Introducing two new classes that are filling up!  Invite Moving Wisdom to come to your event to teach JEWmba™ or Parsha Yoga™ in your community…

JEWmba™, or Jewish Music and Bodies in Action, is a fun-filled recreational dance/movement class which incorporates creative dance, exercise, Israeli dancing, Jewish music and themes, ethnic humor, and tikkun olam.  Sound too good to be true?  We firmly believe that being in our bodies in a way that is fun and joyful gives us the chance to renew our commitment to ourselves, our communities and our world.  JEWmba™ is an exercise class, and is more than an exercise class.  From kvetch-n-stretch to embodying the movement from our tradition, to just letting ourselves open to the joy and freedom of our bodies, this class has something for you.  You will learn some set dances as well as find the dance within yourself… try it, you’ll like it!

Parsha Yoga™ combines two traditions: the art of the ancient Yoga asanas and the weekly portion of our ancestors.  Each parsha is a story that we can embody, from the simple story to a more personal interpretation.  The class is organized around themes of each parsha and while keeping the traditions of a typical Iyengar Yoga class, allows for reflection and personal discovery of those themes physically.

These classes are being offered in our local western MA community and are available to any shul, youth group, women or men’s group, or any other Jewish or faith-based group.  No prior experience in either movement or yoga is necessary.

Moving Wisdom believes that inCORPORating the body into knowledge and underSTANDing makes a better world – for everyone.

Interview with 614 magazine (a new Jewish women’s magazine) from September, ’09….

What is Jewish Yoga?

Class Description: We start with thank you. We say Modeh/Modah Ani upon waking, which is one big “thank you” for keeping me alive and waking me up, and go on to the morning prayers, which say thank you for opening eyes, mine and others, for straightening the bent, my body and others, for guiding my steps, etc. The prayers can be seen as an analogy for all humanity, but also for getting me out of bed and just, well, thanks. Then, after the grateful blessings, we say “wow.” All the Songs of Praise follow, the “wow” of the wonder of it all, and of God. We say “thanks” before we say “wow”! Isn’t that amazing? It’s an ancient “attitude of gratitude.” I use this map, which includes listening (shma) and studying/asking, this framework already handed down to Jews for thousands of years, to thematically and literally order the yoga movements of the class.

Why did you want to start your classes in Jewish yoga?

As a former professional dancer, and a yoga person and then teacher, I have always learned kinesthetically. I always felt like even my own spirituality was through my body, that somehow I felt a kind of God presence while focused on expanding, stretching, and playing with my own body’s boundaries. Taking care of and being aware of the body is a very Jewish attribute. (Even the Rambam said, and I paraphrase, “To know Torah you must care for the soul and the body; the soul is ranked first but the body comes first…”) It seemed natural to want to merge that way of learning with understanding Jewish concepts, beliefs, and prayers. It has been fascinating to uncover the rich history of movement within the tradition. From the present-day shuckling (swaying) in shul, to Torah processionals, to the time when David danced half naked in front of the Ark, and Miriam led the women into song and dance, movement and body consciousness have been a part of Judaism. Doing Jewish yoga is a way of reclaiming the body in connecting to God or your own personal version of Divinity. I also got tired of the headier textual study: Judaism is a lived religion, however orthodox a person wishes to embody it. The rituals include physically doing something to create spiritual connection. Doing Jewish yoga means physically understanding what it is to be thankful for girding Israel (us) with strength, or straightening our bent bodies—two prayers from the morning blessings. It means truly listening to our bodies’ responses to our own relationship to God and prayer (or as a friend says, “shma’ing the body”).

What do you think women get out of the classes?

I hesitate to label what women, as opposed to men, get out of the classes. It would be easy to say that women are more open to new ways of learning in Judaism, especially if you’re talking about more traditional Jewish learners and learning methods, since they were traditionally left out, but many men in my class are the first to groan and moan and express their eagerness to work with their bodies as metaphors for their own truth. Often, women are the teachers, so they get role models. And, when I teach in Orthodox circles, such as at Orot College in Israel, it is only women who take the course.

What was one of your best teaching moments?

I’ve been lucky to have had quite a few high points recently. One was when I was leading an Embodied Shabbat ceremony, working with my rabbi and a musician. We were following what I consider to be the main parts of a morning service, especially Shabbat morning: gratitude, praise, listening, and study/asking. These parts correspond to the prayer and song sequences of the morning service. The group got so involved in the gratitude part—which includes yoga poses, chanting, getting warmed up, and saying what they’re grateful for—that, quite naturally, the songs of praise, specifically the Nishmat prayer, thanking and praising God for the Breath of Life, came out of the crowd and into their bodies. I barely had to lead—just had to facilitate the natural expansion of the group’s energy.

But I must say the most humbling and exciting moments are when I get those students who approach me saying that somehow, in some way, what they did in my class brought them closer to their Judaism, or their souls. Surprisingly enough, some of the more religious women I taught in Israel had this reaction. I was pretty blown away. Those women are so in love with Judaism that they make the gender differentiation look almost inviting. So, for them to say this to me, a Conservative-born feminist Jew who looked into Hindu yoga for my spirituality before returning to Judaism, is a pretty big honor.

What is the most challenging aspect about teaching your class?

The first five minutes. Always. Getting people to let go of their expectations… of whatever… a yoga class, a Jewish experience, what dance is, what it means to be Jewish, or what it is supposed to look like. Usually by minute six, but certainly by twenty, we’re all ok with where we are.

How does your class help women connect to Judaism?

I think, again, because of the traditional ways in which women were expected to behave or pray, this presents an egalitarian concrete connection to Judaism that bypasses those more male-dominated approaches.

What one lesson/message would you like to share with our readers?

Judaism rocks. And rolls. I mean it. I am in my mid-40s and I envy what is around now for younger women and men who are seeking a spiritual Judaism, not a rote, watered-down Judaism. There is a lot out there to get connected to—eco-Kosher, environmental awareness; the Torah is a pretty amazing guide if you’ve found smart, spiritually aware, and holistically oriented teachers to help lead you. And there’s more and more of those teachers, and some of them are in their 30s and early 40s. Find them; Judaism needs you to continue its mission of bringing Heaven and Earth together—making the material, spiritual and leading the earth into better times. If not now, when? (Ok, got a bit soap-boxy there… but Hillel had it right).

When do you personally feel most Jewish?

On Friday nights. The small stuff—lighting candles, saying the blessings, watching my partner’s (and soon my step-) children tear at the challah like they’re Siberian refugees. And then, kibbitzing in shul on Saturday, mixing small talk with prayer. It is the ease of the material and spiritual that makes Judaism interesting. In what other religion is it written that a man is supposed to please his woman, and yes I mean sexually, especially on Shabbos, as much as possible? Got to admit, girls, we got pretty lucky on that one.

What question do you wish I would ask, and what is your answer.

Question: where can I go for cool Judaism?

Keep looking for good, plugged-in resources, like Elat Chayyim—the Jewish renewal spiritual center based at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut—with courses almost year-round. Romemu in New York—a place where there is yoga and meditation before the amazing chanting Shabbat service. Check out the Aleph Kallah—an every other year event, but an ongoing resource for teachers and ideas. If you’re an artist yourself, your local Jewish Federation probably wants to hear from you and how you can connect what you do with local day schools and Hebrew schools. Judaism needs young vital minds, bodies, and souls to keep falling in love with it, to find out about its desires for peace (yes, peace!), healing, and love; not just law, rules, and restrictions.

Jodi P Falk, MFA, CLMA
Jodi P Falk is an international educational consultant, choreographer, dancer, yogi, and teacher. Her work centers on the vehicle of movement and the arts to promote educational wellness, conflict resolution, proficiency, and personal and spiritual power. Visit to learn more about her program.

Michelle Cove of Hadassah/Brandeis Institute, editor of 614, an online magazine for Jewish women, and men, found my articles and asked me for this interview.

Please visit their site. I talk about what a Jewish yoga/movement class looks like, from my perspective, and how it varies in Orthodox and in Renewal communities. Also, I tell you why women, from a traditional perspective, are lucky in Judaism!

There are wonderful resources from Rabbis and other learned people in the Jewish tradition that speak to spirituality of the body (Nachman, Finkel, Michaelson) and the holiness of movement (Michaelson, Bloomfield, Nachman and students). There is an emerging field of Jewish yoga and creative dance (Bloomfield, Klotz, courses at Elat Chayyim, the dance program at the religious women’s college Orot in Elkana, Israel). And, there is still a gap between those ideas, which prove a more movement-filled Jewish origin (dancing after crossing the Red Sea, David dancing wildly by the Ark, the daily shuckling by minyans across the continents and centuries, Psalms which uphold dancing as a glorification of the One), and … reality.

The other weekend I taught a four-day course at Elat Chayyim on Embodied Relationships, relationship to oneself, to others, to prayer, and to G-d. Embodied prayer was the first idea I had for the course and I focused on that in many of the sessions. As per usual at Elat Chayyim, the spiritual wing of the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center in Falls Village, CT, there were many inspiring teachers and leaders of heart awakening and love-filled Shabbat services. Shabbat morning, Amichai Lau-Lavie, Executive and Artistic director of Storahtelling, led a rousing Dvor Torah which included Bnai Mitzvah teenagers and their parents. In the beginning of the services, Amichai said something quite simple that complemented my Jewish yoga practice and helped uplift my Shabbat teaching that day.

Simply put, the morning services, and the morning in general, as we wake, start with Thank You.We say Modeh/Modah Ani upon waking, which is one big Thank You for keeping me alive and waking me up, and go on to the morning prayers which say Thank You for opening eyes, mine and others, for straightening the bent, my body and others, for guiding my steps, etc.The prayers can be seen as an analogy for all humanity but also for getting me out of bed and just, well, thanks.

Then, after the grateful blessings, we say “Wow”. All the Songs of Praise follow, the “wow” of the wonder of it all, and of G-d. Isn’t that amazing? We say thank you BEFORE we say wow. We don’t say, wow, thank you. We say thank you, wow. It’s not so new age after all to have the “attitude of gratitude” and then magically we have the eyes to really see, to really receive the wonders that exist, that we “have”.

So, what does this have to do with Jewish Yoga?I use this map, this framework already handed down to Jews for thousands of years, to thematically and literally order the class.First, is thank you.Even if we are tired, cranky, or have the early morning body stiffness.We say thank you.We actually speak our thanks as we begin our class.We become aware of our bodies, sitting on our cushions or mats, and as we stretch and moan we also say thank you for the arms to stretch, for the breath that runs through us, for straightening our bent bodies and even for the pain we experience, since the pain will lead us to our own relief of pain if we learn how to listen.

Then, as we move more into the first postures of the class, we say “Wow.” Wow, we can stretch that much more, wow, we can balance in that lunge, wow, we can be like a cat or dog, and wow, we can stand.

Then, as in the service of our tradition, after the wow, is the most important prayer of Judaism. It is said that if you cannot study Torah on any given day, then at least you must say this prayer, in the morning, and in the evening. This is the Shema. The most important prayer of a highly verbal (people of the Book) tradition, a tradition of arguing and wrestling and questioning, is the prayer that tells us to listen. Listen, O Israel, the Lord is Our G-d, the Lord is One. This is what Jews brought to the world, monotheism, and to truly hear this, and live by the example of its teaching, is supposedly the life’s work of all Jews.

The Shema in the body is a wonderous practice. I have developed a whole morning tradition just on this practice alone. When do you actually listen to your body? What are the results when you do, and when you don’t? At this point in the yoga class, we are standing, and we begin to listen. What does my body need now? Right now? And now? The repeated question is always answered if you let the body speak, and release from your mind making the choice. I don’t believe that the body and mind are separate, but I do believe that in our 21st century western culture we have created a separation that often is detrimental to the body.Rumi, a poet mystic of a much earlier century, agrees: “If you start doing something against your health, your [body] intelligence will eventually scold you.”The question of what my body needs now, not what my mind thinks it needs, can lead to surprising results.When we “think” we are tired, we think that our response will be to lie down.Often if we really hear our bodies, our “tiredness” is our body’s way of asking for attention, and when we give it, our fatigue may give way to joyous opening or soft soothing swaying.Surprise is what happens; we allow ourselves to go into the unknown.And, isn’t that where G-d is?

This practice is like a known practice in the dance world, Authentic Movement ™. However, we don’t always use a partner as witness, and I bring in questions and images at times into the practice to work with. However, it is interesting that the last letter, ayin, of the Hebrew word shema, the first word in the shema, and the last letter, daled, in the Hebrew word echad, the last word in the shema, spell ed, which means witness. We witness our own silence, our own listening, and our own G-d.

After the Shema is the Amidah, which literally means standing. We stand to bless G-d, and then hear our thoughts alone, our own connection to the Divine. And, we listen. The Shema practice can bring such great insights that I often bring these two parts of the service together as one on the mat. And in the Amidah, we finally get to, except on Shabbat when all is perfect and we don’t need anything, ask G-d for what we want. That is also perfect; we listen, and then ask, instead of asking, then listening. Just as we say thank you before saying wow, we assert our connection to G-d through listening, and then ask for what we or loved ones, or the world at large, needs.

On certain mornings, the Amidah is followed by study. We study the words of the Torah. Here, if there is a theme for the class that is based on the parsha shavua, or another text, we work with that text in movement and in words. For instance, with parsha Toledot, we may work with partner counterbalance movements and perhaps a bit of contact improvisation to look at the relationship between Jacob and Esau. We might find the warrior poses in yoga correspond to one of the brothers, while the child’s pose corresponds to the other. Which one corresponds to which is a question of interpretation, and everyone on the mat is encouraged to find their own interpretation based on their movement discovery.

Finally, at the end of a Jewish prayer service we say Kaddish. This is the prayer that is said for anyone who has died recently, or for an anniversary of someone’s death. Some people say it for those who didn’t have anyone to say it for them, such as those who died in the Shoah, the Holocaust. Interestingly enough, at the end of a yoga class, we do savasana, the corpse pose. We practice dying. In both traditions the body knowledge of death is honored and given a place. It is notable that the Kaddish doesn’t speak of death, but is more praise for G-d. I recently heard a beautiful teaching that the words of praise are actually the words of those souls for whom we are saying Kaddish, rising to their Creator.

The above is a general outline of what my version of a Jewish yoga class is like. The movement to combine these two traditions is relatively new, considering the age of the traditions, and the field is open and growing. What is your experience?