Is There Room for God On Your Yoga Mat?
By Debbi K. Levy, Owner Transformation Yoga & Yoga Instructor E-RYT
Nala just adopted & headed home with her new sisters.
June, 2014- Southwest Airlines flight 4318 had just pulled away from the gate at Dallas Love Field Airport, and began its taxi to the runway. I adjusted my bag under the seat in front of me, and placed my essential items within reach. With a deep inhalation, I closed my eyes to settle in, and upon my exhalation, I dropped my shoulders down just a bit. As the flight attendant’s announcements began over the intercom, I softly spoke my prayer to God. I asked for safety during my flight to California, and to be guided in the certification process I was embarking upon. I took some moments to craft some words to God, acknowledging my gratitude for being able to study a subject deeply meaningful to me. Crystal Alchemy Level One was being offered in Santa Monica. My traveling companion smiled at me as if he was accustomed to escorting women to California, with their suitcases full of rocks and crystal identification textbooks. I asked God for a little nurturing for him, too. Barry Rothschild had no idea what he was in for, no matter how poised he appeared to be on the outside.
August, 2016- We parked our car at the shopping center in front of the new independent bookstore to browse. There appeared to be commotion just one store over, where a “Pet Adoption” was in full swing. I looked over at Barry with the question on my face. Mind you, this pleading expression had been overlooked several times prior. But as it sometimes happens when the planets are shifting around in a dance, he decided to walk in “just to take a glimpse,” he said, and I quietly followed, like NBD. Puppies galore! Adults asking to take them out of their crates for some cuddly play time. I bit my lip. My mind was screaming, “Yahoo!”
Because I am a Yoga teacher, I am trained to follow the gaze, or “drishti,” of my student’s eyeballs. I’m very professional like that, you understand. But this gaze I was following went to a cage on the very bottom of the other dog cages and contained a medium, somewhat nondescript dog, who clearly had seen the better part of a rough beginning. Too thin, electrical-taped collar to make it last until a new owner could be found, and a tough little dark spot that must have been painful, on his/her hip were all apparent to the observer. To my complete shock, Barry asked to take this poor guy/girl outside for a bit, just to get some exercise outside of the metal cage. While I appreciated Barry’s charitable act for this sweet pooch, I knew he/she wouldn’t be a candidate for us, and I was somewhat anxious to move on in search of a possible canine companion for us. I knew Barry had confessed in prior conversations, that if we ever adopted a dog, his preference was a small breed. Things began to shift once more, and Nala flirted her ass off with this possible new owner. Tail wagging, hungry belly growling, and sad eyes revealing joyous possibilities, she won him over in minutes. Our daughters at home called to inquire as to our whereabouts on this sunny Sunday afternoon, and they, too, were now on their way to check out Nala as quickly as they could put their car in drive. But I needed a minute, or two, or three. Five kids between us, with only the one first rocky year of marriage under our belts so far, sometimes the thing you wish for most won’t balance the scales after all.
I walked away momentarily. Closed my eyes. Arranged words from my heart in the form of a passionate question to God. Maybe it was really a plea. Are we tipping the scales too far in one direction, if we add a dog to this crazy mix that is the fabric of our lives? Careers, kids, friends, exercise, yoga, a brand new home, and one questionably potty-trained adopted dog? Mindful of my relationship with God, I felt that the quality of my breath following my spontaneous prayer was the answer.
September, 2018- I started a new journal. “Big deal?” you ask. Yes, it was. I had a Mindfulness Journal, a Yoga Journal, and a “Debbi’s Log,” where I recorded life’s daily simple statistics-what I ate, drank, how much I walked, or exercised, and how I felt physically. My journals are sacred to me, and I had all my bases covered with the ones in use. But I was searching for something, as yet unnamed. Big, but unnamed, blank and ready for words to fill the pages of this new journal. I was searching for another way to have a reciprocal relationship with God. To deepen my relationship. This journal would be about me finding my way differently. My prayer experiences. Although I worship God at my congregation, Temple Emanu-El, and bring divine presence to Jewish rituals such as lighting my Sabbath candles, I had a gap that was hard to put into words. On my website, I quote the famous verse from Ecclesiastes; “There are no riches above a sound body.” Could this extra layer of my relationship with the Eternal be cultivated on my yoga mat? I was trying to make sense of another place to bring God’s presence into my life.
I bought my own paperback copy of the bible. I read it. Devoured it, really, the way you read a novel you can’t put down. I marked with sticky notes and questions about all the verses I wanted to return to after the first read. Through a perspective that was almost asking permission to pray, I was heartened in every action, and conversation in the bible, where Abraham said, “Here I am,” or King David wrote psalms, asking God for forgiveness. Jacob spoke to God from the field while he shepherded, Joseph petitioned from a pit in the wilderness that seemed he would never crawl out of, and Sarah laughed with God at her joy of conceiving late in her life. All of these matriarchs and patriarchs talked to God right where they were, in their geography. My geography is on my mat most every day. So why not me? Why not my mat?
I began to roll out my yoga mat differently, like it was a red carpet. My mat became a more sacred object than I had ever known it to be prior. Because I didn’t want to force anything less than authentic from my heart, I let the practice I knew best guide me. Yoga, as most practitioners know, means to yoke. One yokes, or weaves together, the breath, the mind, and the body. It stands to reason that once you are present in this way, listening to your body, and can hear your very own breath, your life force, you are in relationship with God. I created a portal for prayer on my yoga mat. I wasn’t praying for my safety before takeoff, or asking for an answer to a life-altering question, but, rather, encouraging all pertinent words to make themselves known freely and be expressed straight to God as I practiced.
What did my new journal record of these experiences, these prayers from the mat? Gratitude that pours out of my skin all the time. The physical and emotional warmth of the studio, and the gift of energy I feel there from my fellow practitioners. It records the way I am infused with thanksgiving whispered silently right into the ears of God. The only hand I’ve ever held in Savasana belongs to my husband, Barry. I never worry about the tear I sometimes shed, giving me away during these powerful minutes. My yoga mat, after all, is a rare place for me where I enthusiastically invite in my vulnerability. This body, infused with a spark of the Divine, heals as if by magic; a pulled muscle here or there, a cold virus that has run it’s course, or perhaps injurious words spoken to me that have lasting effect of hurt that I pray about on my mat. I feel holy. I enjoy God’s nearness. All the words I speak feel because the Listener is all-knowing. If you perceive that all prayers and conversation are positive and satisfying, please know I am flawed and seeking wholeness as we all are, and many days the conversation is about searching myself, and accepting what is before me.
October, 2019- I am learning Hebrew for the first time in my life. I feel that it is another layer in finding understanding, and a deeper connection with my Jewish learning. I am relating more and more to those matriarchs and patriarchs whose lessons and virtues are the building blocks of our ethics today. When I learned the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph, I offered up a prayer of gratitude right then and there, with my new box of flashcards in my hands. A practice cultivated on my yoga mat that teaches me, that all I need to do to bring God into my present moment is to yoke, to braid together, the breath, the mind, the body, and the words will find their way to God.
They say that every teacher teaches the class they want to take. I believe this to be true. I welcome you on your mat, in my class, to spiritually investigate this theory, and others. I invite you to find out if your presence on your yoga mat can create a portal for prayer for you. I invite you bring prayer to your yoga mat as simply as you bring your breath. If you’re a step behind me in a soft flow sequence, I am hopeful it is because you are somewhere more sacred than my yoga cues you are hearing, propelling you to a deeper posture. If you bring a journal with you and spend a few more moments in stillness when the practice concludes, then we, too, will be in union. Namaste my friends.
Debbi K. Levy with husband Barry Rothchild
About Debbi K. Levy:
Debbi K. Levy teaches Yoga and Mindfulness Through a Jewish Lens at congregations in Dallas, and for Jewish agencies and groups throughout Texas. Each Friday afternoon, she teaches a Pre-Shabbat stretch that has been ongoing for four years. A Jewish lesson grounded in sacred text, and a mindfulness meditation and yoga practice following, her students are transported and ready to receive the rest and peacefulness that the weekly holiday of Shabbat offers. Debbi is most excited to be offering the class, “Weaving Judaism and Your Yoga Practice Together- A Guided Yoga and Meditation Practice Grounded in Sacred Text,” at The Jewish Community Center of Dallas in the months to come. Debbi is also the owner of Transformation Yoga where she takes classes to a variety of corporations and organizations in the DFW Metroplex.
Debbi welcomes your e mails at Debbiklevy@gmail.com
Social Media: Instagram debbiklevy & Facebook TransformationYogaTexas