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Jerusalem - Kosher-Style Yoga for Observant Jews Kept Very Pareve

Published on: March 26, 2009 09:39 PM
By: Haaretz
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Jerusalem - Aware that many observant Jews prefer to stay away from a Hindu-based practice that might smell like idol worship, California native Aviva Schmidt  opened what she says is Israel’s “first kosher power yoga studio.”

“Yoga is very controversial and it should be,” the 31-year old told Anglo File in her Jerusalem studio, sitting on an exercise ball and playing soothing oriental music in the background. “Yoga is based on Eastern tradition and focuses a lot on meditation.

Different positions are worshipping different idols, which goes against Judaism. So I keep it very pareve: for example, I don’t say the names of the positions, there is no chanting, no ohming. I do focus on the breathing, as this is very important in yoga, but any kind of eastern philosophy stays outside.”

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As there are countless variations of yoga - just as there are many different streams of Judaism - there is no easy answer to the question whether yoga needs to be purged of its spiritual elements to be considered “kosher.”

Steven Gold, founder and director of the Yoga and Judaism Center in Atlanta, said that he is “most familiar with a short answer to this question provided from the Chabad perspective: Yoga physical exercise can be kosher as long as it remains within the context of physical fitness and stress management.”

Gold referred to a Chabad Web site, which recommends Jews “study Torah before practicing yoga, so that thoughts of Torah will be ringing in your mind spontaneously as you practice.” He added there are many centers across the world offering “kosher” yoga, “ranging from fairly Orthodox to other kinds of denominational approaches.”

Schmidt, who grew up secular and became observant through Chabad, said she didn’t study the topic in depth, but believes Eastern philosophies are about going into oneself.

“Judaism, on the other hand, is about going out of yourself and bringing Godliness into the world. It’s about being grounded in this world and not about going to a mountaintop to meditate all alone.” She pointed out that some yoga teachers, both in Israel and abroad, adopted some kind of Jewish-Kabalistic approach to yoga, such as focusing on Bible texts or mediating on Hebrew letters.
“What we do in my studio, however, is entirely neutral,” said Schmidt, a trained ballet and jazz dancer.

Located in Jerusalem’s posh Rehavia neighborhood, “Power Flow” specializes in power yoga, which is different from conventional yoga in that the exercises are quicker and more exhausting.

“They call it yoga for athletes,” Schmidt said. “It’s not your slow, meditative and gentle yoga, it’s a workout.”

Both secular and religious yoga aficionados attend her classes - which are, of course, gender-separated - but “the Orthodox Jews wouldn’t come if the classes included Eastern spirituality,” she said. “We spoke to three different rabbis and they all gave us their blessing.”

Yet Bassy Odze, who has been taking classes with Schmidt for two years, said that while she is Orthodox, yoga’s Eastern philosophies didn’t bother her too much. “Personally, I don’t like all the chanting and the spiritual stuff, it just doesn’t mix well with me. But back in New York I went to regular yoga classes, without feeling it contradicted my beliefs.”


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1

 Mar 26, 2009 at 10:03 PM Anonymous Says:

The chabad are the most enlightened group regarding yoga...It is one of the most valuable tools for sharpening one's focus for torah learning while also increasing the body's flexibility and reducing stress. It should be required for all our bochurim and girls in bais yaakov to take some basic insruction in yoga.

2

 Mar 26, 2009 at 11:09 PM Anonymous Says:

I've been to several yoga classes in NYC and LA and it is no reallly as wierd as it sounds....the class is women only (there is also a men's class but it has much fewer students)...the
instructors always try to blend a brief d'var torah into the class and there is nothing in the class related to Hindu tradition. I'm sure many frumme yiddin would never consider such an opton but its one of the most valuable uses of time.

3

 Mar 26, 2009 at 11:08 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

The chabad are the most enlightened group regarding yoga...It is one of the most valuable tools for sharpening one's focus for torah learning while also increasing the body's flexibility and reducing stress. It should be required for all our bochurim and girls in bais yaakov to take some basic insruction in yoga.

I'm Chabad and i'm unaware of this 'enlightenment' that you refer to!! Are you suggesting that we do have yoga in yeshivas?!?!?!

Interesting that this comes up now, though. There's a great video (sort of) clip of the rebbe talking about meditation as a refuah. you can see it on youtube here: http://tinyurl.com/cww5uv

4

 Mar 26, 2009 at 10:52 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

The chabad are the most enlightened group regarding yoga...It is one of the most valuable tools for sharpening one's focus for torah learning while also increasing the body's flexibility and reducing stress. It should be required for all our bochurim and girls in bais yaakov to take some basic insruction in yoga.

I'm trying to visualize (without cracking up in laughter) a hall full of bochurim in black suits doing their "downward dogs", "half moons" and "lotus" poses to the music of Schlomo Carlebach or Lipa. Do you really believe the rabbonim would encourage their talmidim to take time out from Mascheches Gittin to practice yoga

5

 Mar 27, 2009 at 01:37 AM Mordechai Says:

"Yoga" is "a goy" backwards.

6

 Mar 27, 2009 at 05:42 AM Shaul in Monsey Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

The chabad are the most enlightened group regarding yoga...It is one of the most valuable tools for sharpening one's focus for torah learning while also increasing the body's flexibility and reducing stress. It should be required for all our bochurim and girls in bais yaakov to take some basic insruction in yoga.

Thankfully, the future of our nation is not in your hands. Let's try teaching our youth respect and what real strength is - the restraint of strength. Far too many young husbands and wives are abusively and manipulatively meandering through their marriages without a clue to the devastation they are causing. When yoga becomes what we need to be teaching them, we'll already be in the zman geulah.

7

 Mar 26, 2009 at 11:49 PM Anonymous Says:

This weeks talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Chabad.org is from 1979, and is the original talk where the Rebbe discusses the healing powers of meditation. However, the Rebbe makes it perfectly clear that this healing method is only for people who got caught up in idol worship, or who are dependent on such types of idolatrous meditations. For somebody to use it, he/she must be under the supervision of a Halachic authority familiar with all aspects of Jewish law regarding which practices are permitted, as well as being under the supervision of a health professional (MD, psychologist, psychoanalyst etc).
The Rebbe states that just as medicine is harmful to a healthy person, these methods of meditation should not be practiced by people who are spiritually healthy, since it may be harmful to them. Meditation using methods built on Eastern practices are only helpful to heal people who got caught up in Eastern religions.
Based on the above I don't see the value of these exercises for regular Jewish people.
Please watch the video at http://tinyurl.com/cww5uv.

8

 Mar 27, 2009 at 07:47 AM za003 Says:

who were the three rabbonim

9

 Mar 27, 2009 at 09:32 AM staright thinker Says:

how would someone do yoga when most of the hindu and Buddist religions are based on Yoga?! by thinking something else? (yeah, imagine thinking about a chiddush you just learned while being in a crumpled position, and concentraiting on your breathing..). you may think whatever you wish, you are still doing a practice thats done by the Buddists priests!

10

 Mar 27, 2009 at 11:10 AM Gefilte Fish Says:

In what position can I meditate that will make me lose weight?

11

 Mar 27, 2009 at 01:13 PM YP Says:

Reply to #10  
Gefilte Fish Says:

In what position can I meditate that will make me lose weight?

Stand on your head and all the change will fall out of your pockets. You could lose 5 lbs. like that.

12

 Mar 27, 2009 at 01:43 PM NY Yoga Says:

As a certified yoga instructor I can say first hand that yoga comes in many different forms just like a white shirt comes in many different forms. Rabbanim never said to stop wearing white shirts because priests wear them as well, so too it is with yoga. You do not have to call something "kosher" for it to be so. Tomatoes at a local fruit stand do not need to be stamped "kosher" and yet we will eat it. Yoga is exercise and this woman is simply exploiting its origin for personal gain. Good luck to her but she is very wrong and misleading people.

13

 Mar 27, 2009 at 02:02 PM Fay (Fayge) Appel Says:

As a certified yoga instructor I can tell you first hand that yoga is not a religion nor is it affiliated to one. Something does not need to be labeled "kosher" for it to be so. Yoga is a form of exercise just like using a treadmill or a bicycle is and yet a treadmill does not need to be stamped "kosher" for you to use it. If someone was looking to exploite yogas origins for personal gain it would be very easy to do so - however that would be wrong and very misleading.

14

 Mar 27, 2009 at 03:32 PM FAN OF FAYGE Says:

I AGREE WITH FAYGE,THE TORA SAYS "USHEMARTEN ES NAFSHOISECIM"
IF WE WANT TO WATCH OUR PARENTS GROW UP HEALTHY AND ENJOY THEIR GRAND CHILDREN,WE MUST GET AWAY FOM BECOMING 300 POUND CHULENT FRESSERS AND STAY HEALTHY AND FIT, THE LUBAVITHER REBBE SAYS YOGA IS ALLOWED IN AS AS A WAY TO HEAL A HEALTHY SHABBAS

15

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