There’s a classic moment in The Blues Brothers. Jake & Elwood Blues are wearing their trademark dark glasses and black suits, have succeeded in ‘getting the band back together’ and proclaim that they are “on a mission from God”. Their new-found blues enlightenment leads to a successful fund-raising concert and saving an orphanage…even if it’s then followed by the most spectacular cop-car chases in movie history straight after they finish singing ‘Everybody Needs Somebody (to love)’. Today’s Kosher Sutra is about utilising the tools of Bibliyoga to get in touch with our personal mission, and get back in tune with our true calling.
“And they came, every person whose heart stirred them up..Every man and woman whose heart moved them…every willing heart…every wise-hearted woman…”(Exodus 31:21-29)
The last readings from Exodus describe the garments and other artistic items being prepared for the Temple and it focuses on the people who are driven to start creating: “And they came, every person whose heart stirred them up..Every man and woman whose heart moved them…every willing heart…every wise-hearted woman…” (Exodus 31:21-29). The theme of ‘heart’ is unrelenting and there are at least ten mentions of the Hebrew word Lev (heart) during this sequence. There is a clear metaphor in play, using the idea of someone’s ‘heart stirring them up’ or ‘heart moving them’ to describe someone feeling motivated.
The heart is probably the most frequently-mentioned organ in yogic practice with teachers describe postures as ‘heart-openers’, or telling people to ‘lift their heart’. The cardiovascular benefits of physical yoga are proven, but the practice is more than just a form of exercise to improve heart health. There are famous tales of yogis who were able to speed up and slow down their heart rate at will, with the most recent example being the famous Indian teacher Krishnamacharya who could stop his heartbeat for two minutes. His students included BKS Iyengar, Patthabi Jois (founder of Ashtanga Yoga), Indra Devi and TKV Desikachar (his son).
Yoga means ‘combining’ or ‘unity’ and there is a beautiful psalm that asks to “unify our hearts in love and awe”*. We can take this unity on both a physical and metaphorical level. During an asana/vinyasa yoga sequence we are attempting to bring our body into one solid piece, so that the breath matches the movement and we are able to maximise our physical potential during any one posture. There is also an internal aspect, as the yoga practice is ultimately about becoming completely present with the moment and with God through our breath-body-movement-mindfulness practice. Yoga is just another form of prayer and the body is really the most superficial aspect of the process, but it is the easiest place to start (this is the real reason that yoga should never make it into an Olympic sport unless the judges have the metaphysical capability to peer into the contestants’ souls to see if they are fully unified….but that’s a whole other conversation).
Back to the heart. Our Kosher Sutra describes people who felt fully motivated and had the ability to create works of art, but the commentator Ramban (1194-1270) takes it one stage further. He explains that:
‘The ‘stirring of the heart’ implies the arousing of their capacity to undertake the work. For none had ever learnt these skills before from any teacher nor had ever practiced them before. But each one discovered his [or her] natural talent or aptitude for the task, his heart rising as it were to the Divine challenge enabling him to come into Moses’ presence and say: “I can do it!”’. **
What a brilliant explanation! Ramban is telling us that when the whole Temple project began, all kinds of people suddenly felt motivated to start creating things and using talents that they didn’t previously have. They listened to their inner motivation, felt their spirit welling up and discovered a new talent.
This week’s Bibliyoga posture is a forward straddle-bend with interlaced hands (Prasarita Paddotanasana C) which will have initial cardiovascular benefits if you’re not used to the pose as the blood gets moving, and the interlaced hands behind your back will create more space around your heart. On top of that your head is upside-down which also gets the heart working harder.
As you do the pose, try meditating on your heart, listening to your heartbeat and breathing deeply through your nose. Stay in the pose for as long as you are able and really focus on this sense of retuning to your heart. When you have completed the pose and continue with your day, try to stay aware of the life possibilities that you are presented with – to see what you are motivated to do, where you are inspired to create something, who you are driven to help. We all have some calling or other, but it takes a literal and metaphorical listening-to-our-heart to get back in tune with it.
Here’s your posture:
i. Stand with your feet at either end of your yoga mat, in parallel position. Keep your legs straight. Your legs should now be making a triangle with the floor with your pelvis at the top. Spread your toes, engage your thigh muscles and ground yourself in the posture.
ii. Interlace your fingers behind your back and left your heart upwards on an inhale.
iii. As you exhale, fold forwards bringing your head towards your ground. Keep breathing, keep engaging your legs and stay with the pose. Advanced practitioners will be able to get their hands all the way over on the ground in front of them, but for the rest of us ‘tighties’, we’ll do the best we can.
Careful listening to your inner wisdom, the Chochmat Lev (lit. ‘wisdom of the heart’) will help lead you in a direction that is ultimately prosperous and beneficial. Let’s end with the words of the Blues Brothers who sang about someone with a huge heart;
“Hey folks here’s the story ‘bout Minnie the Moocher
She was a red-hot hoochie-coocher
She was the roughest toughest rail
But Minnie had a heart as big as a while
Hi de hi de hi de hi……”****
Wishing you a healthy heart and true joy in following your heart’s calling.
THE KOSHER SUTRAS © MARCUS J FREED/BIBLIYOGA 2010/5770
*Psalms 86:11. This phrase appears in the morning service prior to the Shema. There’s also a whole other drash (explanation) of the word Vayakhel which is the title of the first parsha – the word means ‘And he gathered’ or ‘And he congregated’ and although it’s talking about bringing the community together, we can also do a physical reading of this word as we bring together all parts of our body and mind through the asana practice. This reading would be backed-up by the Zohar reference that explains how the Temple was a metaphor for the body (ie the heart corresponding to the Holy of Holies), but that’s a whole other story. We’ve got time; there are at least another 50 years’ worth of Bibliyoga teachings if everything goes to plan, so hang in there…
** Ramban on Exodus 35:21
***Lyrics: Cab Calloway, Caskill & Mills.
Marcus J Freed is the world’s only guru-inducted yogi, yeshiva-taught educator, published author, BBC broadcaster and classically-trained actor. Receive the weekly Kosher Sutras by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. More info at www.bibliyoga.com. US Cell: 312-880-1574.