Tzav & The Offerings of Gratitude

flame in the heartD’var Torah – Parashat Tzav

 

Live your life CHARGED with gratitude.  Actively seek out the blessings in your life, however large or small.  And don’t delay.  Right now is all you have. 

 

For the second week in a row, our Torah presents a detailed description of the ritual of sacrifice.  First in the Mishkan in the wilderness, and later in the Temple of Jerusalem. Some of these offerings, or korbanot, were created to atone for sin, or to elevate the soul when missing the mark. But there was another type of sacrifice as well… one that arises from a sense of wholeness and wellbeing  – this is called the Korban Todah, or Thanksgiving offering.  Rather than an expression of human shortcomings, this offering was meant as a response to the abundant goodness of God.

You might find it interesting that the Hebrew root of the word Korban means “to bring close.”  The Korban Todah supports our mindfulness. It brings us closer to our blessings, to others, to our deepest selves, and to the Master Creator of all this magnificence!

The rabbinical teachings guide us to express our thanks through prayer, acknowledging every detail of the abundance in our lives – but too often, we neglect these basic yet profound gifts, as we let the sufferings of life overwhelm our appreciation.

However, when we recite blessings, either from a prayer book or spontaneously from the heart, we remind ourselves to slow down…. to practice hakarat hatov…as we recognize the good that we already have … an adequate meal, a supportive friendship, a loving family member…. we may see a brilliant sunset, notice the sweet chorus of springtime birds, or the artful canvas of flowers smiling up at the sun.

When we take a moment, just a moment, to step outside the routine or our lives to give thanks, we make the ordinary extraordinary.  We begin to live from a place of faith and trust in the inherent goodness that life so graciously offers us.

In Leviticus it says, “and the flesh of his thanksgiving sacrifice of wellbeing shall be eaten on the day that it is offered. None shall be set aside until morning.”   None shall be set aside until morning.  It takes no stretch of the imagination to understand that there were probably some food safety regulations happening…but let’s look at this through evolving and contemplative eyes.  This can be interpreted as a command to enjoy the blessings of this day, in this moment, because it’s the only moment there is.

So let’s live each day anew, as we seek out places of beauty and reasons to celebrate, even in the midst of life’s challenges.

In Torah commentary it is said that “the fire of the altar must be paralleled by a fire in the heart.”  On this Shabbat, let us not wait until the morning to give thanks that are due today.  Let us share our love and praise for others. . Let us take that extra moment to appreciate the breath that fills our bodies so generously.    On this Shabbat, let us sing, dance, and live our lives charged with gratitude, knowing right now is all we have.  Today and every day, let each of us ignite the world with the fires of our own Korban Todah.

 

Namaste and L’Shalom.

 

©2016/5776 Kendra Fried/Neshamah Yoga, and Karen Goldberg

Guided Breathing Meditation for a Radiant Life

 

girl in sun

 

I recorded this 8 minute guided breathing exercise in response to a dear yoga student of mine who is experiencing chronic back pain. The benefits of this yogic breathing technique are numerous and far reaching, from insomnia and anxiety to basic stress reduction.  A few minutes of conscious breathing done daily will transform your life.  I hope you practice and enjoy! (the first 90 seconds is an intro to the practice) 

For more breathing resources:

The Little Book of Yoga Breathing – Pranayama Made Easy, by Scott Shaw

Yoga Breathing audio CD by Rich Freeman

Namaste and Shalom,
Kendra

Miracle of the Body -Meditation

 

sitting silohuette yoga

Asher Yatzar is a Jewish prayer that offers gratitude and awe for the miracle and function of the human body. I have offered a brief reflection on part of the blessing, followed by a guided meditation/embodied experience of the prayer.

Although it is short in linear time, (about 5 mins) I hope you will feel as if you have visited the sacred temple of your body, returning deeply nourished from a long rest.

Asher Yatzar Embodied Experience

Namaste and Shalom,

Kendra

Sanctify Your Speech in 2016/5776

holy temple

According to Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerona (1180-1263), when you are careful about what words you speak, you sanctify yourself like a holy vessel used in the temple service. A holy vessel is suitable only for the highest purpose, and so it is with our mouths.  If all your words are for an elevated purpose, then your mouth is as a holy as the temple vessels.”

 (With Heart in Mind, Mussar Teachings to Transform Your Life)

 I often start with the body, in order to bring lofty concepts and ideals into my life in practical way.  I hope you will try this, as well as pondering the thoughts offered below.

Physical Purification of the Mouth

Tongue Scraping

The tongue scraper, an inexpensive yet transformative utensil, is a simple, thin, u-shaped piece of stainless steel or plastic.  It can be found in virtually every store in the dental hygiene department.  It consists of a blunted edge that removes plaque and build-up from the surface of the tongue. Dentists in America are recommending the tongue scraper more and more because it helps to fight cavities by removing bacteria from the mouth. The tongue scraper also prevents bad breath, especially for people who eat a lot of dairy and build up mucus in the mouth, nose, and throat.

The tongue scraper comes from the tradition of Ayurveda, (a sister science of the practice of Yoga) which asserts that people who use a scraper are better at public speaking, express themselves more thoughtfully, and speak more sincerely and authoritatively. Some people ask if the same effect can be gained by brushing the tongue with a stiff toothbrush. Brushing the tongue moves stuff around and is helpful, but a tongue scraper is more effective as it clears out the deep deposits and generally keeps the area cleaner, stimulated and alive.

Cravings can be reduced by cleaning the tongue of leftover food. When the mouth can still taste the food, you may experience cravings for previously eaten foods. A tongue scraper reverses the process of desensitizing your taste buds, which has happened to everyone to a greater or lesser extent. It allows you to taste subtle flavors in food so that you can eat vegetables, fruits and whole grains with greater joy and mindfulness.  When old residue is removed from the tongue, you will be better able to taste your food and won’t need to eat as much since you will have gained greater satisfaction from your meal.

Directions:

  • apply a few quick strokes, 2-3 times a day
  • use the rounded cleaning edge to scrape gently down the tongue several times while applying slight pressure
  • rinse under running water and gently scrape again until no white residue is left
  • there should be no pain or gagging involved whatsoever—if you feel any discomfort, you are probably scraping too hard or starting too far back on the tongue.

 Mental/Spiritual Purification Tips – Remind Yourself:

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  • Does what I am about to say improve upon the silence?
  • “What we speak becomes the house we live in.” (Hafiz)
  • Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

 

Namaste v’Shalom!

 

 

A Vessel for Hidden Light

black-outline-halo

Yes, this is you.  A beautiful work of art, always in the making. A vessel through which Creation gets to keep being reborn, re-discovered, and reinvented.  You are a container and a channel for good in the world. A vessel of hidden light. How can you expand this vessel, make it bigger, stronger, more available, to all the good that is ready to dwell within you, ready to pour forth from you? How can you begin to reveal your own inner, hidden light to the world?

In the book Torah Yoga, written by one of my teachers Diane Bloomfield, she states “In the Jewish High Holiday liturgy, God is described as a potter who fashions his creations.  Pottery is a very old craft for vessel making.  Yoga is also a craft for vessel making.  With  yoga, you become a pottery partner with God and participate in making the vessel of yourself.”

I hold this to be true, in my own yoga and movement practice, and I invite you to explore this idea in your own body and soul.

Here is a basic outline of some ideas I have been bringing to the yoga classes I have taught recently:

  • Start with seated mindful breathing. (or on back, knees supported)
  • Notice the vessel of your lungs – how much air moves in and out? How much can  you contain before the ribs, chest, belly, offer resistance?  Just notice. Exhale every breath completely.
  • Notice the vessel of the body, areas of constriction, areas of relaxation – without trying to change anything, just notice.
  • Tap into the vessel of your mind, both the sense of your physical brain, and the concept of “mind.”  How flexible or rigid does it feel in this very moment?
  • If you are a visual person, you may explore creatively what your vessel currently looks like- a vase, a bowl, colors, size, texture, etc.
  • After this awareness exercise, bring hands to heart and belly and offer a prayer or sacred intention.  You might say something like, ” I dedicate my practice today to co-creating a vessel of ______________ (peace, healing, generosity, etc) and allowing my hidden light to reveal itself to the world.”

Diane Bloomfield goes on to say “as you work with the clay of your whole self (body, mind, spirit) you become both a soft and a strong vessel – capable of both receiving and revealing to the world the mysterious hidden light of the first day of creation.”

I’d like to offer the idea that you let the focus of your practice today be strength AND softness.  (this could be likened to what is called sthira and sukha in the yoga sutras; a balance of steadiness and ease).

As you move through a yoga, dance, or other mindful movement session, pay very close attention to the following:

  • What is strong and working right now? (revealing)
  • What is soft and relaxed? (receiving)
  • How do my strength and softness work together to mold me into a balanced and beautiful vessel?

Feel yourself coming into a sacred dance of revealing and receiving light…

When you do more active, effort filled movements, imagine light emanating from your body, radiating outward.
As you embrace slower, less active poses and movements, (like child’s pose, or stillness, for example), let this be a time to receive light into your self. With every breath, feel yourself being molded, shaped, and fashioned into a vessel for sacred life. You are a partner with creation, expanding awareness and well-being, revealing the hidden light within.

May your practice reveal your radiance.

Namaste and L’Shalom.

Steep in the tea of gratitude for Thanksgiving – A 5 minute meditation

heart_tea_cup1

“Hakarat Hatov” means  “recognizing the good” in Hebrew.

In Sanskrit, the practice of “Santosha” or “contentment” has similar meaning.

We often call it gratitude, or thanksgiving.  It is fairly easy to list a few things or people for whom you are grateful, but I invite you to take 3-4 minutes to actually fully embody gratitude…To notice the profound effect it has on your body, your heart, your breath, your spirit.

Find a comfortable place to sit and gently close your eyes.
Imagine you are a hot, steamy cup of water, preparing to make of yourself a tea of gratitude.
Take a few breaths for each of the ingredients you add to your tea.

Your infusion includes “hakarat hatov” of the following:

1) ONE  part of your body that is working well
2) ONE person in your life
3) ONE basic need that is met for you (example, clean water, heat, etc)
4) ONE  luxury you enjoy (for this, bring to mind all the people and activities that have come together to make this luxury available to you.  Feel your interconnectedness with them, and the ways you support each other)
5) Steep in this tea. Notice the changes in your body and mind, as you take in the good of your life.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Namaste and L’Shalom,
Kendra