Tag: yoga

I’m Starting to Hear Voices and It is Affecting My Sanity

I grew up believing that when people start hearing voices, it’s the sign that they are beginning to go crazy. How much the more so when the person is hearing “religious” voices. Such occurrences often I thought were followed up with medication, hospitalization, or – in a few special cases – a move to Jerusalem where the voice-hearer declares himself the messiah.

I started hearing voices. That should be making me feel nervous, but surprisingly it hasn’t. In fact, as I’m hearing voices, it’s making me feel increasingly sane.

Am I Going Crazy?
It began in a pseudo-religious setting, Yogaworks Tarzana, where I engage in the spiritual practice of yoga. After a long weekend of inspiring teen-led worship services, intense pastoral counseling, awesome adult learning and our heartwarming Mitzvah Day social action project, I arose early to start my week with an energetic 6:30 am class.

Yoga mat spread out – 2 blankets, 2 blocks and a strap by my side – cell phone silenced, I assumed the cross-legged Sukasana pose to begin. I set a practice-guiding intention (that’s English for kavannah) to guide my day’s yoga practice: that I be mindful, becoming aware of the thoughts that arise in my mind, yet simultaneously moving them aside non-judgmentally so I can focus on my yoga practice. Simple enough to declare; challenging to live.

The Voices
That’s when it began. As the yoga increased in purposefulness, I began to lose focus on the poses. At first, thoughts about work – the growing to do list, people I need to call, intriguing new ideas – invaded my mental space. Although I wanted to contemplate each one, I let them go, lest they turn me aside from being present in the yoga flow. “That was good,” I thought to myself.

Then our yogi intensified the practice, leading us into Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose). Stretching along the top side of the body, from the back heel through the raised arm, my body began to complain. My thighs burned in concert with my breathing; my brain kept telling me I couldn’t hold this pose or others for more than a breath to two. I began berating myself for my failure, my inability to do what days ago was so simple and natural. An old story, perhaps, but quite effective in sabotaging my spiritual work.

Along Came New Voices, More Intense
That’s when the voices became quietly insistent. “Listen,” they said. “Listen to yourself, and see the judgments that pervade your mind. Let go. Let go of judgmentalism and just embrace what is. Accept what you can do for today without assigning blame or finding fault.”

“I’m hearing voices,” I thought. And I let it go.

I smiled. I slowed my breathing. I reengaged with the flow. I let go.

I recognize those voices, I realized. And I let that realization flit away. I let them go.

Naming the Voices
Only later, on reflection, could I put names to the voices. The cautionary voices, reminding me that I could choose to let go of judgment, were those of Rabbis Jonathan Slater and Sheila Weinberg, my teachers and spiritual directors from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. I attended a two year rabbinic program with IJS – silent retreats, yoga, meditation, study of chassidic texts – and years of distance learning and Spiritual Direction since.

My teachers engrained within me the need to let go of the stories we spin about good and bad, and success, and more often, failure.

Accept what is without judgment. 
Notice it. 
Name it. 
Move on beyond it.

My teachers had gotten into my head. And yet again, when my practice – and my life – threatened to spin away from me, their voices – implanted within – helped stabilize me until in savasana – the lying on back restorative pose – I was subsumed by silence outside and silence within.

Yes, Today I Heard Voices, and They Kept Me Remarkably Sane.


May you too find voices within that calm you within and without. Thank you Institute for Jewish Spirituality and YogaWorks for the lessons and the mindfulness.

Holy Yoga with the Rabbi: Reflections from Yoga Instructor/Congregant Julie Buckley

In my early courtship with yoga, I understood the word “yoga” to mean “union”. I was breathing and moving my mind, body, and spirit into union. How delightful to discover the far reaches of possibility within myself. There were poses which enabled me to feel strong, to feel flexible, to balance.

Becoming a yoga instructor offered me knowledge of yoga principles and philosophy which ask for an alignment of intention and action. Funny… I hear that at temple, too. As my yoga practice deepened and the notion of embodiment called to me with some insistence, my time on the mat shifted from me to me as the embodiment of what?? As I inhale (HaShem’s exhale), I wonder about the quality of my exhale. This curiosity about what I am made of was long ago sparked by my Jewish upbringing.

Judaism, as expressed at my synagogue, Congregation Or Ami, is interested in questions of how we move through this world– what ground we’re on, what we stand for. My rabbi, Paul Kipnes, is a passionate advocate of social action. Teaching yoga at Or Ami has generated a beautiful tapestry with yoga and Judaism engaged in a dialogue of teachings and practice, so that we learn to live and breathe our teachings. How do we begin to repair our world if we have not lived and breathed our wholeness, our brokenness, and our journey back to wholeness– over and over again? And how do we, as we age and endure strain, continue to cultivate strength, flexibility, and balance? How do we have a presence which will allow us to be part of tikkun olam… helping to heal our world.

The fact that my rabbi is on his mat, down dogging with his congregation, speaks volumes. Being welcoming and connecting with humanity are not just slogans in my synagogue. The energy that is exchanged during our practice is uplifting, calming, fortifying. It is perfect that our rabbi participates…

Our yoga community at Congregation Or Ami meets monthly in front of the ark, under the eternal flame, sharing the nourishment of yoga. We are finding that our Jewishness comes to life by “breathing it” and our yoga is that much more holy in our sanctuary. Just as our full lives expand God, inviting Judaism into yoga and vice versa creates a greater sense of integrity, of fullness. No longer are we or the aspects of our lives necessarily secular or religious, sacred or profane; rather, we are whole… Jewish yogis who embody the light of HaShem.

She Almost Killed the Rabbi This Morning

Early this morning, I lay with arms and legs splayed out across the floor and thought to myself, “I think I’m gonna die. Right here; right now.”

Holy yoga, rabbi. What were you doing?

Just that, Holy Yoga with the Rabbi, Congregation Or Ami’s monthly morning yoga, led by master instructor and congregant Julie Buckley. My teachers in the Institute for Jewish Spirituality encouraged us to deepen our yoga practice by bringing yoga into the synagogue.  So we did. 

Recently I have let my yoga practice slip – “be forgiving,” I tell myself – but the return to yoga this week was refreshing and wonderfully exhausting. Yet under Julie’s guidance, I realigned my body, and stretched my back, legs and hips. It was challenging for me (though the group was filled with yoga novices to yoga mavens) but rewarding. 

Why is a synagogue hosting a yoga group and why is the rabbi allocating time to participate?

With the exception of that momentary death wish (“kill me now so I can be finished”), the hour and a half is centering and mindful. During yoga, I feel at one with my breath, the nefesh chaya, breathed into me by the Holy One. I feel whole, filled with shalom, shleimut. Is this not what is meant when we sing the Shema? Adonai Echad, we sing, God is one… God is the oneness, the Unity that connects us all.

For those of you who do yoga, is it spiritual for you? How is the experience Jewish?

Sustaining the (Spiritual) High

I’m home from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality Hevraya (alumni) retreat. Four days with rabbis and cantors (and a few educators) to explore, deepen, develop, uncover our spirituality and our relationship with the Holy One.

Meditation, yoga, silence (10pm until 1pm the next day), chassidic text study, intense prayer.

I have blogged plenty about my recent and past experiences at the IJS Retreats.

How will I sustain my center? In part, I turn to the IJS’ Yoga CD, its elearning text study, and its meditation podcasts.

Intrigued? Try a podcast (on your ipod or online).

Join Rabbi Sheila Weinberg for a meditation on, and exploration of, what it means to experience life as b’tzelem Elohim – created in the divine image. We return to the beginning, to where it all starts, Chapter 1 of Genesis; recognizing that there can be no liberation from bondage without the affirmation of the inherent dignity of the human being. This understanding is articulated in this verse – And God created Adam b’tzalmo – in God’s image, male and female, the one being was created in the divine image. This might be the most important text in Torah. This might be the root core out of which all else emerges. What does it mean? What does it mean to you?)

Let me know what you think!

Holy Yoga! The Rabbi Gets to Wear Sweats to Temple

I will be showing up in my sweats at Temple again on Wednesday, February 3rd for another installment of our Holy Yoga series, a (sometimes) monthly drop in yoga experience in the back of the sanctuary. I’ll be there with my mat and sweats. I’m hoping others will too. Why?

In early December, almost two dozen showed up for Rav Yoga, a Jewish spiritual yoga experience with my friend, Rabbi Heather Altman. Rabbi Altman inspired our yoga practice:

Drawing on the Hebrew connection between “rav” (rabbi-teacher) and “rov” (plenty), Rav Yoga means Abundant Yoga, as well as Yoga Rabbi. In Rav Yoga, Heather united yoga and Judaism in a manner that was authentic to both beautiful traditions. Rav Yoga practice empowered, renewed, and connected our body, mind, and soul.

I first encountered Yoga as a Spiritual Practice at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality (IJS) retreats. The embodiment of mindfulness was transformative. For a few years, I practiced yoga regularly as a spiritual practice. For me, yoga was just as the IJS described it:

We work with our physical bodies by intentionally assuming poses that stretch, lengthen, and strengthen the body. We learn to pay attention more fully to sensations in our bodies as they move into various shapes and forms, and to the breath that flows in and out. Over time our bodies and our awareness become stronger, more flexible, more balanced, and more relaxed. As we release tensions and blocks in the body, even at the cellular level, there is often release of tensions and constrictions held in the mind and the emotions as well. As this process unfolds, we can experience more spaciousness and renewed capacities for movement and growth in our lives. As we return to the yoga mat to practice regularly, we learn to ground ourselves in awareness of the moment and in our attunement to details of our inner lives as they show up in the stretching, holding and releasing of the poses. And as the surface constrictions give way to a more expansive sense of possibility underneath, spiritual awakenings and movement can happen as well.

Since I fell out of my practice (though my wife pushes, prods, entices me back every so often), I figured that if I made it part of my Temple responsibilities, I would practice. Last month’s yoga session was great. I look forward to February’s session, led by yoga instructor/congregant Julie Buckley.

If you are in the area, come:

  • Holy Yoga with Rabbi Kipnes, Wednesday, Feb 3, 9-11 am
  • Julie asks that we each bring a large towel and a small, face towel in addition to a mat (or two large towels if you do not have a mat). If you have a strap, bring that too.
  • RSVP to my assistant Susie Stark ([email protected]).