Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Shavuot - Offering of First Fruits

I am a little behind in my blog posts because I’ve been planning for and teaching at a retreat for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.  I will offer my thoughts about the Shree poem of the week soon, but wanted to share a little something from one of the classes I taught on retreat to tide you over until then!

Shavuot is an interesting holiday as we commemorate several events in Jewish history and the Jewish calendar, and we celebrate in a myriad of ways.  Although I taught about several of these customs, let’s focus for now on the original intent of the holiday.  Shavuot was originally known as the Ceremony of First Fruits, a celebration of the first harvest of spring.  During the ancient time of the Temple in Jerusalem, there were two offerings of Bikkurim, or First Fruits.  The first is that farmers would select and offer the first of their crops as an offering of gratitude for the bounty of the harvest.  There was no prescribed amount necessary or suggested - the invitation was to bring what you have.  So each farmer offers their unique bounty, according to their own means.   It was a highly personal offering, based entirely on what was sown and reaped, offering back a portion of the blessings of that year’s crops.  The very definition of gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness” – inherent in gratitude is the desire to offer back.  This first offering is an offering of gratitude.
In yoga practice, we give at the level we can, we participate 100%, not 99%, not 101%.  I hear from students all the time that they aren’t “good” at yoga – they don’t know the language, the poses feel foreign, they are inflexible, etc. When we can let go of negative self-talk, and practice with the intention to offer our own personal “bikkurim”, we recognize the perfect fullness of what we’ve got right now.  I once saw a book (which I have not read so I can’t account for it’s content) called “Life Doesn’t Start 5 lbs. From Now”.   What you have to offer right now is your perfect offering, just as valid and beautiful as the person next to you, regardless of what your poses look like.  We have a word for this in Sanskrit: purnatva.  It means perfect fullness, or being in the state of perfect fullness.  Which doesn’t mean we have everything we want and everything is perfect.  It means we know that our offering, what we have to give, is enough.  When we recognize the purnatva of our lives, we step into the pulsation of giving and receiving that is the nature of the entire universe.  When we recognize the abundance of our own harvest every day we are inspired to offer our own gifts more easily and readily. (Side note - as I was reading through my notes and organizing my thoughts about teaching this theme the night before I had to teach, I received and email from my teacher Todd Norian about this very topic!   Here’s a link to his inspiring thoughts if you are interested in reading more about Purnatva.)

The second offering of bikkurim is 2 loaves of bread offered by the priests on behalf of all the Jewish people.  Bread represents our co-participation with the divine to deepen the gifts we’ve received: the sun, rain, and soil, which nourished the crop and brought us wheat, and our own using of that gift to create nourishment (I knew there was a profound reason I can’t give up carbs…!).  In yoga we do the same thing – we take the gift of our body, in whatever state or condition it is in, and through poses and breath participate with the Universe in creating something even more beautiful and meaningful.  Our bodies are the wheat and the yoga is the bread that we can offer back when we practice with intention. 


At the retreat, which was hosted by a retreat center which is also a working organic farm, we commemorated this long-past tradition by each person taking either a stalk of wheat (to represent the seeds we wish to plant and grow something new), a leaf of spinach (to represent unfurling or expanding deeper into an already present offering), or a turnip (to represent rooting ourselves more deeply into an intention), all grown right there on the farm, and marched holding our offering in a symbolic parade through the camp to the “temple”, led by the goats that produce the farm’s milk.  When we arrived at the symbolic “temple”, we placed our offering on the Earth along with 2 beautiful loaves of bikkurim bread baked that morning, and we danced and sang around the heap of offerings, and celebrated all we had to give.  It was a beautiful, moving ceremony that I was so glad to be part of with my parents and my 3 children. 

Off the mat:
What are the First Fruits you have to offer this Spring?  Do you feel like they are “enough”?  What kind of ceremony can you create to commemorate bringing them forth, and offer back with gratitude?

On the mat:
We practiced during this class with great awareness of our breath, and ended with Viloma pranayama.  Our breath is the gateway to our connection with Source, and the way we participate with the force that breathes us in each and every moment in creating our world, like a dance. In our normal, day-to-day life, Shakti (Shechinah in Hebrew) breathes life force into us even as we are oblivious to her - she is the leader.  When we practice pranayama, we lead the dance.  It is a subtle shift, not to control the breath, but to participate with it more fully, directing the energy of the breath and the prana (life-force) that it brings in more clearly. 

Open to Grace/Inner Body Bright – Our poses start from a place of purnatva, fullness.  As you fill with breath, fill up with a feeling of “enough” in whatever you have to offer today.
Let your poses originate from a deep feeling of fullness and abundance from your soul.
Feel the perfect fullness of yourself today, right now.  Yet with each breath feel your capacity for that fullness to grow – your awareness, your mindfulness, your self- confidence and self-worth. 
Let each breath open you up more for the next breath to come.

Muscular Energy – Firm your muscles and embrace the fullness of your life.
Firm your muscles to feel the bounty of your own harvest.

Inner Spiral - From the place of fullness, open up to more and more as you widen your sit-bones apart.
Expand your inner thighs back and apart to expand beyond perceived limitations.

Outer Spiral – Anchor your tailbone and your awareness in your inherent purnatva.

Organic Energy - Let the pose keep expanding and expanding and expanding.
Flow out beyond the limits of where you've stopped before, allowing your harvest to keep growing and growing.