Yoga is always physically challenging but the two teachers were exceptional and my body actually loved it.

— Garrison Retreat 2011 participant

 

Embodied Practices

yoga

Body Awareness as Core Spiritual Practice

 

In raising up body awareness as a core spiritual practice, the Institute seeks to restore a sense of physical awareness to our intellectual and spiritual lives. We create safe spaces and practices in which participants can explore their relationship to their bodies.

Why We Teach Yoga

The Institute has chosen the practice of hatha yoga as a primary form through which we seek to connect awareness to embodied experience. Through yoga, we can work with postures and movements in the body with attention to breath and sensation that cultivate a deep awareness of how we embody spiritual life from moment to moment, from one gesture and breath to the next. As we aspire to deepen the experience of the sacred in all realms of life, attention to the sacred nature of our bodies and how we inhabit them is a core strand of our offerings. The Institute provides a model of spiritual life and leadership that assumes physical integration and integrity as part of a whole and balanced existence.

Relation to Other Core Practices

While many engage in yoga as a physically based contemplative practice, we carefully integrate it with the other core practices to enhance and echo the larger goals of fostering increased Jewish spiritual connections and awareness. During all yoga sessions, basic postures are taught within a Jewish framework, utilizing Jewish terms and references. In so doing, the experience of developing a yoga practice can be “felt” Jewishly. For example, as participants spread their yoga mats at the start of a session they are invited to see these mats defining their sacred space. They are encouraged to envision their mat as a kind of mizbeach (altar) upon which to offer their most sacred and holy selves.

In Jewish tradition since biblical times there have been strands of thoughts and experience which acknowledge that, “In my flesh I see God” (Job 19:26). In the last century, Rav Kook and the Sefat Emet suggest that we must bring our bodies back to the “soil” of Jewish spirituality.  Drawing on such masters from Jewish tradition, the Institute agrees that it is essential to bring our bodies, minds, and hearts together in integrative awareness if we are to develop vibrant Jewish spirituality that heals the individual and the community.

What We Do

We work with our 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, 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.

Where This Practice Leads

We are dedicated to raising body awareness, through yoga, as a core practice to help open gateways of perception towards the sacred in our lives. We wish to raise the awareness that through a touch, a breath, a sigh, a stretch, a silent gaze, we can know God’s presence. Yoga can be a potent tool to help become more attentive to these experiences, another lens through which to “know God in all of our ways.” We seek to continue nourishing this growth, on and off the yoga mat.