Jewish Journal


by Michelle Azar

June 27, 2013 | 1:22 pm

We were about half way through class Tuesday night, when I heard a light knock at the door of our studio. To be clear, our studio also serves as a meeting room, sometimes a storage room, and weekly as a house of worship to the Orthodox congregation who rents space at Temple Emanuel.

I went to the door quietly, and the Rabbi, a kind man who I have become fond of, apologizes profusely for disturbing, but in some desperation pleas, “It is a fast day, and we need our Torah.”

My mind was an instant jumble. I’d imagine it’s not often for a yoga class to be interrupted with such a request. First, I was aware of my attire. Though perfectly suited for yoga practice, I had never felt more naked in my life. Me, the wife of a rabbi, standing in my Lululemon’s, restricting a Torah from another rabbi; oy.

Then, my ignorance. “Fast day?” I wondered back to the Rabbi. Too early for the one I knew that usually falls late July. But there wasn’t time for a history lesson. We both had to get back to our flocks. In my effort to protect my women, and prioritze our religious practices, though clearly different in this moment especially, we negotiated. “Ten minutes?” “10 minutes, ” he agreed and rushed off, again with apologies for interruping.

Back in class, we moved through the rest of the asanas fluidly, mindfully, and with a lot of giggling. The awareness of this unique interruption alive in the room. Luckily, one of our class mates was part of that congregation and knew which fast day this was, so she filled us in.

When I asked us all to come to the wall for our last moments, we were all very tentative.  Usually the ark holding the Torah remains invisible to us throughout class, but this evening it was larger than the room itself.  I felt funny chanting in my usual Sanskrit to close our class, and further uncomfortable to place my palms together at my heart in a gesture of gratitude. Though I had long ago made peace with these practices, tonight they just did not mesh with my Jewish traditions.

We finished class with ease, and I opened the door for the Torah delivery. I knew better than to reach in and take the Torah to him, being the ill clad, female that I am. I sat down outside afterward to take stock.

I realized after a few breaths, that I did not feel ashamed. I had done nothing hurtful to anyone, and instead had only lived out all the roles I have in this community in that short half hour. I am always Jewish. I am always alive with a love and reverance for the traditions, ones that I know about and ones that I am eager to learn about.  I pay respect to those around me, and deserve respect to for investing and investigating my practices. The yoga practices and traditions that I learn and teach I try to impart with as much honestly as I can. I never choose them OVER my practices as a Jew, but more in conjunction which always manages to deepen my connections to Judaism.

Integration is the process of unifying with integrity all the different parts of ourselfves. The yogi with the rabbi with the student with the mother with the wife and the actor and the messy perfectionist that I label myself. For years I had tried in vain to keep these personas separate. All that happened from never introducing self to self is a sense of exhaustion. And ill feeling. This was a great teaching for me. Taught me how far I have come, and how far I have yet to go. How much more there is for me to learn, and feel comfortable with in ALL  my life’s practices.

And how ready I am to have my own yoga studio.

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Michelle fell in love with the practice of Ashtanga Yoga, the system of Hatha Yoga taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, some 13 years ago while doing a play in San Francisco. Having...

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