My favorite form of exercise happens to be yoga. It keeps me fit, flexible, prevents back pain, shoulder pain and releases neck tension, and is all round ideal for my physical and mental health. I recently joined an amazing class which is challenging and inspiring. And I’ve discovered that my experience also applies to spiritual growth.
1. Surround yourself with people better than you
Most of women in the class are super flexible, strong and fit. They can touch their toes with their nose, and stand on their heads without blinking an eye. Being surrounded by people who are at a much higher level inspires me, humbles me and motivates me to do more.
It’s the same in Judaism. It’s easy and comfortable to surround yourself with friends who are on the same religious level as you and echo your opinions and views. People on higher levels can be threatening. But to grow, you need to find rabbis, rebbetzins, teachers and mentors who are more than you and who are examples what is possible for a Jew to do in the world.
2. Real change demands consistency
Exercise once in a while won’t do much for your body. Real change requires going at least every week; that’s when you’ll be able to stretch a little bit further and twist an inch deeper. In Judaism, big things done once in a while are good. But small things done a regular basis are even better. The most profound advice I ever got from a rabbi was to do one small thing every day to grow spiritually.
3. Details matter
In yoga, the difference between a beneficial pose and a harmful pose is often a tiny adjustment of the shoulders or a slight realignment of the hips. Yet that difference is where the change will lie. So too in Judaism. It’s easy to say, what does God care if I light Shabbat candles two minutes later than the official time? Does it really make a difference if I eat non-kosher ice-cream once in a while? But it’s those miniscule details which separate the warriors from the amateurs. Judaism is very detailed orientated because God is in the details. I recently joined a class on the Laws of Shabbat and it’s changing me. My shabbat observance is becoming more nuanced, more God-focused and subsequently more meaningful.
4. Repetition offers opportunity for depth and expansion
We often repeat poses throughout the yoga class. Instead of being bored doing it again, repetition should bring depth and richness. Each repetition is a chance to improve, to push the boundaries and to expand your horizons. In Judaism, we pray using the same words three times a day, we say the same blessings before eating food and we light the same Shabbat candles every week. Each year we repeat the same Torah portion and eat matzah every Passover. Each repetition offers the chance to go deeper and to connect to a different part of the mitzvah. Each repetition offers an opportunity to do more than the time before, to deepen our intention behind the action, and bring more Godliness into the world.
5. Remember to breathe
In a yoga class, there is a tremendous focus on breathing. With breathing comes awareness, grounding and centeredness as well as greater physical range. Our hectic lives often feel like a race against time. We forget to breathe, let alone stop and smell these roses. When we’re stuck in traffic, frazzled at bedtime with the kids or doing grocery shopping – just breathe. Breathe in the air, the green grass, the glorious sunset. With breathing comes gratitude to God for the life force within us, and the ability to focus on what really counts.
6. Core strength is invisible but crucial
In a yoga class, the frailest looking elderly woman can possess unimaginable strength. This powerful, inner strength is invisible until called upon. In life, true strength is also invisible. It’s when you hold your mouth shut even though you’re dying to share that juicy piece of gossip. It’s when you don’t snap at your husband when he leaves his socks on the floor again. It’s when you don’t yell at your two year old when he smears nail polish over your new carpet, or when you return an undeserved tax refund even though no one will know otherwise. True strength belongs to the soul – it’s our unique ability to conquer impulses and base instincts in favor of transcendence and spirituality.
7. Growth is not comfortable
In yoga, there is no measuring stick or awards for excellence. You decide how much is enough and when to stop. But you will never improve unless you’re willing to bear some discomfort. Moving past your comfort zone is the only way to make real progress. In Judaism, there is always more we can do. Some of it may seem uncomfortable, impossible and even painful. Keeping kosher means giving up your favorite Michelin-star restaurant. Observing Shabbat may mean sacrificing your weekly golf game. But without discomfort, we will never reach our soul’s infinite potential.