Jewish Yoga puts some oy in your om
June 19, 2012 | Shlomo Kapustin - Correspondent
The average yoga enthusiast receives only a glimpse of its Hindu underpinnings. But for the aspiring yoga teacher, certification requires religious familiarity.
Studying Eastern religion, though, can leave some Jews feeling uncomfortable – even more uncomfortable than their bodily contortions would ordinarily make them.
Enter Kinneret Yoga, which puts some oy in your om.
Founded in Toronto in 2007, the program trains female yoga teachers using a Jewish-themed curriculum. While the course can be finished in from 8 to 12 weeks, it consists of two parts: an intensive, two-and-a-half-week segment, and a longer section. This summer’s intensive part will take place in Jerusalem in July.
“If yoga is a mind-body practice and touches the soul,” said Kinneret Dubowitz, founder of the eponymous group, “then for us, we’re Jews, and we’re connecting to Hashem – we connect Jewishly.”
Fusing Judaism with yoga isn’t as tricky a stretch as one might think. As an example, Dubowitz cited breathing, a yoga fundamental, which also figures prominently in the Bible’s account of G-d’s creation of man. Chassidic master Rabbi Nachman of Breslov also elaborated on the topic.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the program has attracted students beyond the strictly Orthodox. Among the 60 graduates and 10 students registered for this summer’s course is a Reform rabbi’s wife, and even two Muslim women have contacted the program for information.
Along with co-director Sarede Switzer, Dubowitz plans on expanding her program beyond its outposts in Toronto, New York and Jerusalem. Classes in Montreal are targeted for September.
“You cannot replace mitzvot with just a feeling of spirituality,” said Dubowitz, who became observant at the age of 23 and now combines two of her passions.
“Practising a yoga pose, feeling a connection to your soul, and therefore, to your Creator, and getting enlightened by that – something one can certainly experience through yoga – is not a replacement for mitzvot.”
While replacing Hinduism with Judaism counts as Kinneret Yoga’s main selling point, women also appreciate the fact that no classes are held on Saturday and the female-only environment.
The Yoga Alliance, a self-governing body, recognizes the programs’ teacher certification, and according to Dubowitz, the group was eager to accommodate.
“They were very accepting of our program,” she said, noting that the Kabalistic elements especially resonated with her contacts at the organization.
Dubowitz, who holds a master’s degree in creative arts/dance movement therapy, also teaches yoga to children and adults at 14 classes every week. (One Shavuot-themed class led the young yogis through the finer points of the “upside-down ice-cream-cone” pose.) Switzer is also the founder of Crown Heights Yoga & Fitness, which features 12 classes in yoga and other regimens.
Their program focuses on flow yoga, which bridges yoga styles.
“It lends itself to integrating different styles into the structure,” she said, calling its diversity of approaches “self-transformational.
“Amazing things happen,” she said.