As we launch into a new year, the media has changed its tune. The climate of fear and tension that filled the newspapers during the last 24 months has begun to lift. A partial economic recovery may be on the way, and the sun is shining on London’s snow-covered roads. Today’s Kosher Sutra is about smashing through fear and living in a state of true freedom.
Our tale picks up in deepest Egypt where a new Pharoah is in control, the first officially recorded Anti-Semitism is in full swing and midwives are busy saving freshly circumcised boys from being drowned in the Nile. These brave women feared God more than they did the authorities and we’re told that ‘houses’ were created for them as a reward. Rashi (12th Century) explains that ‘houses’ means that they were granted ongoing family dynasties, but the Ishbitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef (1800-1854) takes us one stage further. Get down on your yoga mat and get ready for action.
“It is the nature of human fear that when one experiences it, his mind is unsettled”, he explains, “for fear is the opposite of a settled mind. However, with the fear of God, one experiences confidence and comfort”. ‘Houses’, writes the rebbe, “teach of an organised, settled mind”*. The phrase ‘as safe as houses’ has a literal meaning here, in that when we are feeling solid, have a good foundation and feel positive, we resemble a house. When we have this extra spiritual dimension and are truly connected with the awesome wonder of creation and the Godly aspect, then we really become this metaphorical bayit, a house that is able to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
This year we are going to have a specific theme for the Kosher Sutras: Freedom. Becoming truly freed in all aspects of our lives – emotionally, spiritually, physically. The ancient yogis had various words in Sanskrit for the concept of liberation – moksha (‘freedom’), jiva (‘liberation while living’), indeed the 18th Chapter of The Bhagavad Gita is called “Moksasamnyasa-Yoga”, or The Yoga of Freedom and Renunciation. The first place to start is with freedom from attachment, whether it is to physical or spiritual outcomes. When we can let go of the result of our actions, i.e. to say a kind word without expecting anything in return or to begin a creative project without being overly concerned about how it is going to be received then we are well on the step to freedom.
We can begin on the yoga mat by taking a posture and freeing ourselves from the outcome; see if you are able to sit for a while cross-legged, in half-lotus or in full-lotus. If you feel mild discomfort then try and stick with it, and if you feel genuine discomfort then try elevating your tuchus on a cushion or folded blanket. Ensure that your knees aren’t hurting as this is primarily about opening the hips. Keep your stomach tucked in and stay in the position for at least 70 breaths if possible.
The physical practice of yoga is a great spotlight on the internal workings of our mind and it is precisely when we attempt to hold poses for a longer period that is when the Superego goes into overdrive. Or maybe it is the Id. Either way, it’s that wired voice that might scream “I’m your body, get me out of here”, or “Doughnut time” or “It’s too cold! Too hot! or indeed anything else that will get you out of the pose.
Stay with it, baby.
Let’s go even deeper. A second kosher sutra of the week tells us that “70 souls” came from Jacob’s loins (Exodus 1:4). But we can re-read this to mean “70 breaths”**. Sit and take 70 breaths – inhaling and exhaling – an easier way to begin is to count every inhale and exhale down to 25 (ie breathe in=70, breathe out=69, breathe in=68, breath out=67, and then a full breath for the last 25). If you can take the 70 breaths then we can move ourselves into a place of pure freedom, pure meditation, and genuinely strengthen our foundation.
Sight tight and get ready for an incredible new decade Be strong, be powerful, be free, be YOU!
*p115, Parshat Shemot.
**Based on the idea that Nefesh, soul, can be translated as Nashaf, ie exhale/breath. This has been discussed in earlier Kosher Sutras but contact me if you need more textual sources…
THE KOSHER SUTRA © MARCUS J FREED/BIBLIYOGA 2010/5770