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Is yoga kosher?

Using yoga to manage your mood

Mood management is the goal of LifeForce yoga, a relatively new form of the ancient Hindu discipline aimed at training the consciousness for a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility.

Fair Lawn resident Howard Katz, one of only 30 or so certified U.S. instructors of this type of yoga, recently led a three-session workshop at the Kaplen JCC in Tenafly geared toward those suffering from anxiety and depression. Co-leader Batya Swift Yasgur, a medical social worker and author from Teaneck, facilitated optional group discussions on emotional issues experienced by participants during the yoga sessions.

“If you can imagine a simultaneous feeling of calmness and alertness, that’s what LifeForce yoga achieves,” said Yasgur. “One feels a sense of ‘centered flying.’ People leave the workshop feeling better about the world, and better able to cope.”

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Howard Katz leads a yoga class at the Kaplen JCC in Tenafly. James L. Janoff

She explained that if practiced on a regular basis, LifeForce yoga can effectively balance the nervous system’s calming parasympathetic component and energizing sympathetic component.

“In our society, our sympathetic nervous system is way overdeveloped and our parasympathetic system is way underdeveloped,” said Yasgur. “LifeForce yoga and its breathing techniques address the parasympathetic system to strengthen it and yet modulate the parasympathetic system as well.”

Katz, who also is director of yoga programming at Manhattan’s Kehilat Romemu congregation, said LifeForce focuses on breathing techniques, chanting to unblock energy centers, and slow postures meant as moving meditations.

“LifeForce also uses ‘mudras,’ positioning of the hands in different ways to configure energy in the body differently,” Katz said. “For example, if you hold your hands at your heart, that creates a calming effect. Holding thumb to forefinger, with your arm outstretched, helps focus your mind.”

Katz mused that the hand position assumed by kohanim above their heads during the priestly blessing could be considered a type of mudra. “The similarities are strong,” said Katz, who is a kohen. “You’re channeling energy and bringing it down.”

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