Posted by Marcus J Freed
Kosher Sutra: “when a woman gives birth to a male” (Lev 12:2)
Soul Solution: Heal the world, one step at a time.
Pose: Backbend (upright heart)
Body Benefit: Flexibility for back
As a child there was always something fascinating about the world-record-breaking domino contests where the flick of one domino would affect many thousands more. The film Pay It Forward tells of a similar effect with powerful results where every person has to do a huge favour that will help three other people, and those three ‘pay it forward’ to three more. We can take the butterfly effect into our own hands and raise the world on these wings.
“When a woman gives birth to a male” appears to speak to one half of the population until we analyse the Hebrew word _Tazria_ which means giving birth, but has the root of _Zarua_ meaning ‘planting’, and _Zera_ meaning seed. Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk explained that when we plant sparks of inspiration in others, stimulating them to bring more light into the world through their actions, we ‘give birth’. He connects it to the psalm ‘a light is planted (zarua) for the righteous person, and gladness for the upright of heart’ (97:11). And so we lift others.
The space of the yoga mat is a private one, symbolising our own internal world, but the core of the philosophy is that there is no action without reaction. The Yoga Sutras are based around the principles of how our actions impact the world, such as _satya_ (truthfulness), _asteya_ (non-stealing), or _aparigraha_ (non-jealousy). When we meet teachers who truly embody these traits – which are a lot easier to talk about than they are to practice – we are inspired to embody these values within ourselves. There is nothing more powerful than a teacher who lives what they teach, and few things more disappointing than the mentors who fall short.
Next week we enter the spiritual month of Nissan, representing a time of freedom. We can be free to recreate ourselves, remodel our behaviours and get closer to our ideal self. Can you give birth to the true you inside, fulfilling the potential of who you know you can be? Free from the past, perhaps now is the time to start.
Shalom V’Ahava, Gut Shabbes-
HOW TO DO A BACKBEND
i. Lie on your back with your feet in semi-supine (feet are hip-width apart and on the floor with your heels by your buttocks.
ii.Place your hands by the sides of your head, fingertips facing backwards.
iii. Inhale and lift your hips in the air so that you have moved into Bridge pose.
iv. Exhale and straighten your arms, pushing your sternum towards the back wall.
v. Push into the balls of your feet whilst keeping the heels on the floor and make sure your feet are in parallel position. Draw up the muscles on your thighs and raise your hips even higher.
vi. Keep breathing. Deeply.
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Marcus is the yogi-in-residence for Jewlicious Festivals and JConnectLA, and the President of the Jewish Yoga Network.
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March 18, 2011 | 1:18 pm
Posted by Marcus J Freed
Kosher Sutra: “Place it on the altar” (Vayikra 6:3)
Body Benefit: Turn things upside down, see the world from a new perspective
Soul Solution: Transform yourself to joy
There are plenty of reasons not to be joyful this week: floods in Japan, the earthquake aftermath in New Zealand, uprisings in the Middle East, and Mel Gibson has just released a new film. Today’s LA Jewish Journal had a Facebook spoof on the front cover: ‘Egypt has updated its relationship with Israel: It’s Complicated. (Iran clicked ‘like’).’
One proven source of achieving contented living is when we connect to something greater than ourselves, and rather than focusing on our own thoughts, we turn the spotlight on others. The ancient art of sacrifice was a visceral way to become connected with something greater, and when people brought sacrifices to the Temple in Jerusalem they had their eyes on something higher than themselves.
Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk (1717-1787) understood sacrifice as the act of eliminating our negative traits. Just as the priest changed his garments during the ritual, he said that we should change the behaviours that cover our true potential. Even if we are stuck in a particular way of thinking or behaving, we ‘place it on the altar’, almost like a sacrifice, and start channelling the energy for a higher purpose. “If a person is easily angered or has other negative traits, one should break them and use them positively”, he wrote*. If we are thinking negative thoughts, we should use our mind for creating positive plans, and if we display self-destructive behaviours, we can use them for the good.
The yoga mat is an altar of sorts, a laboratory for changing behaviour and channelling energy. We use the pranayama breath to drive our movements, travelling back and forth through the choreography of vinyasa sun salutes. There is room for all kinds of negative energy at the start of a practice but if the yoga session is successful then the energy will be transformed. However chaotic the world outside, we aim to reach equanimity and peace. The Bhagavad Gita promised that ‘joy supreme comes to the Yogi whose heart is still, whose passions are peace…who is one with God’ (6:71).
We are all born pure and we all have huge potential, but the challenge is how we focus our energy on the greatest good. The Book of Esther tells of heroes who utilised their natural strengths, as Esther’s beauty led her to a position of influence in the King’s bedroom, while Mordechai’s strategic intelligence helped him save the day. How are you realising your potential today?
There is a yogic moment at the heart of Purim. As the list of Haman’s criminal sons is read, it’s traditional for them all to be said in one breath. Sometimes we need to purge negative feelings or thoughts, and what better way than in a huge exhale. The yoga mat also takes us to the essence of Purim. The only festival which doesn’t mention God but is all about oneness, the celebration which is about connecting to our inner selves and bringing them to the outside (albeit with the help of alcohol and wild costumes).
We all have at least one powerful personality trait and the challenge is to find the best way to express it for the greatest good. There is always a place for it in this world to help it serve a higher purpose. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Use it to find inner peace and the deepest joy imaginable.
Happy Purim, Shabbat Shalom
*p172, Mipeninei Noam Elimelech, trans. Tal Moshe Zwecker.
Marcus J Freed is the yogi-in-residence for JConnectLA & Jewlicious Festivals. The Freed Mansion/Bibliyoga Shala is located in Los Angeles.
APPLYING THE KOSHER SUTRA: Take yourself into a headstand. Even if you can’t do the full posture, just do the opening steps. If that’s too much, try a forward bend, even resting your head on a chair. Or do the version where you’re in Downward Dog with your forearms and head on the floor. To really absorb the Kosher Sutra teaching, allow yourself to stay in the pose for a while and focus on the deeper meditation: Who am I? What’s my passion? How can I best apply my unique talents? Good luck!
HOW TO DO HEADSTAND
i. Kneel on the ground and place your forearms on the ground parallel to the front of the mat, one in front of the other.
ii. Keeping your elbows in their places, interlace your fingers in front of. Your forearms effectively create the top two sides of a triangle.
iii. Bring your feet up into the equivalent of Downwards Dog, hip-width apart.
iv. Place the crown of your head on the ground, cupped by your hands.
v. Walk your feet forwards, lifting your perenium as much as possible.
vi. Inhale, bending your knees and bringing your hips directly above your head.
vii. Raise your right leg first, followed by your left.
viii. Keep the legs straight and take 10 breaths.
ix. To exit the headstand, slowly lower your legs towards the ground so that you can hover them just above the floor if you wish.
x. Take Camel pose as a counter posture to release the neck and upper shoulders.
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March 4, 2011 | 2:46 pm
Posted by Marcus J Freed
Kosher Sutra: “These are the accountings for the Temple” (Exodus 38:21)
Soul Solution: Retuning with our higher calling
Posture: Lotus/Seated meditation position
Body Benefit: Finding calm and stillness
We all have a purpose on earth. When we are in tune with it, everything comes into focus and we can achieve deep success. The challenge is that nobody can tell us what our calling is and we have to figure it out for ourselves.
Our Kosher Sutra lists the items that were needed in the Temple. There is a list of objects and the message is that every item counts when putting together the whole. This week’s accompanying reading of Shekalim demands that everyone donate an identical half-shekel coin to the Temple building project, which sends out the further message that every person counts. Finally, when we translate the Hebrew phrase L’Chaper Al Nafsho as an accounting for our breath, we can deduce the subtle message that every breath counts. How are you using this breath?
The royal path of yoga, Raja Yoga, leads us on the journey home to ourselves. Postures fine tune our musculature and prayanamic breathing leads us to a subtle inner calm through deep awareness of our inhalations and exhalations.
The word Tafkid, usually translated as ‘accounting’, can also be understood as purpose. Self-acceptance leads to happiness, and we come into fruition when we perform those tasks that we do best. Sunday is the first day of the month of Adar II, whose paradigm is joy, and ultimately it is only with deep joy that we can find and pursue our life’s purpose.