R. Daveed: What attracts the Jews into yoga is that they intrinsically know that there is a connection in there to a tradition that they previously had a long time ago. We believe that yoga is a tradition that was actually passed down from Abraham, together with different techniques of meditation and so on and came to India through the children of Abraham. So there is in yoga a vestige of an ancient tradition that at one time was a universal one. Prior to Abraham, these practices originated in pre-Noachide times when the main universal knowledge was unified around the Hebrew language. Then, as we know in post- Noachide times, after the episode of the Tower of Babel, the languages were split which means that the interpretations of that universal knowledge became separated. So, there is a tradition that yoga came from Abraham, who witnessed the splitting of the initial knowledge and was a contemporary of the event known as the “Tower of Babel”. He imparted to the world the vestiges of this ancient unified knowledge, among them the practice of bodily postures, with their particular meditations, which became known in India as yoga or “unification”. Everything that Abraham taught had to do with this understanding, that all things unite with G-d. Yoga was one way of understanding it. And we believe it to be rooted in the ancient, Hebrew, universal understanding. I think that what attracts people in general and Jews in particular to any of these old sciences which express the unity of the self with its environment, is the reconnection to this ancient universal knowledge.
Q: How does yoga influence the Jewish soul?
R. Daveed: According to the Kabbalah, there are three main functions of the soul. Nefesh is the vital energy of the being, which includes the physical realm. Ruach is the spirit, the ability to connect, which is active in speech and thought. The neshama is the soul, the uniqueness of the character of the soul and its connection with G-d. What our yoga does is to draw messages from the “world of signs” or speech, which is the realm of ruach into the level of nefesh. Since our yoga is the physical expression of the Hebrew letters, it claims to directly connect the world of signs, with the world of vitality, the body. Through its practice we become recipients on the level of nefesh, of the energy of ruach. I would say that for the Jewish practitioners, to deal with the interpretation of the signs in a foreign way, which is incongruent with the Jewish interpretation of the G-dly, is a confusing thing. It does not bring to their minds the clarity of the signs of ruach, because the level of ruach is essentially active in the alef-bet, the original Hebrew alphabet.
Q: Explain what you mean about the world of signs.
R. Daveed: Nefesh is the expression of the soul to the world. It is a part of the soul that has to do with the outside world. The level of ruach is deeper: we enter the domain of the signs, which address the meaning to the self. How do you communicate things to yourself until they make sense? You use signs. At a deep level, there is an element in your nature, a universal element which can explain to itself the signs which it needs. This is called ruach. However, it is still linked with the nefesh, since it is on the level of nefesh that the signs are communicated. The “world of signs” has to do with being able to bring information from the soul into the nefesh through the intermediary of the ruach. This is the role of ruach, to make connections with speech, thoughts, and so on. Thoughts are signs. Thoughts have their own signs. Speech has its own signs. Even the body has its signs. We, as humans, essentially read signs. We read many signs when we speak with a person. Before we interpret what is being said and hear the words, we have already read the face and the posture of the person, their tone, their breathing, etc…naturally. We connect with the signs all the time. The connection with signs happens on a deep level. We take for granted that we have knowledge that the person is there. But who is that person? Who are we communicating with? The more you read the signs the closer you are to who the real person is. If you are able to go deep enough into the signs, you can reach a point of knowledge that is deeper and more essential that just the superficial realization that something is manifested there. At times it is enough for the person to know the name of someone else and some are so proficient with the reading of signs that through just the name of the person they are already connecting with their neshama. This is done through the world of signs, ruach, having to do with speech and so on. So what the Jewish Yoga does is to bring the hidden world of signs onto the manifest level of nefesh. You then become a recipient of the essential core of the world of signs. However, the signs expressed by the Jewish Yoga, instead of just being made of the elements of your own personal mode of communication, uses an ancient, universal language for the communication of signs, the Hebrew alphabet, the alef-bet. You teach yourself on the level of nefesh to receive this energy of the alef-bet and it reconnects you with your own inner speech, sort of like a connection between the external aspect of your being with your internal ones. You learn your primordial language again. Because on the level of nefesh there is always a possibility of forgetfulness and clouding of the mind, through the interaction with the world and so on. At times we are so caught up with the surface that we don’t read really what is going on within us…and/or we read signs at a very superficial level. We think we should read the signs of our emotions just to sort of soothe them, enhance them, deal with them in this energetic way. Not in an essential way of understanding where they come from. So the alef-bet is the Divine Speech. It speaks of the universal oneness of things. So when the nefesh reconnects with those signs and brings them to the outermost level which is the body, automatically it brings in a capacity of listening and focusing on one’s inner language.
Q: You actually touched on so many things that I was going to ask you…so what you just said describes what yoga is and why people are attracted to doing it? So what is different about the experience of the alef-bet yoga?
R. Daveed: The yoga of the alef-bet is different than the rest of the yogas. There are the practical aspects and the spiritual aspects. Practically, it is a still form that is adaptable to all and it deals with the circulation of energy inside the body, the breath energy. So, right there is a connection that has to do with one’s ability to groom his or her body, into limberness and flexibility and acceptance and so on. It is not just exercises. In most of the yogas you stretch and pull and so on…you have to stretch and get to that point. There is no emphasis, except in a few forms, on the circulation of energy through the body while it is happening, on the mental capacity to create this flow. I hear that chi qong, a form of tai chi or Chinese Yoga, connects with this aspect, with the flow of energy. It is a moving form. Ours is a still form. There is this on a practical aspect, but I think this is more accessible and there is another practical aspect which is an interesting one, which is that you learn an alphabet, you learn a language. Then there is spiritually, what it draws from, which is a universal understanding that is very simple and practical to explain. Each of the letters connects with certain parts of the body, connects with certain times of the year, parts of the world. Just knowing that teaches a lot of things. It is not just a yoga, it is really a science. Some of the letters relate to certain aspects of the mind and body and soul and time and the world, the changes of the seasons. It explains many things. There are aspects of this science that we want to bring forth afterward. Right now we are speaking about the positions and the breathing. Later, the teaching will be how this connects with food and health, with certain herbs, a system of massage and so on. It is part of a science. It is a complete understanding. There is medicine, philosophy, mysticism. There is a clear understanding of the world. There is astrology in this. Doing 27 simple forms explains everything in life. A person does not have to sit and learn all of these things, although this is a tremendous advantage. But just to sit and do the letters–the results speak for themselves, what they do in a person’s life. And it is connected with a certain form of meditation. It is a complete thing. You enter a complete world and every part of this world is connected to the whole. So, if a person just grasps a little of it, does a few forms of this yoga every day, then already all this knowledge enters into them and they start to reconnect with their inner knowledge of everything.
Q: Every letter contains a Divine energy. So by recreating that posture you are drawing down that Divine energy.
R. Daveed: Every letter is a recipient of the Divine energy, an expression of Divine energy for practical influence. The Divine energy that comes through the head would not be the same as that which comes through the heart. It is one energy, but the recipient, the head and the heart are not the same. So, in the same way, the letters are not the same because they are recipient of different forms and shapes and they relate to different parts of the world, at different times and so on. So each of the letters is an expression of the Divine energy as relating to that particular part of the body and world and time and so on.
Q: Before Noach, people were doing the postures of the alef-bet?
R. Daveed: The woman that taught this said that she believed that before the letters were written down in the forms we have now, they were postures. And it only became written afterward. Before they were script, they were body forms and as people were forgetting this, people wrote it down. They connected sounds with body forms. This is how they studied the letters and the written letters were a symbolic reminder of this. When you learn the alef-bet you see them as pictures. Instead of making the mind and mouth the only recipients of awareness, I think that in those times awareness was all over the body. People could read signs through everything. That has been lost. We are trying to regain it through speech.
Q: Why lost?
R. Daveed: It was lost because it was part of the initial loss of the sin of the Garden of Eden. Part of the initial loss was that there was a sense of wholeness and completeness with all of Creation, realizing G-d was speaking through everything and that we connected with G-d through everything. For some kind of historical choice Adam chose to plunge into history so that we regain it and appreciate it more than when we just have. It is not a bad thing that it was lost, because then we are so happy that we found it again.
Q: Do you say that Hebrew was the original universal language?
R. Daveed: You can quote the Bible. It says up to this time there was one language,one speech. According to the Bible it was the Hebrew language and after the Tower of Babel it became lost. But still, the other languages are sort of a recombination of the original Hebrew. You can quote the Bible. This is a science that existed and is possibly at the origins of all other forms.
Q: : Why do we have no chronology of Jews ever doing this? Why do we have no physical practice, no physical consciousness of the body?
R. Daveed: The Kabbalah speaks a lot about the body. I think it is part of our exile. That part of the redemption is for Jews to find their bodies again. We were exiled in our heads for a long time. We did a beautiful job, we wrote a lot of books and so on. Now we can come back down into our bodies. I think the Kabbalah prepared the way for this by speaking of the body as Divine and how we are made in the image of G-d. That is part of the redemption. There is really a redemptive element in it. All of this time this knowledge was preserved in a symbolic form and little by little it became rediscovered. We are still in the midst of this exile and how Jews are going to accept it is going to be very interesting. How will Jews take to being back inside their body?
Q: Do you think there will be resistance to this kind of teaching?
R. Daveed: Yeah, there is already. Because we learned to view the body as suspicious. Live with your body 70 years. We treat the body a bit like a goy [gentile]. We don’t trust it too much. Although we know the holiness of the body. We know the body of the tzaddik is a precious thing. The body deceiving is part of the exile. We just try to preserve the body so that it is going to be alive in our time. The dangers of arrogance, selfishness, self-aggrandizement, the whole thing is linked with body aesthetics. And there is a risk of lack of compassion for those who can not do it or don’t have the perfect receptacle. We like to focus more on the qualities of the heart. It is not important if you are a slob. It is more important that you have a good heart. The most important thing we learn is caring for human life, not to become like body worshipers. That would be the worst. Once I was asked by a person “why do the Hasidic Jews look so dusty and dirty, dressed in black? But when you see a Zen monk you see an image of health, the guy is shaven clean, shining, the way he walks.” I said, “the Hasidic guy has dust all over him because he has been doing such great things. He’s been all over dusty places to do incredible work. While this other guy who shines has sat in a monastery for 20 years. It is not the same thing.” So we wanted to avoid this. So probably there was no emphasis put on this. The Jews were exiled among the body worshipers. We were thrown off by this. We wanted to develop qualities of the neshama.