Independent and original reporting from the Orthodox communities of Long Island
The Jewish Star
Issue of February 26, 2010/ 12 Adar 5770
There is some irony in the fact that my yoga studio looks out across the parking lot to a popular kosher supermarket. Anyone who has battled for a spot in the parking lot on a Thursday or Friday may understand the quandary of a kosher yoga practitioner at the end of the week. You get to the parking lot with lots of extra time to find a spot so you can avoid some stress. After circling around for precious minutes, dealing with cars driving the wrong way and shopping carts abandoned in parking spots, you finally find a good spot, pray that the parking meter is working, then race to get to class on time.
Whether you take a vigorous or slow paced yoga class, the last 5 or 10 minutes are for winding down and letting your body absorb the poses you’ve completed and relaxing all your muscles. You float out of the class smiling and enjoying a sense of serenity, or calmly energized, feeling ready and able to accomplish the tasks of the day… until the spell is abruptly broken by an obnoxious car siren, the earsplitting blast from the firehouse or impatient honking by a driver eager to get away. Or if you’re lucky, you experience peace and relative quiet until you enter the store to tackle your Shabbat shopping list. Immediately, yoga is but a distant memory as you fight your way around abandoned carts blocking the aisles, loud personal cell phone conversations and long cashier lines.
Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful to live in a town with grocery stores that cater to my needs. I am thankful for the luxury of wonderful yoga teachers. But here’s the dilemma: is it better to do Shabbos errands first and then do yoga to relieve the stress, or do the yoga first to prepare for the shopping stress? I don’t know, but this is what I’m learning: take a deep breath in, then let it out slowly and repeat, until your smile returns and it won’t matter.
Miriam Bradman Abrahams
A Peaceful Presence In Cedarhurst
By Michele Justic
on Thursday, April 15, 2010
The Five Towns has it all! The best in shuls, schools, chesed organizations, Judaica shops, restaurants . . . the list goes on and on. Yet, on some occasions, our overactive residents must feel like we have too much. Surely, just because we have it all doesn’t mean we need to do it all. Peaceful Presence Yoga Studio in Cedarhurst offers an island of calm in the midst of the stormy traffic of Cedarhurst.
Perhaps the customers arrive stressed out over a honking match or parking troubles, or feel they spent too much at a local store. Unfortunately, the tension may run even deeper than that and involve more serious challenges to health, financial well-being, or family life. But they can relax as soon as they climb the steps and open the door into the simple, uncluttered space, unroll their mat, and let their experienced teacher take it from there.
The studio currently has six certified yoga teachers and three licensed massage therapists. They offer over 20 weekly classes and have about 60–70 regular practitioners, with newcomers trying out classes each week. There are classes for men and women of all levels and ages, and they also offer the newest type—hot yoga, which uses a higher room temperature to allow the body to purge toxins.
Andrew Kahn opened the studio five years ago after practicing yoga for over two decades and studying it for six years at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts, the largest yoga center in the country. He identifies his mother as his first teacher after he was “very tense, distracted, and feeling out of sorts.” When he and his wife, Dr. Lori Cohen-Kahn, an oral surgeon practicing in Lawrence, relocated to the Five Towns, they knew Andrew would have a challenge rebuilding his successful practice in this observant community.
Andrew feels a deep connection to yoga and to spreading its positive effect. Commenting on Peaceful Presence and its company logo, he explains, “The dove is the central part of our logo and even our name. As a kohein and a teacher of yoga, I seek to follow in the footsteps of Aharon HaKohein, who loved people and sought peace. I believe he was truly a ‘peaceful presence’ who drew people to Torah.”
Andrew’s experience with the local community has been beneficial for both. He says, “Living in the Five Towns has profoundly affected my own level of Jewish observance and also the way I run the Peaceful Presence Yoga Studio. I have gotten a great deal of feedback from community members, including numerous rabbis who have honored the studio with their presence. I have had more rabbis as students than any other profession and they have not been shy about sharing their knowledge and perspectives every step of the way in the development of the studio.”
He added, “Some practices I embraced from the start (like closing the studio for Shabbos) and others have evolved based on requests (such as having separate classes for men and women and not doing hands-on assisting in my women’s classes).”
Andrew points out that while it is true that, at some studios, unwelcome foreign religious references, terms, or rituals find their way into the teaching of yoga, true yoga does not come from or teach any one religion. “The teachings are meant to be open to and beneficial to all people,” he says. “That is the unifying beauty of it: Individuals from all observance levels and ways of life are welcome at this studio.”
Nevertheless, this being the heart of Cedarhurst, Andrew chooses to use the Rambam’s teachings as his guide and posts it in the studio: “Since by keeping the body in health and vigor one walks in the ways of G-d—it becomes impossible during sickness to have any understanding or knowledge of the Creator—it is a man’s duty to avoid whatever is injurious to the body and cultivate habits conducive to health and vigor” (Rambam, Laws Concerning Moral Dispositions and Ethical Conducts.)
As a stay-at-home asthmatic mother who spends more time hunched over a computer or cleaning up toys than on “healthy habits,” I knew it was time for a change. I have recently started attending the Sunday session with Lisa and have been blown away by her level of expertise, combined with the personal attention and warm approach that is offered there.
I’m not fond of getting out on a Sunday morning and usually come in with a stuffy nose and a not-so-positive attitude. Then Lisa begins to work her magic. She works parts of the body I never gave any thought to before and pulls it all together into a highly effective routine that has me breathing, walking, and feeling better by the end.
I asked Andrew to tell me some more about this hometown guru. “Lisa Bialostok, a native of Taiwan, has been a big asset to the Peaceful Presence Yoga Studio. Her fitness, grace, and passion for teaching, along with her knowledge of many healthy dietary practices, are only a part of what attracts large numbers of students to her classes. She has a story of recovery that is inspiring and speaks of uncommon strength. For many years she had a successful wedding-dress business, which she found extremely stressful. Through both formal and informal training, she cultivated a yoga practice which she loves to share with the community.”
Clients at Peaceful Presence include rabbis, physicians, teachers, writers, homemakers, and artists. Students’ levels of fitness range from those with chronic disabilities to those who are already in exceptional health. Peaceful Presence Yoga reaches out to serve Holocaust survivors, brain trauma victims, and special-needs children. In addition, they are expanding into some of the progressive local area schools who are using yoga as an extracurricular activity, while helping to develop open-minded and well-rounded children. Andrew hopes to create future programs for different groups in the community, such as teenagers, and to meet the needs of those in the corporate world and local business. Yoga retreats are a possibility as well.
Andrew strives to bring everyone together in the pursuit of health and well-being. As he explains, “To me, the concept of unity is very important. I think there is way too much discord and divisiveness, even in this community amongst Jews. I hope that among other things, the studio will be a vehicle for helping to heal this sense of separation.”
“I also hope that the studio continues to blossom in the Five Towns and that I can repeat this model in other communities,” Andrew added. “What community would not benefit from a ‘peaceful presence’ in the neighborhood, spreading our teachings of tolerance, compassion, peace, unity, and discipline? I pray that G-d works through us all to speedily achieve this goal.”
To learn more, visit www.peacefulpresence.com, call 516-371-3715, or—even better—try a class at 436 Central Avenue (main entrance in the Gourmet Glatt parking lot).
January 18, 2012 7:27 PM Edit Quote This Flag Private Message
Dear yoga practitioners,
The conversation of the moment: Practicing Yoga Safely and Avoiding Injuries
As yoga practitioners we should think and talk about practicing safely among ourselves.
We never want to have an injury come out of the practice of yoga. Let's learn together to make yoga safer for everyone.
There was a recent article about yoga and injuries in the New York Times Magazine.
The conversation among teachers and students is growing. Please help get this necessary and constructive conversation going.
Suggested conversation focus: We should only move into poses with awareness and gentleness and in a way where we can stay in control of our movement the whole time. We are also in control of our ability to get out of a
posture. We don't fall into a pose or bounce into it or fall out of it in an out of control way. We back off if we feel or sense any risk of injury or if we cross over the line from a bit of discomfort into pain.
Thank you all for helping to protect us from any and all harm. We aim to grow and to be there for the long haul. (Besides my son, Aaron, may want my job one day. Boy would that make me proud! :)
I thought I would share our very own Maureen's (Teaching Wednesdays at 4:30pm) response with you. It was a written in response to an article "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body" in the recent Sunday NY Times magazine.
"All Bent Out of Shape, the Problem with Yoga”. The author, William J. Broad.
Thank you Maureen for your clear response.
Letter to the Editor
New York Times
January 8, 2012
Yoga is a wonderful way to develop one’s mind, body and spirit. Just like any other form of physical activity, if done incorrectly or without careful attention to underlying physical
weakness or problems, injury can occur. I agree with Black on several points: there can be too many people in a class, teachers and students can often be working from their egos, and teachers need a ton of experience to know when a student should not do something.
One of the most important and challenging aspects for me, as a teacher, is to get my
students to use a block, strap or modification. Many of them don’t want to take my
advice, they want to do the more challenging version of a posture. It is my responsibility not to let that happen. Fortunately, my classes are small so I am able to monitor what and how they are doing the pose. I also know most of them fairly well. If someone is taking a class with 100 people, they will look around, compare themselves to others and ignore their body’s pain signals that are asking them to back off. They are putting ego ahead of awareness.
The man in India who “threw himself into a spinal twist” was not doing yoga consciously and with awareness. Of course he got injured. The student in downward-facing dog who tore his Achilles tendon was not paying attention to how it felt and how much he was straining before it popped. Ego instead of awareness.
When going into shoulderstand, the upper back and neck areas are being stretched.
These are areas of extreme tightness for many of us. That is why you learn
half-shoulderstand first and always keep the weight on the shoulders and not the neck. Hyperextension of the neck or any joint can cause damage to that area. You must also remain in the pose for an amount of time that feels right for YOUR body NOW, instead of vigilantly adhering to what BKS Iyengar instructed in his book 47 years ago. A forward bend should be done while hinging from the hips, not with a round spine which puts pressure on the lower back. An individual with lower back problems mustalways be cautious in forward and back bends.