Part 3 of a 3-part series
The Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur during COVID-19 require creativity in our observance.
Movement: Our movements, whether large or small, help us to heal. The subtle action accompanying the vidui confessional, hand-over-heart beating our chests, releases our private and collective sins. Yoga, in Sanskrit meaning “union,” invites us to align with Hashem’s creation through sun salutations and stretching as the animals do, to let go of tension and stagnation from the holy vessel of the body. Tree and mountain poses mirror Mother Nature.
The practice of ahimsa, Sanskrit for non-violence, is a mindful part of yogic practice used both on and off the mat. It involves “refraining from the intention of causing physical and psychological pain to any living being, and the conscious integration of compassion into every aspect of daily life.” On the mat, you become aware of what might stretch or injure you. Off the mat, it’s practiced as restraint from lashing out to others when you’re at your limit of tolerance.
There are various forms of yoga. Vinyasa flow is faster-paced, creating internal heat, while Hatha slows and stretches the body. Yin yoga holds postures longer on the mat, focusing on surrender in the discomfort of a pose. Praying with kavanah, or intention, on Yom Kippur, fosters connection to G-d, while transcending the physical discomforts of thirst and hunger.
Various movements dissipate tension, increase circulation and flexibility. Endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers, interact with brain receptors during exercise, resulting in improved mood.
How to practice movement: Walk, dance, stomp, twirl, drum hands on the ground, stretch upward, open arms and heart, expanding space and embracing the unknown as you invite Hashem to join you.
Art: We most often think of art as expressions of beauty. However,
powerful emotions such as rage and grief can be unleashed from the body on to the blank page. Once expressed, the images can be kept as a reminder of what was set free, burned or shredded, symbolic of new beginnings.
Internal critical dragons may breathe fire on you at the thought of creating art. Trick them by painting or coloring using your non-dominant hand. There’s no intention of creating a masterpiece, only expression. If it results in beautiful images that make you happy, place them where you’ll see them often. If the images are dark and ugly, feel good that you released them from imprisonment inside of you.
How to practice art: Choose to use your dominant or non-dominant hand and invite your soul to play. Run your fingers over the crayons, colored pencils or paints and let your heart pick which colors to use, without rules or expectations. Doodle, make marks, smear paint, or collage images and words cut from magazines. Have fun and tap into the joy of creating that nourishes your inner child, who is a spark of G-d.
Nature: Get outside! Feel the wind whip through your hair, the rain on your face, and the sun shining on your back. Walk with reverence in nature for Hashem’s creation, observing, while being mindful not to disturb it. Photograph a bird’s nest as opposed to taking it home. Gather the vibrant fallen leaves instead of plucking them from the branches. Delight in the contrasting energies of night/day, moon/sun, and the changing seasons.
Hug trees. They give off phytoncides, which are airborne chemicals with antibacterial and antifungal qualities to help them fight disease and protect them from environmental threats. When we breathe them in, our bodies increase the number and activity of natural killer cells, (NK) a type of white blood cell that destroys tumor and virus-infected cells in our bodies.
According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, visiting a forest has real, quantifiable mental and physical health benefits. Even five minutes around trees or in green spaces may improve health, the DEC reports. “Exposure to forests and trees boosts the immune system lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, improves mood, increases ability to focus, even in children with ADHD, accelerates recovery from surgery or illness, increases energy levels, and improves sleep.”
How to practice nature: Walk in the woods or sit among the trees in your yard or at a park. Find your pocket of green space. Additionally, ground yourself by direct contact with the earth, unobstructed by rubber-soled shoes. Slip your shoes off and press your feet or palms to the earth or touch the trunk of a tree. Take several deep and cleansing breaths and release tension. Can’t get out due to weather conditions? Position yourself at a window and spend several minutes observing nature. There are benefits in that. Experience the Holy Days outside this year.
Meditation: This doesn’t have to be complicated. Wherever you are, no matter the position, pause to find stillness. Meditations can take place in motion, while walking, dancing or chanting a nigun, a religious melody, often with repetitive sounds like “Bim-Bim-Bam,” or “Lai-Lai-Lai,” instead of lyrics. Free flowing writing is a form of meditation, as is art.
Meditations can either allow unstructured thought or an intention set to direct exploration toward a specific topic. For example: “I open myself to answers regarding how I’m going to handle…” (fill in the blank.) Then release conscious thought about it and walk, sit, sway, etc. while allowing impressions or inspiration to be received. Immersing yourself in prayer is meditation. It’s said that prayer is talking to G-d and meditation is listening for the answers.
How to practice meditation: Let your breathing and heart rate slow, the tension drop from your muscles and nerves; invite a calming image, either real or imagined, and enter it. Experience the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures of the imagery. Breathe in purity and hope, exhale regret and loss.
Each of the 10 Keys to Nourish Body, Mind & Soul can be selected as part of a daily practice of self-care, introspection and vision of the world, transformed.
Dr. Terry Segal is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a doctorate in energy medicine. She is the author of “The Enchanted Journey: Finding the Key that Unlocks You”
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