Preaching what we practice
May 03, 2006
I had coffee this morning with Bernice Lewis, fabulous singer-songwriter and longtime friend. We talked about this and that: the new album she recorded recently in Nashville, poetry publishing projects, retreats and immersion, how I've enjoyed my hospital chaplaincy work. Then we got to talking about yoga.
"It drives me crazy," she said, "when somebody tells me 'I tried a yoga class once, I didn't like it.' Tried a yoga class once?!" Bernice has been practicing yoga daily for more than thirty years. "What does that even mean? What kind of yoga class, you know? Who was teaching it? What level was it at? ...and anyway," she said, "yoga isn't something you like or hate; it just is. It's like saying you didn't dig...I dunno, the color yellow." You need to find the class that's right for you, she explained, at the right level and with the right atmosphere and led by someone who guides you through the experience so you can come out feeling good about it and about yourself. Deciding on the basis of a single class somewhere that the entire phenomenon isn't for you -- that approach misses out on so much great potential for transformation.
"I know what you mean," I said. "I feel that way about Judaism." When someone tells me they tried going to synagogue once and didn't like it -- what does that even mean? What kind of services: Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, Hasidic, Renewal? Who was the shaliach tzibbur (prayer-leader), and what was their style? Was it a teaching service, or did it presume preexisting immersion? "There's a progression to the liturgy," I said, warming to my subject. "You ramp up to this elevated place, and then there's all this great stuff, and you ramp back down," and Bernice shrugged and said she believed me but she'd never learned that in shul. "That's exactly it," I said. "It's like going to a yoga class without understanding the flow between the postures."
"If there's one thing I could get people to understand about yoga," Bernice said, "it would be this: it's not aerobics or even Pilates. Take on a daily practice, even if it's only ten minutes. It will change your whole day; it can change your life." I thought of Reb Zalman's seven-minute davven, and smiled.