To the observant, the small ceramic mezuzah at the front door, its Biblical verses rolled tightly inside, marks this quiet Vancouver address as a Jewish home. The scene in a basement room suggests another story. Half a dozen women in exercise gear lie on the floor, backs on the sand-coloured carpet, legs propped vertically up the walls. Small blue satin pillows cover their eyes. New Age choral music floats through the room as Evelyn Neaman, 42, invites her Monday morning yoga class to focus on breathing. But then she reminds her students that in Hebrew the idea of breathing, nishmah, is related to neshamah, the soul. Speaking softly, she invites each person present— one a lawyer married to a rabbi, another a university Russian prof—to choose a kavvanah, another Hebrew word that means “direction” or “intention,” to focus on during the two hours of gruelling exercises to come.
For Neaman, a self-described “pickand-choose Jew” with degrees in anthropology and education, wedding the Indian practice of yoga to the faith of her family seems natural. It was a Jewish sum-
mer camp that first introduced her to the rudiments of yogic physical discipline at age 11. As she studied both traditions more deeply, she found new similarities, and when she opened her own yoga centre six years ago she named it in Hebrew, Tikkun. “ Tikkun Olam is the ancient obligation of every Jewish person to participate in the healing of the world,” she says. “We can use yoga to begin that healing process.”
Its not the only expression of her faith. Neaman, twice married with a blended family, attends synagogue periodically and goes to two Jewish study groups. Her belief that Judaism calls the faithful to social engagement finds fulfillment in her day job: developing public legal education programs for a non-profit group. For her, “yoga is not a religion,” although its teachings include principles for ethical behaviour. But it is through yoga that Neaman has found a channel to her faith which is beginning to attract others. About 40 students, all but five of them women and most but not all of them Jewish, come to her home weekly for exercise and a little something else. “People get stretched, people get opened up physically,” Neaman says. “But my intention is to open them up spiritually as well.” Chris Wood
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