Bending the Jewish Yoga Spine … in Minneapolis

This is a guest post by Cia Sautter, a performer and professor with a doctorate in Religion and the Arts. In addition to years of experience teaching yoga, she’s also done extensive research on Jewish movement traditions, and written on Kabbalah and Yoga. She has published a book on The Miriam Tradition: Teaching Embodied Torah, and is currently writing a book on Judaism and yoga. More on her work can be found at
It hasn’t been as easy to do yoga Jewishly in Minneapolis.
In Berkeley, I could go to the Jewish meditation center, or take yoga classes at studio owned by Jews, with Jewish teachers. Then there was a year or so when almost every other weekend I went to kirtan yoga chant nights, lead by this Jewish guy named Jai Uttal – yes, the grammy-nominated singer. It was quite the Jewish yoga experience. It was easy to be a Jew and do yoga with Jews in a place swimming with Jews. I keep trying in Minnesota; the situation may change soon.
I am offering two free Jewish yoga classes at Bet Shalom synagogue on Wednesday September 12 and 19th. The reason for this workshop is simple – when planning for Passover with the Uptown Havurah, we realized a common denominator for those attending was yoga. I also have Jewish friends who like me are West Coast refugees, looking for more active ways to study Jewish spirituality – and we all do yoga.
It seems there is now critical mass for a physical Jewish yoga class where we can actively learn about kabbalah practices. Plus, it would offer creative Jews a chance to meet one another, and practice in a format that encourages community and even discussion – something that we’re probably used to and appreciate, but are missing at many yoga center classes. When I approached Rabbi Locketz of Bet Shalom synagogue about the possibility and need for this workshop, he welcomed the opportunity.
I am part of a Jewish Yoga teacher’s alliance, and know of active classes in New York, Los Angles, and London. Why not here in Minnesota? We aren’t that provincial.
But I’m not sure what locals know about Judaism and yoga. Previously, I’d discussed the topic at a “Kabbalah Yoga” workshop for the Jewish Mental Health Conference, presenting a simple yoga practice that strongly reflected patterns of movement suggested in the Zohar. I’d done extensive research on the topic, even publishing an article on Kabbah/Yoga. I think some of the participants at the workshop had expected me to share some secret yoga practice that was exclusively Jewish. While it would be nice to find the Jewish Hatha Yoga Pradaprika, there was really isn’t any need to do so.
Throughout Jewish history, we have borrowed from the culture in which we live to great success. Even Hasidic dance and music is really based in the culture of Northern Europe. What made it Jewish was not the exact tunes, dance steps, or even words; it was the intent. Jewish Spiritual tradition tells us that Kavvanah – intention- is everything; this is what counts, and not whether a physical practice originated in the Jewish community.
Kabbalistic Jews did engage in physical forms of prayer, breathe, chant, and dance, and their reasons for doing so bear amazing similarity to yoga concepts of chakras, pranayama, and holistic devotion. While yoga and kabbalah practices are not the same, the similarities suggest that Jews recognized that the body and mind are one, and that the physical is the spiritual.
The workshop I’m offering is free and open to all, with physical yoga movement and kabbalah meditation included. I want to offer some teaching, to relate the practice to Jewish text, but the session will be mainly movement meditation. There will also be time to socialize, because that’s important, so I’m encouraging people to come early – around 6:45, to schmooze before class at 7pm. The class will last about an hour, but I’d like to see us going out afterward for food, drink and discussion. In the first class we’ll focus on the kabbalistic sefirot and the body, using a flowing yoga practice, with attention to energy and emotions. The second class will focus more on breathing and ruach or spirit, for cleansing and renewing.
My hope is that I will see enough interest in starting regular Jewish yoga classes in the Twin Cities area. When I see postings for Jewish yoga classes to prepare for Shabbat at a synagogue in California, I get very excited and very eager to start something locally.
I know some may be intimidated going to a synagogue for the classes, but I’m glad that Bet Shalom is recognizing many Jews need an opportunity for active classes on Jewish spirituality, and something for those of us a little more outside the box.
To pre-register for our September classes, email me at [email protected]. Even if you can’t attend these first classes, but you want to be involved, email me to get on our email list.
(Photo: s3k)