Five years of intensive Torah study left Diane Bloomfield craving quiet space and movement. One night, she dreamed of three women dancing. “In the dream, I knew they were praying,” she says. “I realized I had to learn to pray with my body, to not just say the prayers three times a day.”
Bloomfield left her Jerusalem yeshiva, moved to the Boston area and began taking dance and yoga classes. She noticed that yoga in particular deepened her connection to Torah study.
Jewish mysticism says the Torah is black fire written on white fire. The black represents the spoken words and the white is the space between them. To understand the black, you must also comprehend the meaning of the spaces, and yoga provides a way to quiet the mind and find the breathing room between the words, Bloomfield says.
From that observation, Bloomfield, 43, developed what she calls Torah Yoga. She taught her first class in 1992, in Boston.
Each class includes warm up stretches, followed by discussion of a Torah text. Bloomfield then incorporates that text into a series of yoga postures, with the premise that the wisdom of the text is in the consciousness of the body.
One of her recurrent themes is the exodus from One of her recurrent themes is the exodus from Egypt. Rearranging the letters in the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim (which means “from then arrows”), reveals that the second and third letters combine to form the word tsar, meaning narrow or constricted, while the remaining letters spell mayim, the Hebrew word for water. Bloomfield notes that water is open and expansive, the opposite of constricted. The very word for Egypt describes the escape from the constriction of slavery to the freedom of liberation. She translates that concept into the body’s desire to free itself from tight spaces, an important precept of yoga.
One student referred to Bloomfield’s classes as “kosher yoga.” But a few of Bloomfield’s students have asked her how an observant Jew can practice yoga. “You can do yoga in a Jewish way. Yoga does not need to be connected to a particular religion,” says Bloom field, who does not incorporate Sanskrit chanting into her yoga practice. She wants to help students find a connection to the joy, healing and relevance of Jewish wisdom within their own bodies.
“When 1 first started, I was afraid I was going to betray my Torah study, or deny it,” she says. “But yoga deepens my appreciation for Torah. It deepens you spiritually.”
Bloomfield, now shuttling between Jerusalem and St. Paul, Minnesota, is writing a book about Torah Yoga scheduled for publication next year; in it she will explore seven Torah themes and their accompanying yoga postures.
Torah Yoga attracts mostly women. “There’s something about women being more connected to the Earth and to their bodies as a way of knowing the world,” she says. “Torah Yoga integrates the physical experience with the intellectual.”