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Elul Week 1

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The Body

The body is our foundation. To accomplish all that the day has in store for us, we rely on a healthy and strong body.  Some take great pride in keeping their bodies strong, while for others, the aches and pains that come with activity and age prevent us from using our bodies to their fullest potential. 

Listen to the full Week 1 practice by clicking on the lotus image. Each of the components of this practice, from the exercises to the readings to the prayers, are also provided below as text.

 

Praying Meditation

Before we begin, we invite you to find a comfortable, yet alert, sitting position. Both feet firm on the ground, back straight. Let your breath flow smoothly in and out of your nose. As you settle in, read the following prayer. Focus on the message of treating your body as an “old friend,” someone who has been on the journey with you from the beginning.

I can look
At my body
As an old friend
Who needs my help,
Or an enemy
Who frustrates me
In every way
With its frailty
And inability to cope.
Old friend,
I shall try
To be of comfort to you
To the end.
                      — Mishkan HaNefesh, Yom Kippur, page 157

Read this prayer a second time, this time focusing on the areas of your body that are tense, aching, in pain. Send compassion and love to the afflicted areas as you read.

I can look
At my body
As an old friend
Who needs my help,
Or an enemy
Who frustrates me
In every way
With its frailty
And inability to cope.
Old friend,
I shall try
To be of comfort to you
To the end.

Ridding our bodies of all that ails them may be a challenge that we face for years to come. The question then becomes, how do we learn to live with our ailments? Consider this passage from this week’s Haftarah, Isaiah 52:2. Perhaps there is an answer found within the text.

“Arise, shake off the dust, sit [on your throne], Jerusalem! Loose the bonds from your neck, O captive one, Fair Zion!”

The text suggests that over time, we become rusty and stiff, failing to use the body to its fullest, whatever the fullest may be for each specific moment in time.

Walking Meditation

To “loose the bonds from your neck,” we invite you to try a walking meditation for three minutes. If walking is a challenge for you, then consider movements that can be done in a seated position. As you walk calmly and slowly, taking firm and deliberate steps, focus your attention on all that is working well in your body. Give thanks for the ability to move and all that is functioning as it should.

Mindful Movement

This meditation has three parts. First move your arms. Slowly raise your arms over head either to the side or in front of you, inhaling as you raise them, exhaling as you lower them. After one minute, switch to your legs. Straighten one leg, then the other, again inhaling as you raise, exhaling as you lower. For the third minute, move your head in a ‘U’ shape from side to side. Inhale as you look over your right shoulder, exhale as you flow to the center, dipping your chin to your chest, continuing the flow as you look over your left shoulder. Inhale. Exhale as you reverse the movement back to your right shoulder. Inhale once you are looking over your right shoulder again. These stretches can be done with the same intention of giving thanks for the ability to move and all that is functioning as it should.

The goal for this practice is not to rid your body of all that ails or binds it. Rather, as you move your body, the goal is to learn to use your body to the best of its ability, despite all that may bind it.

Closing Meditation

To complete your practice, offer this final prayer of thanks for your body.

You have taught us:
Guard yourselves well; take good care of your lives.

Your word calls to us:
Do no harm to yourself! Do not weaken or exhaust yourself!

In gratitude for the gift of our bodies,
We pray for a year of renewed health and replenished strength.

May caring for our bodies become our daily practice.
May we be attentive to our need for proper food, sleep, and exercise.

Let no injury come to others through our acts or failure to act;
But let our mitzvah be this:
To build a just society in which care is a birthright
And the blessing of health the responsibility of all.

Baruch atah, Adonai, rofei chol basar, umafli laasot.

We praise You, Holy One, for wondrous acts of creation and healing.

                      — Mishkan HaNefesh, Rosh Hashanah, page 121

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