According to Arlene

By Arlene Appelrouth

aappelrouth@atljewishtimes.com

The purple-and-gray brochure announcing the retreat grabbed my attention. My immediate response was probably

Arlene Appelrouth

generated by the color purple, which I love. I opened the pamphlet, read the agenda and decided to sign up, not because of the purple, but because the program included icebreakers, a written project, yoga and a guest speaker.

Considering it would be only a two-hour retreat, I was curious how everything would be accomplished. I was also looking forward to meeting new women and hoping to have an interesting morning that combined the stimulation of a guest speaker with the relaxation of a yoga class.

On the second Sunday in February, I headed to Congregation Or Hadash in Sandy Springs for the Or Nashim retreat. Or nashim means “light of women.” It’s a nontraditional women’s group with programs designed to give something to those who attend. In the words of Or Hadash Rabbi Analia Bortz, “Or Nashim is not a sisterhood. It is a gift for women because it allows us to be receivers. Women are constantly giving to others.”

I arrived at the retreat, grabbed a cup of coffee and went into the classroom, where the chairs were in a circle. I took a seat and counted the women. I was No. 22. I noticed how multigenerational the group was. The women ranged in age from their early 20s to their 70s.

As an icebreaker, each of us had to pick a slip of paper out of a bag. Each piece of paper had a year, like 2005 or 1987. We went around the room sharing something significant that happened to us in that year.

“That was the year I started medical school,” one woman said. Another woman talked about starting a company. Someone else talked about losing a parent. Another gave birth to a child. The sharing was personal and meaningful. As we listened and talked, I found myself growing in appreciation for the other women. This was a diverse group of highly educated, mostly professional women who knew intuitively that speaking authentically about their life experiences was a good way to bond.

Then it was time to get some exercise.

The enthusiastic yoga teacher Daniella told the group that yoga would increase flexibility and help with balance.

“Balance is not something you are born with. We have to learn it,” she said while instructing us to stand on the right foot, then shift our balance while remaining aware of our abdominal muscles.

We followed the teacher’s instructions. We rolled our hips, paid attention to our hip joints and shifted our focus wherever the instructor told us.

“This should feel good,” she said. When I heard her say yoga causes transformation at a cellular level and promotes self-healing, I was struggling not to fall and wondered whether any of the other women were feeling so challenged. Four women had elected to stay seated while the rest of us were breathing and moving on cue.

After the stretching and breathing exercises, everyone took a seat to listen to a woman speak about her journey with breast cancer. She wrote a book to help women deal with the fear that accompanies hearing that grim diagnosis.

The retreat was a rich experience. I got glimpses into the lives of other women, learned how to heal myself through yoga and heard a brave woman share her journey with cancer. I left with gratitude for having been there.