I Am the Tree of Life: My Jew­ish Yoga Book

Rab­bi Mychal Copeland, Andre Ceolin (illus.)

  • Review
By – September 28, 2020

I Am the Tree of Life intro­duces Jew­ish chil­dren to the prac­tice of yoga, An ancient phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al and spir­i­tu­al prac­tice orig­i­nat­ing in the Hin­du tra­di­tion,” by con­nect­ing the pos­tures to sto­ries and char­ac­ters from the Torah. The book fol­lows a basic for­mat. On one page, read­ers are instruct­ed in sim­ple, easy-to-fol­low steps on how to move into a basic yoga pose and how to breathe prop­er­ly while engag­ing in the move­ment. On the oppo­site page, chil­dren can read about how that shape is con­nect­ed to Jew­ish tradition.

The book begins with a basic bal­ance — tree pose — which the author con­nects to the Torah, the Tree of Life. The author lists the sim­ple steps need­ed for how to stand and breathe while in the pos­ture. On the oppos­ing page, Copeland describes the Tree of Life and its impor­tance in Judaism. She repeats this with oth­er yoga pos­es com­par­ing them to Jew­ish sym­bols and char­ac­ters; for exam­ple, boat pose with Noah’s ark, camel pose with the camel that drank from Rebekah’s water pitch­er, and dancer pose with Miri­am, the dancer. I Am the Tree of Life ends with a peace pose and the Jew­ish con­cept of Shalom — peace — as well as a beau­ti­ful expla­na­tion of how “[y]our yoga prac­tice can help lead you to a path of shalom.” Copeland then invites read­ers to reflect on the expe­ri­ence of com­bin­ing yoga and Torah. She explains how move­ment has always been part of Jew­ish prac­tice and how Jews often share ideas and tra­di­tions with oth­er cultures.

This book helps young read­ers absorb Torah into their bod­ies and become part of tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish sto­ries. The text is sup­port­ed by Andre Ceolin’s depic­tions of two chil­dren, a boy and a girl, demon­strat­ing the yoga pos­es. Ceolin cre­ates dra­mat­ic images based on Bib­li­cal sto­ries and char­ac­ters which inspire the prac­tice of yoga.

I Am the Tree of Life is an excel­lent resource for reli­gious school teach­ers who wish to deep­en and vary their lessons on the Torah, as well as for fam­i­lies. The book may inspire stu­dents to find oth­er sto­ries, shapes, and char­ac­ters in the Bible that they can also cre­ate with their bod­ies. Young­sters may be inspired to try the ancient prac­tice of yoga.

Paula Chaiken has worked in a vari­ety of capac­i­ties in the Jew­ish world — teach­ing in reli­gious school, curat­ing at the Sper­tus Muse­um and fundrais­ing for the Fed­er­a­tion — for more than twen­ty years. She also runs a bou­tique pub­lic rela­tions con­sult­ing firm and enjoys read­ing all sorts of books with her three sons.

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