Yoga and the Jewish Faith

At synagogues and Jewish community centers, yoga and meditation complement the spiritual life.
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At synagogues and Jewish community centers, yoga and meditation complement the spiritual life.

Members of Makor Or, a meditation group that practices at the Jewish Community Center San Francisco.

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Photo by Sasha Gulish

People in the Jewish faith have been practicing meditation in synagogues and community centers across the country for years (check out JewishYogaNetwork.com, for a directory of Jewish yoga teachers). But the prevalence and acceptance of meditation and yoga offerings within community was recently highlighted by one of the nation's leading community Jewish newspapers.

JWeekly explored how the Jewish community in the San Francisco Bay Area has embraced yoga and meditation, even using them to make Jewish spirituality more accessible to their congregations.

“I have been a member of a synagogue. I’ve taught Hebrew school at four different synagogues in the Bay Area. I’ve worked for Jewish organizations,” yoga teacher Rachel Dorsey said. “And for me, the way I’ve been able to feel the most spiritually connected to the Jewish community and to my Jewish spirit has been on my yoga mat.”

Dorsey sometimes themes her classes around Jewish observances. “If it’s Shabbat, it’ll be themed around the Torah portion,” she said. “One around Passover was about finding freedom within boundaries — what does it mean to explore that within our physical bodies?”

Though "Jewish yoga" is a newer phenomenon, meditation in the Jewish community is nothing new. In fact, experts interviewed for the article suggest that meditation and contemplation have long been a part of the Jewish tradition.

While yoga and contemplation services won't replace the more traditional services, for some, they offer a more accessible way to connect with their faith. Yoga and meditation are becoming increasingly mainstream, but traditional Jewish practices, such as learning Hebrew, are less common.

Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City recently began offering a monthly contemplation service at the request of its members. “I’m more of a traditionalist in my own personal practice,” said Rabbi Corey Helfand, a spiritual leader a Peninsula Sinai Congregation. “But I don’t believe anymore that there’s one hard and fast way of people connecting to God—of nurturing whatever authentic relationship that is for you. There’s no reason you can’t be more creative.”