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For the New Year: Yoga as Sabbath

January 15, 2012

“At some point, we all look for a sabbath.” — Judith Shulevitz, The Sabbath World

“In the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm between work and rest.” Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives

New year’s resolutions typically focus on DOING on something of value: more exercise, losing weight, get a better education, clean a cluttered space, and so on.

This year in addition to adding more doing, why not also consider non-doing as a resolution? The idea of sabbath, at its core, is time set aside to nurture being, to attend to the whole self. The great theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches that for six days we work hard to conquer the world of space (getting and spending, as Wordsworth says); the idea of Sabbath is to build a palace in time, says Heschel.

In other words, so much of our energy is devoted to building, growing and doing. Why not also resolve to devote time to creating a palace in time?

Yoga is a perfect vehicle through which we can focus on sabbath time. No phones, texts or email reach us on the mat, so some parameters of stepping out of the every day are already in place. All that is required is the commitment, the intention to devote our yoga time not to achievement but simply to being present. One of my teachers calls this effortless effort. We do what we do on the mat but it is not with a goal-driven consciousness. Instead yoga is a refuge, each class a mini-sabbath.

In Judaism we mark the beginning and end of the Sabbath with candles; the sacred action demarcates the time as set aside from the profane. In yoga we might do this by setting an intention in the quiet of the room before the class begins, and we might end the class with a short meditation of gratitude for time beyond the reach of business and busyness.

Gandhi said, “There is more to life than merely increasing its speed.” May this new year of practice bring deeper insight into the “why” of our yoga time, and may your time on the mat be devoted, deeply and truly, as a time of sabbath from the mundane.

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