ve all heard that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but it’s not usually much fun to hear that when you’re writhing with pain. There is certainly some truth in the phrase because we can all get stronger when we recover from injuries, but that doesn’t mean that old war wounds don’t still ache from time to time.
There is a beautiful image, or so I thought, of Jacob who walks away after he’s spent the night wrestling with an angel. He’s uplifted, inspired, had his name upgraded to Israel – ‘the one who struggles with God and man and overcomes’, but despite his spiritual enlightenment, he still carries a bit of pain and walks with a limp.
Yoga can be transformational although the physical-spiritual encounter that takes place on a yoga mat can cause injuries for many people. At some point or another plenty of serious yogis will push themselves too far, allowing their ego to overcome their breathing and causing themselves an injury. The bad news is that this hurts at the time but the good news is that a good practice and a great teacher can help you heal from many physical pains so that you become stronger than ever.
Jacob walking with a limp is poetic but it isn’t pretty, and there’s nothing beautiful about an exquisite, spiritually-induced pain. If we read a little further we see that his true graduation to become the man called Israel, a Luke-Skywalker-becomes-Jedi-sort-of-moment, only happens when he has healed various relationships. Things improve with his father-in-law and his estranged brother, and when he meets his sibling Esau, he ‘arrived safely’. The Hebrew word is ‘Shalem’, meaning complete or whole, and Rashi explains that Jacob/Israel was completely healed with regards to his body, his emotional pains, his financial difficulties.
Be strong, be healed, be happy.
In Peace, Shabbat Shalom,
HOW TO DO BOUND ANGLE/COBBLER POSTURE (BADDHAKONASANA)
i. Sit comfortably on the floor and bring your feet together so that the soles of your feet are touching one another.
ii. Take hold of either sides of your feet and draw your heels towards your groin.
iii. Open your feet to either side so that just the outside edges of your feet (i.e. on the floor) are touching.
iv. Lift your sternum upwards so that your chest is open and look directly ahead of you.
November 15, 2010 | 2:00 pm
Posted by Marcus J Freed
These days we are all seasoned travellers. We don’t need to listen to basic aircraft announcements because we’ve heard it all before, and even if we haven’t, how hard can it be to escape from an aeroplane that has landed on water? Several thoughtful airlines have relieved staff of the routine where they are habitually ignored by the entire passenger body, by providing a video that never gets offended when completely ignored.
There’s something about the male DNA that means many of us don’t like to read instructions or take instructions but would rather figure it out for ourselves. While that’s all well and good when it comes to working out how to use a remote control, and the biggest potential liability is that we won’t be able to record Top Gear, it’s more of a problem when it comes to health.
There are all kinds of health instructions that are fired at us. Check your cholesterol. Keep your heart healthy. If your family has a history of heart disease, see your doctor. If you’re feeling a strange twinge, see your doctor. If you’re suffering from shortness of breath, see your doctor. Exercise. Cut down on red meat. Don’t step on cracks in the pavement.
It’s easier for many men to ignore these sorts of instructions. Fortunately, nature has created a failsafe mechanism; the Jewish woman. When my father was short of breath a couple of years ago, my clever sister Lauren said, ‘either you organise a doctor’s appointment or I will.’ He did, got a heart check and within days was under the surgeon’s knife for an emergency double heart bypass. Just in time. With the help of superb doctors, he bounced back to full health. Thank you, Lauren.
There are few things more scary than seeing a parent in a state of weakness, especially in hospital.
My mother joked that the doctors must have implanted a second heart because since the operation she could feel a strong pulsing heartbeat lower down in his chest. Except you’re not supposed to feel a heartbeat in the centre of your chest. Apparently that’s a potential indicator of an aneurysm on the aorta, when the main artery leaving the heart is expanding. If it expands too much, and bursts like an over-filled balloon, it’s game over. Some call it the ‘silent killer’. Fortunately, the doctors caught this in time.
I found myself back in the same position of helpless viewer, with daily skype video calls to his hospital room from 3000 miles away. It’s hard being away at times like this, so I jumped on a plane and am writing from London. The Biblical commandment to ‘honour thy father and mother’ has now been upgraded because you even get Airmiles in the process.
Every family has its difficulties, many have things a lot worse, and everybody’s pain is different. But that doesn’t make it easy to watch a parent who is weakened by illness.
My Dad’s most recent challenge was a bout of anaemia that led to the need for a blood infusion and iron tablets. While he was hooked up to the blood bags, which felt strangely appropriate for Halloween, we watched the film ‘Iron Man 2’. Inspiration is everywhere.
I love my Dad. There was always a mystique of awe as I was growing up and watching him perform at certain events. He’d usually be on stage at most community functions, as MC for school fairs, host for quiz suppers, or performing the songs from his former days as a professional folk musician. As an apparently shy 10-year-old I would ask the question ‘wow. That looks fun. Can I ever do that stuff?’ 15 years later, performing in front of 3000 people, I heard the universe gently answer ‘yes! Why not? That’s why I gave you this teacher’.
Nobody likes to be told instructions and it’s easy to ignore our health. We’re busy people. We’ve got emails to check. Get your heart checked, listen to those twinges. In the UK there are a bunch of free health checks on the National Health Service - free cholesterol checks, ultrasound for aneurysms, diabetes tests and free bowel cancer test packs in the post. While you’re at it, if you’re a man between 20-40 then make sure you’re on the ball for testicular cancer checks.
We all have challenging family issues at one time or other but it’s comforting to know that we can at least take some actions to reduce the problems before they happen. May all of your loved ones be granted a refuah shlemah – a complete healing for the body and soul.
November 2, 2010 | 2:01 am
Posted by Marcus J Freed
She looked me in the eyes and smiled sweetly. The attentive gaze of her deep chestnut-brown eyes showed that she was giving her full attention. In a soft, charming tone she then uttered words that touched me deeply; ‘Marcus, I have absolutely no idea what you’ve been saying for the last five minutes’.
This wasn’t the first time. George Bernard Shaw may have said that we are two countries separated by a common language. At times it feels like the UK and the USA are two separate planets. After all, the status on my visa does say that I’m an alien, even if it is ‘an alien of extraordinary abilities’. Unfortunately it seems that these abilities do not always include being understood when I am speaking English. This could be a problem as I’m living here to take a crack at teaching and acting, in my native language.
The native’s colloquial language is a whole new form of English. A fellow ex-pat refers to the Californian vernacular as ‘Lower English’ as if we have travelled some way from the shires and are lost in the swamps on the long road to Mordor. Indeed, my home county of Hertfordshire is a long way away and when faced with the question ‘where are you from originally?’, I plump for a lazy ‘London’ rather than try to explain the geographical location of my hometown Watford. Occasionally I’ll be faced with a particularly ignorant ‘what, London Ontario?’. No, darling, I explain. But we did used to own the place.
The Americans think we are arrogant, whereas the English don’t really care. I’ve been curing homesickness by slowly devouring Sarah Lyall’s book ‘The Anglo Files – A field guide to the English’ where she identifies the British quality of false modesty. Rather than shout about our successes, we are experts in bragging about our failures, but we still have the mentality that we run the world.
Daily, I’m referred to as a ‘Brit’. Not the technically correct ‘Briton’, or the preferable ‘English’, or even ‘Englishman’, but Brit. The word that Jews use to refer to a circumcision ceremony. Yes, it’s incredibly annoying, but that’s only the beginning.
Living in America is a huge priviledge but takes some linguistic adjustment. There are certain words that it’s easier to let go of, substituting ‘loo’ for ‘bathroom’ even though there are no baths, ‘bin’ for ‘garbage can’ and ‘rubbish’ for ‘trash’. I’m still quixotically hanging on to the old words and repeat them until I’m understood, in a possibly unnecessary expenditure of energy. The most frustrating is asking for liquid refreshment in a restaurant, being faced with a repeated ‘what?’ when I ask for water. On the fifth attempt I take a deep breath, put on a standard American accent and shout ‘WHA-DERRRRR’ before receiving a smile and a jug. Sorry, a pitcher.
The adjectival famine that is as prevalent as LA’s natural water shortage. Rather than describing something as superb, engaging, enlightening, uplifting or another hundred alternatives, there is the ubiquitous ‘awesome’. It feels as if somebody has just ripped out all of the pages from the dictionary to save time. This is the Diet Coke of English, and there are dead poets rolling in their tombs beneath Westminster Abbey.
Californian has forgotten how to say ‘you’re welcome’. On hearing the words thank you, many of the locals will respond with an ‘uh-huh’, ‘mm-hmmm’, ‘sure’, ‘for sure’ or ‘no problem’. To the refined English ear, this is nothing less than receiving an aggressive v-sign (the British sign-language for ‘go forth and procreate’), not that that would mean anything over here. Why use two fingers when one is quicker?
People also yawn in public without covering their mouth and when I explained to a student that ‘young ladies in Europe cover their mouths when yawning’, the response was ‘I’m not a young lady and I’m not from Europe’. Most confusing of all, these rules of etiquette that are drummed into the British at an early age, even extend to the dinner plate. On preparing to clear up the dishes at the end of a meal I waited patiently for people to place their knives and forks side by side. I waited and waited but nothing happened. Another European custom, it seems, that was thrown out with the rest of the adjectives.
Most shockingly of all, everybody thinks I have an accent and I’m treated to poor imitations on a daily basis. With the rounded, rhotic ‘r’ that characterises standard American speech, I have to hear the irritating ‘Mahhhh-carrrrrrrrs’ sung by self-satisfied natives who have all the dialectical accuracy of Dick Van Dyke. My standard response to these pathetic faux English impressions is ‘Good Mahwning May-ree Paw-peens’ but even that insult is too subtle for some. Maybe they’ll understand it when the classic London musical is covered on an episode of ‘Glee’.
There are a thousand ways to describe the varied joy of life in the US, but why resort to tiresome linguistic richness or savouring the delicately nuanced details when I can use the catch-all? It’s awesome.
There’s a word that everyone understands.
Marcus J Freed