Is Judaism Yoga?

Rose Erin Vaughan, Yoga Instructor
Rose Erin Vaughan, Yoga Instructor

Rose Erin Vaughan, an experienced Yoga teacher and Trigger Point Therapist has inspired me.  She’s not only inspired me as a Yoga teacher, but as a person in general.  The funny thing is that, during Yoga teacher training, I thought Rose Erin would only teach us postures.  But, the majority of the time, she’s talked about how helping others was the real Yoga.  This made me want to dive deeper into the subject of Yoga and understand it better.  With everything that Rose Erin has taught me, as a Jew, I started to understand how Yoga itself is similar to Judaism.  I mean, when most people think of Yoga, they usually think of the stretching, and Yoga postures such as Lotus and Downward Facing Dog.  In fact, many people would argue that they can’t do Yoga. Yet, any Jew can follow Judaism if they wanted to. So I kept asking myself, “How is it similar?” 

Listening to Rose Erin and other Yoga instructors, I found that Yoga is not only akin to Judaism, I believe it’s correct to say Judaism itself is Yoga.  Most people think about Yoga only in terms of postures. But, the truth is that postures are a very small portion of the Yoga tradition.  The Yoga Sutra mentions Yoga postures only once.  Throughout the rest of the Sutra, it talks about helping others and not harming anyone. 

In Yoga teacher training, I learned that Yoga is about seeing yourself in others, knowing that we are all connected.  Every one of us is part of the same entity; that includes: humans, animals, plants and all living things.  This is why we are not allowed to harm others, because it will ultimately hurt us back.  In other words, when you’re performing a Mitzvah, you are doing Yoga.  If you’re aiding others, you are already considered to be doing Yoga, and you don’t have to do any of the postures.  This is pretty much what Judaism says.  The purpose of Judaism is to perform Mitzvahs, to surrender to God, and to read the Torah.  The Sutra says the same thing.  We are supposed to read a biblical scripture, surrender to God, and be of service to others.

But the question that I contemplated and asked myself the most was, “If by helping others you are already doing Yoga, then what is the point of doing the postures?”  The answer came to me from the practice.

After doing classes with Rose Erin, I always felt great.  I always felt more patient and calm and was nicer to others as a result.  I finally started to understand that the postures are supposed to be a tool to help you become a better person. If someone does Yoga postures and breathing exercises, it’s been scientifically proven to change their brain chemistry for the better.  There was once a study of people who were suffering from depression.  They started practicing Yoga and doing breathing exercises, and were able to significantly change the chemical physiology of their brains and begin to feel an increased sense of well-being.

In other words, when you feel better, you’ll have an easier time being nice to others and, as a result, you’ll also find it simpler to aid them with their problems. The breathing exercises and Mantras in Yoga can also help one identify with its true nature, which is the unlimited consciousness, or what Jews may call a Neshama.  Our emotions and our thoughts always change.  They are not who we are.  They don’t even represent us.  By learning to concentrate on our breath and by learning to watch our emotions and thoughts come and go, we can, perhaps, learn to free ourselves from desire and from suffering.  We can learn how to help others.  Doing Yoga helps us become better human beings in general.  Ultimately, Rose Erin taught me that doing Yoga can help all of us be of better service to others.

About the Author
Anat Ghelber was born in Israel and moved to Texas when she was 13. She experienced anti-Semitism in public schools there. She moved to New York City when she was 20, and is currently studying for a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work. She started submitting articles to the Jewish Voice two years ago. In her free time enjoys writing poems. She's also a certified Yoga teacher with 200 hours of training who teaches in a donation-based studio called Yoga to the People in New York City.
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