Aug. 26, 2005
Yogis merge traditions
Multifaith-influenced classes bring transcendence.
Weve gone about as far as we can go as separate
and isolated faiths God has given each faith some vitamins
that the others need, and we wont be able to survive in health
unless we exchange those vitamins.
Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal
As much as these words present a challenge to Jewish orthodoxy,
they also challenge members of the Renewal movement itself. How
to remain true to Jewish tradition, while opening up to the wisdom
of other faiths?
Meeting this challenge in her own way is Evelyn Neaman, a yoga teacher
who threads themes of Jewish tradition in her classes. Neaman conducts
regular yoga sessions for Jews and non-Jews alike and she adheres
to one of the central tenets of the Renewal movement: that there
is harmony between faiths, even in their diversity of expression.
Far from diluting one tradition with the other, Neaman sees their
truths as universal and their methods as complementary.
I pick and choose the things that are meaningful not
just in Judaism, but in other religions where I think its
going to be helpful, she said.
She points out that recognizing the wisdom of other faiths is not
a new development in Judaism. There is even a traditional blessing
that is said upon meeting a holy person from another faith.
This is an acknowledgement that there are holy people in all
traditions, so to be accepting of teaching from other traditions
feels very kosher to me, said Neaman.
Her classes are called Tikkun Yoga tikkun being the
Hebrew word meaning to mend, heal or repair.
The idea is that we are all obligated to do something to make
the world a better place, said Neaman. She sees herself as
giving people the gift to heal themselves, so they can be
better out there in the world doing whatever gifts they were given.
Neamans yoga studio is housed beside a little green belt in
her yard, complete with a running stream and Buddha. She teaches
about 30-40 students per week. She tries to keep her classes small,
so they can be tailored to meet each persons needs. Additionally,
she does month-long workshops for teshuvah (return to God) at Or
Shalom, and has recently released a DVD on the art of restorative
The Buddha in her backyard? Its a piece of cement,
said Neaman. Im not worshipping a statue, Im paying
homage to the meaning behind the statue.
For Neaman, that meaning transcends Buddhism. Its a
symbol of mindfulness, she said simply, pointing to a central
theme of both Buddhism and Judaism.
Mindfulness may not be a word you hear that much in synagogue, but
the idea is far from new.
The [Jewish] rituals are set up so that were mindful
of our physicality, said Neaman. Every blessing is an exercise
in connecting us in the moment, with who we are and where we are.
For Neaman, Judaism is a religion of consciousness,
just as is Buddhism.
In order to explore these very points of connection between Jewish
and Buddhist meditation, Neaman recently organized a workshop with
Rabbi DovBer Pinson, a well-known kabbalist from New York.
Like popular forms of yoga, the kabbalistic tradition is often misunderstood
and just as often diluted, according to Pinson. And like
yoga, kabbalah manages to survive from generation to generation,
because the central truths transcend the generations and answer
a fundamental need.
Pinson isnt at all concerned with where the roots of the tradition
A lot of the spiritual teachings have crossovers because they
are universal truths that are found in all traditions, he
Popular culture also has a role to play. Although Pinson has his
doubts about what Madonna may be learning in her well-publicized
kabbalistic studies, he avoids criticizing popularizations of kabbalah.
More important to him is for individuals to connect the teachings
to their daily lives. Mindfulness, meditation and prayer are always
important, with or without celebrity status. Such truths transcend
culture and personal circumstance.
For Pinson, kabbalah and meditation are never about a past,
or a future. Its always about the present. And its never
about anybody else. Its always about you.
Derek Jamensky is a Vancouver freelance writer.