2016-06-30
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Excerpted from "Torah Yoga" by Diane Bloomfield (April 2004, $19.95, Cloth) by permission of Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.

Many people feel that they cannot take the time to rest. They are too busy. They think that, at least while they have the strength, resting is something they can always do later. It often seems that they frown on resting and consider it a waste of time or a frivolous indulgence.

Torah has a radically different attitude toward resting. In the Torah, the fourth of the Ten Commandments commands us to always remember and observe Shabbat (Friday night to Saturday night). Shabbat is a day for soulful, holy rest. The day of rest is adored and desired like a beloved soul mate. It is a bride and queen, the crown of every week. Shabbat teaches us how to rest.

Yoga also teaches us how to rest. In yoga, rest and relaxation are an essential part of the practice. The climax of every yoga session is the posture of rest.

Jewish tradition teaches that God's ability to stop working and rest on Shabbat is an example of immense strength.' It takes strength to stop and rest. Both Shabbat and yoga can help you to be strong enough to stop working. They can teach you the art of resting.

Is It Time to Rest Yet?
Take a deep breath right now, and then let it go. Consider: How busy are you? What is your attitude about resting? Do you ever allow yourself to stop and rest in the middle of your work? There is a time to work and a time to rest. Keep the rhythm of your life soulful-remember to rest.

Torah Yoga for Remembering to Rest
I remember the day that I decided to be less busy in my life. After several years of observing Shabbat and practicing yoga, I began to sense a rhythm different from the one around me--a slower, quieter, more soulful rhythm. I decided to leave my very busy teaching job where we were teaching children to be very busy.

At that time, people would often ask me: "Are you keeping busy?" There was an unspoken implication in the tone of the question that somehow I should be busy, that if I was busy I was doing something right. It seemed that there was something threatening to people about my not being busy. What I really wanted to answer was "No, I am not busy, thank God." I was beginning to sense that God had something to do with not being busy.

Remember to Take a Deep Breath
When the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt, they were very busy. They worked every day. They were so lost in their hard work that, for a long time, they did not even stop to take a deep breath One day, something changed within them, and they sighed. God heard their sighs, took them out of slavery (Exodus 2:23 ff.), and gave them Shabbat (in the Torah), the great gift of rest. God commanded them to remember and observe Shabbat (Exodus 20:8; Deuteronomy 5:12), to ensure that they would never become slaves to their work again.

Both Shabbat and yoga remind you to free yourself from your busy life, to take a deep breath, and to make time for resting. If you wait until all your work is done before resting, you will never get to rest. If you wait until you have time before doing yoga, you will never do it. Resting is a conscious choice to shift your attention from the busy activities of your life to something else. You may need to leave your e-mails unanswered in order to light your Shabbat candles. You may need to leave dishes in the sink in order to get to a yoga class. You can almost count on it: Shabbat and your yoga classes will come right in the middle of very important work that you feel you must do. The truth is that resting also means leaving something unfinished. Remember, however, that you are in good company. According to Jewish tradition, God stopped working and rested on Shabbat even though the world itself was not completely finished. The concept of tikkun olam (fixing the world) teaches that we humans are partners with God in completing the work of creation.

Restorative Postures
Within you, at the root of your being, there is a place of rest. The Hebrew word tnucha (posture) is built from the root word noach (rest). Resting and relaxation are at the root of yoga postures. Yoga postures take you inside to the root of rest within yourself where you can experience resting in the cells of your body.

Yoga postures can be divided into different categories. There are restorative postures that are usually effortless and relaxing. There are standing postures, back-bends, forward-bends, twists, and inversions that often require a lot of effort. Ultimately though, all yoga postures can and should be done in a relaxed, effortless way. It takes practice, however, to learn to do this. The sage Patanjali said: "Perfection in a posture is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless, and the infinite being within is reached."

Practicing restorative postures helps you to experience a deeply restful, even blissful, state of being. Learning to rest and relax in restorative postures makes it easier to bring the restful state into the more active, challenging postures. Learning to be relaxed in the challenging postures is like bringing the peace and rest of Shabbat with you into your workweek.

Shabbat is the Hebrew name of the day of rest, the Sabbath, at the very end of every week. Shavasana is the Sanskrit name for the posture of rest, the Relaxation Posture, practiced at the end of every yoga session. Although they have different literal meanings, they have similar sounds: shaa-aaah, like the sounds a mother makes in the middle of the night to soothe her troubled child. Shabbat and yoga are both essentially restful practices that quietly soothe us. Both can help teach us to rest and be relaxed even during the more challenging days and postures of our lives.

Relaxation Posture
Lie on your back with your head and neck supported by a firm folded blanket so that your forehead is slightly higher than your chin. Have the blanket up to, but not under, the tops of your shoulders.

With your arms tucked in close to your body, bend your elbows so that your fingers point toward the ceiling. Press your upper arms into the floor, and lift your chest slightly up off the floor in order to pull your shoulder blades in and down your back. Lie back down with your chest and collarbone broad. Release your arms down to your sides, about thirty degrees away from your torso, with your palms facing up.

Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor, hip-width apart. Press your feet into the floor, and lift your buttocks up slightly. Move your tailbone in and down, and then lower yourself back down to the floor.

Stretch your legs out and bring them together. Then let them fall out to the sides. Let your upper thighs and your feet roll out.

Gently extend your neck in alignment with your spine. See that you are lying symmetrically around your spine. Move in any way that you need to in order to be comfortable. If you feel any strain in your lower back, place a rolled blanket or bolster underneath your knees.

Inhale quiet breath into your whole body. Exhale and release any tensions.: Gently close your eyes from top to bottom. Let your eyes be soft, and turn your attention inward.

Gradually, breath by breath, let every part of you rest. Relax your brain. Relax your face. Relax the skin on your face. Relax your forehead, your eyes, your nose and your mouth. Release your jaw. Relax your lips and your tongue.

Relax your ears, even the inside of your ears. Listen to your innermost being.

Relax your shoulders and your back. Rest your arms and let your fingers curl. There is nothing to hold now, nothing to do or grasp.

Feel your soft, open hands. Let gentle, open receptivity spread throughout your whole body. Feel every muscle softening, every cell opening like your hand. Soften inside. Soften your belly.

Relax your pelvis, your hips, your legs, your knees, your feet, and your toes. Tell yourself. "I have done all my work." Feel your body respond to this message.

Release the whole front of your body into the support provided by the back of your body. Let the back of your body melt into the support provided by the floor under you. You do not have to hold yourself up. Tell yourself, "I am safe. I am secure."

Observe your breath come in. Observe your breath go out. This is not a sleeping posture. It is a posture of being relaxed and awake--awake to your inner essence, your root, your soul. Completely rest and be aware of your soul.

Rest here for several minutes or as long as you like.

When you are ready to come out of the posture, first let your breath be a bit deeper. With your eyes still closed, bend your knees and roll slowly to your right side. Stay for a few breaths curled up in fetal position on your side. Press your hands into the floor to come slowly up to sitting. Let your head come up last. Come into a cross-legged position.

Know that this experience of deep rest makes an impression inside you. Know that it accompanies you as you part from this posture, bringing a taste of rest and soulful delight into all of your activities. Open your eyes.

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