Putting Seder (Order) in Our Yoga Practice

Editor’s note: Elisa gave this drash (commentary) at the yoga practice for Passover Splash on Sunday March 7, 2021

ElisaauthorsphotoUsually I don’t begin a Jewish yoga practice discussing yoga, but instead, start with a drash or commentary on the parsha or theme of the morning.

Today, I’m discussing yoga.

Decades ago when I first began practicing, I started with Ashtanga Yoga, a very precise form of yoga that is composed of six series, each of which has a set order of prescribed poses. The first series (I never made it much beyond the first, and not sure I ever really “nailed it”–more on that phrase in a moment–even at that) has about 40 poses.      Continue reading

Taking a Risk: Yoga Drash for Parshat Lech L’cha


Editor’s note: Elisa gave this drash at the yoga practice on Saturday Ocober 28, 2017

Thoughts to begin and guide our yoga practice:

First, with thanks to Rabbi Aaron Panken, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute (HUC-JIR), who wrote the commentary upon which this short drash and our yoga session today is based.

We begin with: God told Abram in this Shabbat’s parsha, Lech L’cha, “go forth from your land, your birthplace, your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you…”

So, when Abram received this instruction, he was just hanging out, comfortable, secure, in the land where he was born, in his father’s home. Then, presto, God asked him to uproot himself. Move on.

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In God’s Image: Yoga Drash for Shabbat May 20, 2017


Thoughts to begin and guide our yoga practice:

I just returned from my first trip to Japan, a country not without its problems, to be sure, but at least on the surface, a place epitomized by its extraordinary civility. With every bow I received (constant), and every bow I returned (one learns quickly), the contrast between the respect shown to the “other” in Japan and the seeming lack of it all too often demonstrated in our country grew starker. Continue reading

Renewal: Yoga Drash for Shabbat Chol Hamoed / April 15, 2017

yoga picture

Thoughts to begin and guide our yoga practice:

Let’s talk about the famous story of the prophet Ezekiel and the dry bones, the Haftarah for Shabbat Chol HaMoed. Ezekiel was taken by God and “set down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones.” (37:1) Probably the bones of slain Jews, struck down by Nebuchadnezzar’s army, bones left to bake in the sun. God instructed Ezekiel to declare to those bones: “I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live again” (37:5). Despite the obvious preposterous request, Ezekiel complied, and “the bones came together, bone to matching bone . . .” (37:8), but the reassembled bodies still did not have breath. God instructed Ezekiel to call to the ruach (spirit,/wind/breath) and say: “Come, O ruach, from the four winds, and breathe into those slain, that they may live again.” And it happened.

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Taking Care of Yourself: Yoga Drash Based on Parshat Yithro


Thoughts to begin and guide our yoga practice:

I sit in front of my laptop, encircled by a moat of paper, on my floor, on my desk. Stacks of unopened envelopes, to-do lists not done, sticky notes telling me I have to call/email/set up appointments with such and such person. And that’s before I even turn on my MacBook Pro to face an Inbox with 55,000 unread messages. Ok, many are Bed, Bath and Beyond ads but many are not. The sheer volume of my life makes my body slump in a most un-yogic way. Continue reading

Slowing Down: Yoga for Parshat Toldot / Dec 3 2016


Thoughts to begin and guide our yoga practice:

We often struggle between the appeal of instant gratification versus working tediously toward a more demanding future goal. For Esau, however, who had just come in, exhausted, from a day of hunting, there was no inner struggle to be had, no tension between present wants and achievement down the road. What he desired at that moment was a stew his brother Jacob had made. As recounted in last week’s parsha, Toldot, “Esau said to Jacob, ‘Pour..me…some of that red stuff for I am exhausted.’’ Jacob replied, ‘Sell…your birthright to me.” Esau instantly caved in: ‘‘…I am going to die {one day}, so of what use to me is a birthright?” At that moment, Esau’s concern was then, not tomorrow. Continue reading

Letting Go: Yoga Drash for Parashat Vayera

This drash was given at the beginning of the yoga session on Nov 19, 2016

6885273501_4f3e328826_zWe’re back to Vayera, and specifically, the Akedah or the binding of Isaac, the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. “Hineni, I’m ready“, Abraham asserts. “Take a breath [good yoga suggestion]”, says Rabbi Jonathan Kligler in a commentary: “This is a crazy story! It’s a myth, it’s not reality. A symbol of an idea. That idea is that Isaac, his son, is not Abraham’s to possess or control (or Sarah’s, for that matter), but a gift that flowed through them, that brought them joy, that taught them how to love life and also teaches them how to let it go”.

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Yoga Drash for Parashat Naso

bildnerYoga Drash for 6/18/2016/Elisa Spungen Bildner

Tucked in Parashat Naso, a parsha about ritual purity, adulterous wives, vows of abstinence and more is Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Benediction, words probably most familiar to us because we say them on Shabbat to our kids, we hear them at b’nai mitzvot.

May God bless you, and keep you.
May God’s face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
May God’s face be lifted toward you, and bring you peace.

We say the words and we hear them, but do we really think about what they mean?(Rabbi Steve Kushner of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield has a wonderful and short essay on this subject.)

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Yoga Drash for Shabbat HaGadol: Gratitude


It is fitting that on Shabbat Hagadol, which precedes Passover, that we show our gratitude for the great miracles that resulted in our release from bondage in Egypt. But we are not limited, of course, to expressing gratitude on only this one Shabbat.

It seems, though, that as a people, we Jews haven’t been so great on the gratitude front. Think again: the Passover story. Gratitude was not a strong point of the Jews during their life in the desert, albeit a difficult time. As Britain’s former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes: They complained about lack of food and water, the manna, the lack of meat and vegetables, about the dangers they faced from the Egyptians as they were leaving and about the people who lived in the land they were about to enter. Moses warned, however, Sacks says, that it would be even worse to be ungrateful during good times: Continue reading

Yoga Drash for Parshat Vayera: Mindful Striving

icarus photoWe’re back to the Akedah, or the binding of Isaac, one of the most challenging stories in the Torah, one that rabbis often work hard to justify by commending Abraham on showing his complete faith in God (just a reminder: the Akeda is the story of Abraham’s sacrificial binding of his son Isaac on Mount Moriah, and God’s last minute intervention to substitute a ram instead).

Let’s try to understand it differently, springing off of Rashi’s 11th century commentary. According to Rashi, as relayed by Rabbi Gerald Zelizer, God never really told Abraham to slaughter his son but only to “bring him up” as if for a sacrifice. “When I said to you ‘Take your son’… I did not say to you, sh’chateihu, ‘slaughter him,’ but only ha’aleihu, ‘bring him up.’” When Abraham picked up the knife to slay his son, according to Rashi, he goes beyond what God ordered and God’s angel has to stop him. Zelizer says that the Talmud says that the thought of Abraham actually killing Isaac never occurred to God.

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