Unity of body, mind and spirit is an ancient concept manifested in many cultures. In Judaism, an ideal conduit between the two can be found in Jewish-themed yoga (sometimes referred to as Aleph Bet yoga), which integrates spiritual approaches to physical and spiritual well-being. In this mystical modality, Hebrew letters have deep spiritual meaning, and standard poses have multiple interpretations that correlate to Jewish teachings, values and ethics. Part of the allure of Aleph Bet yoga is the intricate layers of themes such as gratitude, joy or breaking through personal boundaries.
Flagstaff resident and yoga teacher Marci Sheer enthusiastically embraces the concepts of Aleph Bet yoga and Jewish mysticism, which are intertwined in her practice. She bubbles up when talking about this modality that has brought her so much enjoyment and fulfillment.
In this unique form of yoga, Hebrew letters are spiritually linked to complementary postures, bringing in connections of letters and numbers that already contain meaning. “For example,” says Sheer, “the triangle pose (body bent to side with one hand reaching upward) corresponds to the aleph; the hand is symbolically reaching up to the sky or the divine. In the camel pose, where you sit with legs underneath while reaching back with your arms, your heart is open, like the final mem in the Jewish alphabet. This is about reaching back and having faith – knowing you will be provided for.”
Since each letter represents an idea, students hold positions to better crystallize the ideas associated with various letters. The mountain pose (standing with hands at side) would be vav according to Sheer. “It symbolizes your connection to heaven. Your feet are planted on ground as you are connecting to your tribe. A parallel teaching is that Moses brought God to the people, and Aaron brought people to God. That was the connection that was meaningful to me. I consider myself Aaron and Moses in one – a representation of my people.”
Sheer’s fascination with yoga began right after her son was born 20 years ago. “I took a yoga class in a gym, and I came out flying,” she begins, with a big smile. “I felt almost high; there was something magical about it.” Soon after Sheer went to Adobe Yoga in Cave Creek, where a teacher comforted her wiht a warm blanket at the end of the class. “I started to cry because after nurturing my son so long, I really needed to be nurtured. It was so powerful, and I knew I wanted to do this for other people.”
Her intrigue deepening, Sheer ventured on and received training in Kripalu yoga (gentle and restorative) through a local teacher at Crescent Moon Yoga Studio in Scottsdale. Shortly after that she felt she had to make a decision whether to study Judaism or yoga. She decided to put her yoga passion on hold to learn more about Judaism. As she learned more, she managed to combine both passions by teaching Shabbat yoga, a gentle, restorative yoga with Jewish themes, at Congregation Ruach Hamidbar in Scottsdale, in addition to teaching at Crescent Moon. “Shabbat yoga is a peaceful yoga, a shift from the every day,” she explains. “It is not as much about physical exercise as it is about opening and expanding your heart.” Sheer offered classes during the Yom Kippur break for Congregation Kehillah, founded by Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman, and also taught a themed yoga class during an all-night Shavuot learning session.
Sheer’s yoga studies led her to an additional certification in Anusara yoga, which focuses on alignment for safety and themes for personal growth. “For example,” she says, “in warrior pose, the practice of using muscular and organic energy allows you to come from strength and to be able to reach further.” In Anusara yoga, the poses are viewed as either celebratory (bliss) or introspective (remembrance). “Certain poses are more nurturing,” says Sheer. “Forward bends are more calming and bring you back to your true nature. Back bends are more joyful.” Sheer ties in the ancient Chasidic teaching of an angel touching us right above our lip when we are born, to forget everything. “In yoga the forward bends bring you insight into what you forgot.” Before moving to Flagstaff this summer, Sheer taught weekly Anasura-style classes at Bodhi Coyote Yoga in Cave Creek.
Sheer’s latest yoga passion, Yoga Nidra, is a twist on traditional meditation. Yoga Nidra is a form of deep, guided meditation that does not require the physical effort of standard poses. “It’s very powerful and accessible to everyone,” she explains. “We need to stop and take time to go inward and reflect. Yoga Nidra is like bringing a little more Shabbat into our lives through connecting to what’s bigger, through breath and mediation.” For the past two years, Sheer has taught Yoga Nidra during Yom Kippur breaks to Congregation NefeshSoul in Chandler. “Marci’s soft voice and sweet soul transform a yoga class into something much more,” says Rabbi Susan Schanerman. “Her teachings and gentle poses refresh and rejuvenate those who spend an hour with her in movement and contemplation.”
Marci Sheer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org