Torah Yoga: a ‘kosher workout for body and soul’

Finally, I discovered a healthy way to energize my body and calm my nerves. Best of all, the remedy for an overworked mom requires neither a shot of espresso or sedative.

It’s called Torah yoga — the ultimate “me” time.

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A good excuse to focus on your self for an hour, Torah yoga unites the mind, body, heart, and soul. Talk about multi-tasking.

Torah has guided the Jewish people for thousands of years and uses traditional and mystical text to help us get closer to our true self and to God. Yoga is an ancient teaching as well, using breath and movement to find our inner spirit and higher power. Torah yoga is a combination of the Western religion that emphasizes intellect and the Eastern philosophy that considers the body our “temple.”

Now it all makes sense.

Come to think of it, I do feel closer to God when I roll my back onto my shoulders, point my legs toward my forehead and think to myself, “If I don’t get out of this pose soon I’m gonna die.”

Actually, Torah yoga is not supposed to be uncomfortable, and the postures can be modified for any age or physical ability. Jewish yoga is considered “kosher,” which means “fit” to be used for ritual purposes.

Fortunately, I don’t have to bend my body in the shape of the Hebrew letter Aleph to enjoy the physical and emotional benefits, including strengthen muscles, increase stamina, improve thyroid function, develop confidence, and induce relaxation to name a few. All it takes is an open mind to get started. Most of all, Jewish meditation requires me to be in the moment and breathe.

Living in the moment is the mantra of Maxine Mirowitz, a holistic yoga guru whose passion for Judaism and exercise is obvious when she teaches a Torah Yoga class at United Hebrew Congregation on Thursday mornings.

A certified yoga and pilates instructor, the mother of three (Lee, 16, Zack, 19, and Jacob, 20) wakes up before the sun to make the most of each day, which could include anything from running a marathon, backpacking in the Ozark mountains, lifting weights in the gym with her husband Steve, planting flowers at the Missouri Botanical Garden, or taking care of her turkey, pheasants, peacock, pigeons, koi fish, and parrots.

Did I mention in her spare time that this avid cyclist also practices optometry?

In the Torah Yoga class, Mirowitz has developed a series of classic yoga postures that flow together to warm the body and work the heart. With an inner and outward beauty, her big smile and bubbly personality make everyone feel at ease, and she gracefully moves her body as if she is double-jointed.

Mirowitz turns down the lights in the small chapel to prepare a dozen women for a one-hour spiritual and physical journey. The stained glass windows illuminate the room with the warm colors of red, blue, purple, and amber for a perfect, serene setting.

We sit crossed legged on mats and towels as Mirowitz leads a 15-minute lesson on how Sukkot and yoga allow us to appreciate our abundance and how our bodies and nature work in harmony. Everyone participates in the discussion, which is based on a new topic every week from a Torah portion, Jewish holiday, or even a Buddhist teaching that inspires us to balance on one leg like a flamingo.

With her bouncy, curly hair flowing over her shoulders, Mirowitz demonstrates and patiently explains the yoga poses, such as the downward facing dog, cobra, and bridge. One of the highlights of the class is when we sing the Shema in unison, and each word is choreographed to a movement.

At that moment I realize that it’s not enough to read Torah, but I have to feel the prayers as well.

My other favorite part of the class is the final pose, known as the “corpse.” For this stress reliever, I lie on the floor and close my eyes. I temporarily forget about the things-to-do list in my head and focus instead on each inhale and exhale. I absorb the soothing sounds of classical guitar and chirping birds recorded in the Australian outback. I’m at peace for the moment. I hope nobody wakes me up anytime soon.

For more information on Torah Yoga, contact St Louis Chapter Hadassah at 314-991-0434 or [email protected]

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. She claims to meditate while cooking dinner. Feel free to send any comments to: [email protected] or visit her website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.