Yoga as Sabbath

This entry was posted on Apr 16, 2012 by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.
sabbath yoga

Sukkhasana Sabbath

Sabbath Yoga — Taking Time for Yourself

Years ago, I read that if you don’t make time for your sabbath—or shabbat in Judaism—it will be made for you. In the middle of six grueling and adventurous months of chemotherapy at the time, I gasped in recognition. My cancer had felt all along like a kind of spiritual sabbatical after years of pushing myself too hard without taking care of my health and healing. As a practicing Jew, I had become an expert at squeezing in extra work on weekends between driving the kids all over town, even parking between tasks to pull out my laptop and work for 20 minutes between tasks. When I arrived at my cancer year and found real relaxation and healing almost a foreign concept, I knew viscerally the dangers of ignoring the sabbath.

By sabbath, however, I’m not pointing to just a day free of work, but a rhythm of living that embraces peace and homecoming, pauses between and betwixt, when we can replenish ourselves, rest deeply and consider the moment. It could be a day, an evening, a morning walk, an evening bath, a quiet dinner without anyone texting under the table, or any kind of break from the media-ized and mediated world. It could even be a yoga class.

As someone who has a lot of trouble closing the computer and stopping my work day (I should have someone in uniform drop by at 5 p.m. and call out, on a megaphone, “Step away from the computer, Ma’am”), yoga has increasingly become my own sabbath. Whether I’m teaching or taking the class, or practicing at home between my dresser and bed, I step out of my non-sabbath mind with my first Tadasana (Mountain pose).

Yoga works for me as sabbath for several reasons, most notably because, even after almost a decade of practice, yoga is still so freaking hard for me most of the time. That first downward facing dog usually makes me want to flee the room, but as I breathe, I arrive where I am, my whole being engaged with matching breath and movement. Yoga is also so delicious that I don’t want to daydream while breathing myself taller in a sitting twist or tucking my shoulders under for bridge.

Beyond the challenge and delights of yoga, what brings me to sabbath is breathing with attention, tenderness and curiosity. It’s no surprise that the words respiration and inspiration come from the same Latin root with inspiration often translated as creative power, or God’s breath blown into us. When we follow the line of our breath, we can better listen to what our body, heart and mind are telling us in a moment. We step out of the spinning storyline of our life, and come home to who we are—both a being beyond mystery and a person struggling to hold a warrior pose. We turn down the noise of the world to hear the song of our own soul, singing in the sabbath.

About Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is the Poet Laureate of Kansas, and the author of 14 books, including a forthcoming novel, The Divorce Girl; The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community & Coming Home to the Body (Ice Cube Books); and four collections of poetry. Founder of Transformative Language Arts – a master's program in social and personal transformation through the written, spoken and sung word at Goddard College (Goddard College); where she teaches, Mirriam-Goldberg also leads writing workshops widely. With singer Kelley Hunt, she co-writes songs, offers collaborative performances, and leads writing and singing Brave Voice retreats (; and she blogs regularly at her website (

One response to “Yoga as Sabbath”

  1. Avatar Nicole jensen says:

    I absolutely loved your poetic phrase “pausing between and betwixt!” So beautiful! And I completely associated with the image of practicing yoga between my “dresser and my bed.” Thank you for your lovely words. They really spoke to me and touched me. -nicole

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