Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Yogi's Guide to Passover

As someone raised in a non-religious home who married a Jewish man, it is always a special treat for me to attend services on high holidays. Even as I delve deeper into my yogic journey (which is a very personal, spiritual, non-institutional one), I have always held a special interest and admiration for organized religious practices. In general, these practices, in and of themselves, are special and warm my heart probably most because of the organized nature of them. On these certain dates, every year - year after year - people who believe stop everything else they are doing in life and gather to practice, ritualize, reflect and set intentions for the future. Sounds a lot like yoga, now doesn't it?! :)
For tonight's Passover Seder, we went with a group of friends who are much more involved in the Jewish community than we are, to their temple's community feast. Seder is a long, ritualized dinner that Jews around the world participate in simultaneously, marking the beginning of the Passover holiday.
The Rabbi initiated the feast with a reading from the ancient text called the Haggadah that loosely translates as....

Tonight we observe a colorful and joyous festival which our people has celebrated for two thousand years. The history of our people reaches back nearly 4000 years. We began as slaves in the land of Egypt. Today we are free people.
Long ago, our ancestors set out on an important journey. On a night such as this, they went forth out of Egypt, leaving behind slavery and degradation. On a night such as this they rejoiced in their newly found freedom and dignity.
Tonight we celebrate their freedom and ours. But we also remember all those of our generation who are not yet free. May this seder kindle in us the zeal to work for the freedom of all. May this seder inspire us to light the torch of freedom for all the world.

The Rabbi emphasized the most important take-away as: We began as slaves. Today we are free. He then guided us through a moment of reflection as we thought in what ways we are currently enslaved in our lives and how we can start to move more towards freedom. Whether it's feeling enslaved at work, in a relationship, financially or even geographically - what can we do in this "new year" to lead ourselves towards freedom? This moment really resonated with me as we all have felt enslaved at some point in our lives and if we really observe astutely enough, we can start to identify the ways in which we currently feel some level of enslavement.
This Jewish principle of reflection and self-improvement struck me as quite Yogic and my mind began to wander as I thought, quite comically, of the Buddha, Jesus and Patanjali walking into a cave to discuss. They share a cuppa Kombucha, say a prayer for world peace, attempt a triple down-dog,  and.....A loud Cheers! of wine glasses startled me back into the present moment and I continued to embrace the idea of releasing the everyday "shackles" that bind us. Large or small, we can always find something to let go of.

And again, the parallels with yoga come to mind. As if finding myself in an incredibly constricting, twisting, gut-wrenching yoga posture like Marichyasana C and then suddenly releasing and taking a big, giant exhale as my body returned back to it's normal shape. Liberation. Freedom. Surrender.
The Rabbi concluded his opening piece by asking us to think of how we can release not only ourselves from enslavement but also: How we can be especially careful to not contribute to the slavery of others?  Whether we like it or not, enslavement in some form is inevitable. In life, he said, sometimes we are the Slave and sometimes we are the Pharaoh. With this knowledge, what can we start to do in our lives to move away from the things that hold us down and, at the same time, how can we make sure we are not holding someone else down in the process?
Whether this reflection takes place at the Seder table or on your yoga mat, the practices of self-reflection and self-improvement are ancient, sacred and needed now more than ever.

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