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

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

A quote to live by!

“Your life is an occasion…rise to it.”

– Suzanne Weyn, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. (GREAT movie)

new year hat

I heard a radio commercial the other day, and the folks were saying how they loved the station because it “made their day go by faster.” Or it helped them to “not be bored at work.” Wow. These statements touched me deeply, as I remember a time in my life when I wanted the day to hurry by. Now these comments really stand out for me and cause me to feel some sadness and compassion for those of us that want to hurry to “something or somewhere” better than the moment.

My 5 year old son gets asthma from time to time. In fact, he had pneumonia for 8 days over the holiday break from school. EVERY BREATH was a gift to him. And EVERY MOMENT that he, or any of us have breath and a heartbeat is a gift. Not to be rushed, to be cherished. Soak up each moment of your life. You don’t get to have today back when it’s over. Life truly is an occasion, a privilege. Let’s all to rise to it.

Namaste,
Kendra

Hand Mudra for New Year and More!

pushan mudra right handpushan mudra left hand

So I’m pretty excited about this new book I’ve just discovered – It’s called Yoga in Your Hands.  I won’t try to explain the process by which mudra works, for the author does that succinctly and eloquently.  I will however, share with you one of the mudras I have been using for a recent health challenge.   I also think it is perfect for the New Year – a way to let go  and bless the old, and invite in the new.  It would be perfect to use with a cleanse.

I believe mudras are effective because there is a combination of powerful forces at work.  One, you are bringing mindfulness to your body/mind while breathing.  Two, these hand positions stimulate specific meridians based on Chinese medicine that are scientifically known to create results.  And three, if you use an affirmation with the mudra, you are training your very malleable brain (its called plasticity), to create new pathways for positive thought and a chemical release that aids  healing of the whole organism.  So without further ado, let us begin.

Its called the Pushan Mudra, dedicated to nourishment.  Here is an overview of how to do this:

Place your hands as you see them in the photos above, resting on your lap. You can sit in meditation or lie down to do this, or perhaps make good use of time while you are in a waiting room…

During the inhalation, take in energy in the form of light.  Pause, and give time and space to imagine the light spreading within you.  During exhalation, let the expended light flow back out of you.  Pause after the exhale. With every breath, there is more light and clarity in your physical and mental/emotional realms.  (In the beginning, you may envision the exhale to contain darkness or smoke, something that encompasses what you are releasing, and then you may sense it becoming clearer).

You can also say the following affirmation, either as written here or in words that resonate with you.

” I thankfully accept everything that is good for me, let it have its effect within me, and release everything that is spent.”

As the author states, “This mudra symbolizes accepting and receiving with the gesture of one hand, and letting things flow, giving, and letting go with the other.  It influences the energy currents that are responsible for absorbing and utilizing food, as well as helping with elimination.  It intensifies breathing and therefore the absorption of oxygen and the release of carbon dioxide in the lungs.  It has a relaxing effect on the solar plexus (area of the stomach, liver, spleen, and gallbladder) and regulates energies in the autonomic nervous system.  It mobilizes energies of elimination, and detoxifies.  It has an excellent effect on general or acute nausea, motion sickness, flatulence, and the sensation of being overly full.”

It works on the physical level, but I believe it works on the psycho-spiritual level as well, when you practice  it with intention. I think its also a wonderful way to incorporate the healing of yogic practices for those who are bed bound or unable to do much physically because it’s accessible and simple.

I hope you will try it for yourself and notice the benefits.  I highly recommend this book for those who want to dive deeper into background and continue exploring the other mudras.  Yoga in Your Hands, by Gertrude Hirschi

Namaste!
Kendra

Soul Compass

wheelertrees

 “Two roads diverged in a wood and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.” – Frost

Are you at a crossroads in your life right now?  Perhaps a big one – a job change, a health choice, a relationship issue?  Or maybe a small crossroads, like say, what to have for your next meal?

I had an epiphany today while practicing yoga. Every moment is a crossroads, and even the ones that feel small, aren’t.   Every moment in which we are mindful gives us a powerful opportunity to choose the highest choice for ourselves and the world. Rather than wandering along aimlessly in life, we can align ourselves with our soul’s compass.

My soul compass, originally a gift from God or the Universe, has been affected by years of collective karma and conditioning (mine and my ancestors). I envision it sometimes as being tarnished and slightly sticky, so that occasionally it has trouble pointing to true north.  However, the more I practice being present, the more easily I make life nourishing choices. These positive choices lubricate the soul compass, so that it naturally points me toward my sacred path for the next crossroads to come.

My true north is one of being a spiritual healer, minister, teacher, and guide. In order to stay on course, I often have to choose the road less traveled.  It definitely requires me to make choices that do not allow me to numb out.  How can I ever be present and truly effective for others, both professionally and as a family member, if I am not in touch with myself?

How do you numb out?  Is it television or video games? Gossip?  Alcohol or recreational drugs?  Over scheduling?  We all have something. But each and every moment that we meet courageously and consciously can be used to create new karma, new results.  Each moment is a chance to polish and tune up your soul compass. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing “so and so.”  Right now is your crossroads, and your soul compass can lead you on the divine path toward wholeness.

I invite you to explore taking the road less traveled.  Once you traverse over the weeds and through the density of old conditioning, you will come to a clearing – and the journey will be well worth your effort.  Namaste!