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Embracing Ancient Wisdom: Kabalah Yoga

June 2020: A Note from HopeWelcome to this month’s issue of Inkandescent Health & Wellness magazine! At the risk of being cheeky in a time of deep despair and confusion, we are dedicating this issue to “My Corona,” a time in our lives when a happy, healthy future is hard to imagine. From riots breaking out around the country to COVID-19 taking hundreds of thousands of lives around the world, we all could use a little — well, a lot of — relief. 

To that end, we invite you discover an ancient wisdom you may not have heard of: KabbalahOur friend Audi Gozlan has not only been teaching yoga for decades, but has created a special version of the work called Kabalah Yoga. As you’ll read in his article below, the poses he takes students through shape the body into Hebrew letters — templates that can help us tap into the essence and arouse deep feelings and intentions of the heart.

Our hope at the Inkandescent™ Group is that this powerful practice will provide you with a sense of calm and well-being to guide you through these times of intense change. Sending you wishes for only good health and wellness. — Hope Katz Gibbs, publisher,

Yogi Audi Gozlan Brings Us Back to the Future with Kabalah Yoga

By Audi Gozlan, yoga teacher, entrepreneur and author, Embodying the Hidden Power of the Sacred Hebrew Letters

Kabalah is a wisdom that encourages us to search inward, reach deeply within, and discover ourselves from inside out. It is about living now in our potential and assuming our divine role in this world by developing both our physical and our spiritual selves. Everything in this world has a spark of light inside of it.

Because we have a piece of the Divine within, in the form of our soul that keeps our life flame burning, we can elevate everything in this world and help it reveal its own light. You are here on Earth because you matter and can make a difference if you allow your inner light to shine.

Tapping into the essence of life is dependent upon our efforts in moving inward into the soul and entering into our true inner feelings, the kavana of the heart, as the soul and body begin to dance.

Kavana is a soulful experience that we all have at some point in life. In Hebrew, kavana also means “to direct” and refers to the direction of the heart as we grow more inward. It can be in the form of a prayer or spiritual experience that brings us out of our limitations or a powerful chant that lifts our spirit. Such a moment can be as simple as a peaceful walk in nature or gazing at a sunset as cool air blows on our face.

In all of these, our experiences are felt deeply. If we are not in tune or are disconnected with our now, then seeing and enjoying the many blessings of life will be difficult. Kabalah and yoga are ways that help us appreciate life more fully and taste the sweet juice of essence that is often concealed in our life experiences.

Kabalah in Hebrew means “to receive” and refers to our ability to be receivers of light. Yoga in Sanskrit means “union” and refers to the connection of the inner and outer body. A principal teaching in Kabalah is the concept known as orot-ve’keilim, “lights and vessels.” Every form of light needs a vessel in order to shine, and each vessel needs light to exist. The light and vessel are so intimate with one another that when the vessel is either revealing or concealing, it is doing the light good.

Neither a light nor a vessel could exist or have a purpose if one were missing from the other. Together, the light and the vessel form a reality that manifests a physical existence to carry divine light. In the practice of yoga, the body can connect to the soul if we develop deep feelings, kavana, that grow from the essence, also known in yoga as bhava.

  • In Sanskrit, bhava means “emotion, feeling, or state of body and mind.” In Buddhism, bhava refers to “infinite states of being.” Bha-va in Hebrew means “entering deeply within.”
  • In Kabalah, kavana is the energy that rises from the soul from an open heart that produces intention. This intention makes our service in this world warmer, powerful, and meaningful. It is leading from the heart and soul as we bring our entire self into whatever action we do. Kavana exists deeply in our experiences.

It is the intention of being in the moment and connecting your mind, body, and soul. It is creating a space to feel free, let go, and visualize a prayer flourishing from our inner self. It is the force behind any thought, word, or action intended to make a difference and transform us. Kavana is often felt in movement, music, art, prayer, and meditation.

It can also be experienced in any situation where we become one with the moment being created. Kavana, “intention,” in yoga becomes a tool to fully benefitting from the postures. We can do yoga by awakening the energy of deep inner feelings and start to irrigate the soil of our soul by cultivating greater awareness and depth.

How to Practice Kabalah Yoga

From the moment we roll out our mat or practice yoga directly on the Earth, the energy below us becomes the soil upon which our practice will bear fruits. As we settle down on our mat and begin to breathe with more awareness, the mat becomes our terrain from where we will cultivate the seeds of our practice that will bear fruits to savor during the flow, and more importantly after the practice is complete. Like a tree, we have roots, a body, and branches, and can bear fruits.

Have you ever observed how a tree grows? As a seed is planted in the ground, it immediately begins to develop a relationship with the soil, air, water, and sun. The ground offers the seed a platform from which it can rise. Air provides oxygen, water gives nourishment, and the sun is the enlightenment from which the seed finds inspiration to emerge. The seed is in its full kavana as it comfortably cuddles into the sacred space created for its growth.

As it sprouts, the seed suddenly shatters and loses itself entirely. If the seed had a mind, it would certainly think that its life were over, that it had been betrayed. Then, at the very moment the seed loses everything of its tiny shellbody, the roots begin to form, reaching deep into the Earth. The sprout rises from the Earth. The roots develop a spine, a central channel for life to flow into, and slowly its new body begins to take shape.

Our practice of yoga can be that of gardening the seeds of our soul. How we choose to begin a practice will be the stage of planting seeds onto the mat, and what is important is the kavana, the intention we wish to cultivate. As we begin to move our body into a sequence of various poses, we have available our inner water of wisdom, our air of breath, and our sun, the light of our heart, to irrigate the seeds of our soul and move into the soil of awareness. The energy that blossoms through our practice and how it changes us will be the fruits we will enjoy from our yoga.

Kabalah Yoga is a hatha practice with the awareness that the postures are powerful tools that help you journey deeply inward toward your essence by discovering your soul in the body of the postures. Hatha is a Sanskrit term that means ha, “the sun,” and tha, “the moon,” and refers to the union of two opposites. While Kabalah may be compared to the light of your soul that shines in you, yoga is similar to the moon and your body is the vessel that carries this light.

Kabalah Yoga implies that the practice is intended to bring harmony between your body and soul by cultivating yourself inwardly and outwardly. Kabalah Yoga is the fruit that grew from seeds I planted early in my life and have ever since been irrigating. My body has served me as the ground through which I could find the expression of my soul.

My Journey

I have been blessed to be surrounded by spiritual gardeners, who during my lifetime have taught me how to cultivate the fruits of my soul and prepare the soil of awareness for my body to be a vessel. I was born in Montreal to a Moroccan-Jewish family that immigrated from Israel in the 1960s. Although we were not very religious, we lived in a Hassidic neighborhood where I attended a Yeshiva, an all-boys school that taught both the mystical practice and the spiritual life of the Torah.

In Yeshiva, I discovered ancient texts that spoke to me. I learned about the secrets of the soul, life, and the purpose of existence, and that the Creator was a great artist. I contemplated on living a meaningful life and was discovering that I had artistic talent.

I have loved to draw ever since I was a child. Like many kids, I had my colored pencils and sketching pad that I carried with me wherever I went, hoping to see something interesting to draw. The energy of drawing has allowed me to grow closer to my dreams and enter into a subconscious state where I can imagine a situation altogether different from what I am living. My passion for drawing has always been very special to me, something I continue to do to this very day.

At eight years old, I had the great honor of meeting the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who became the most important spiritual influence of my life. For a long time, I was only interested in drawing the Rebbe. Like no other teacher I ever had, the Rebbe, as we call him, opened my heart in such a way that I was able to bear many fruits of the mind, heart, body, and soul.

Throughout my life, the Rebbe inspired me to go deeper into myself, to envision, to draw, to meditate, to become a lawyer, and to develop Kabalah Yoga.

How to Practice Kabalah Yoga

Meditation, like drawing, helps us get out of the box and into the subconscious as we come closer to our dreams. Meditation is the art of focusing the mind on something positive that will energize the mind-and-body connection. It is also a way to transcend the never-ending flow of thoughts that occupy our brain. In yoga, this is described as controlling breath, or prana, to reach deeper into our inner world and gain more awareness.

When we reach this point of awareness, we are free to be without any other thought but to simply be in our breath.

At age fifteen, I had my first meditative experience with my then best friend, Yehuda, with whom I share the same Hebrew name. He often traveled to India with his family to be with their guru, Swami G. in Kulu, Valley of the Gods, and shared the Swami’s teachings with me.

My time with Yehuda was always precious. Our thirst for knowing the unknown and dipping into the mystery of life kept our bond deep and strong. The heights we reached spiritually sometimes seemed too much for us as high school boys, though these were exciting moments, for we were curious and wanting to touch the Divine. We learned the Tanya, an esoteric work authored in the nineteenth century by Kabalist and Hassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Russia, founder of the Habad movement over 250 years ago and predecessor of the Rebbe.

Yehuda shared with me pranic breathing. Slowly through breathing exercises, art, meditation, and the study of mysticism, I began to develop awareness, breath control, and better focus. These lessons were the seeds that years later would attract me to the practice of yoga and the development of Kabalah Yoga.

As I got older, I continued to feed my interest in the esoteric, reading works that touched the mystical, including the Torah, Talmud, Kabalah, Book of Prophets, and Midrashim. I embraced the writings of my teacher the Rebbe, hoping to grasp something deeper and allow the light of Kabalah to shine on everything I learned. Often, I felt like I was trying to drink all the water in a river with a spoon, but as I grew into the heart and soul of Kabalah, every drop of wisdom quenched my thirst and opened me to new levels of awareness.

I nourished my hunger for intellectual stimulation. My first degree was in political science, focusing on philosophy and studying the works of Machiavelli, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Nietzsche, and other philosophers. With the blessings of the Rebbe, I went on to study law and became a lawyer.

I was always an active person. In my younger years, I played various sports year-round, including baseball and football during the summer and ice hockey in the winter. In my twenties, I took up body building, biking, and jogging. The more active I was, the more I became aware of my body and the need to move in a way that would take me inward. I began taking hatha and hot yoga classes Kabalah Yoga weekly. I was hooked. I was finally moving my body in a way that was touching me deeply. Little by little, I was beginning to see my body as a sacred dwelling for my soul.

The Discovery

One evening while preparing for the weekly talk on Kabalah that I offered, I was flipping through some sacred books and opened the mystical text Keter Shem Tov Hashalem, a compilation of teachings of the holy Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hassidic movement in the 1700s. I was looking for deeper understanding about the Hebrew letters, as the theme of the class was about the secrets of the Hebrew letters. As I leafed through the pages, I came across the following teaching: “Each Hebrew letter had a soul, breath, and body.”

What did this mean? It sounded more like yoga to me than Kabalah! I began to ponder this teaching. My mind was working hard, going from imagination to meditation and to yoga.

The Hebrew letters are like the human body (guf in Hebrew) because they have arms, a spine, and legs. The breath (neshima) is the energy that fills the world (olam) of the letter, just as an aura exists in each person. The soul (neshamah) is the essence of the letter, the divine (elokut) spark that gives life to the body. The soul is revealed when good intention fills us with inspiration and lifts our life to the highest spiritual level.

From this moment of inspiration, I began to dream of the shapes of each letter as movements of the body. I was shaping into poses with a feeling that the body was divine if I would allow myself to flow with sacred intentions. I searched in Kabalah, the Torah, and The Talmud for anything written about the Hebrew letters. I began to see from the perspective of the Baal Shem Tov, realizing that most of the ancient teachings in Kabalah come down to an understanding of the Hebrew letters in body, breath, and soul. I took out my sketching pad and pencils and began drawing the Hebrew letters as body shapes.

Begin Now!

One day while in a hatha yoga class, we were doing the Warrior II Pose, and it all came together. As I stood strong, with my feet planted on the mat and my arms extended outward, I suddenly had an awareness that I was taking on the shape of the Hebrew letter Alef (A). This was my aha moment that would change what I understood about the Hebrew letters and yoga.

Experiencing something is always more powerful than just thinking of something. An artist can have a masterpiece in his mind, but if it stays in the realm of thought, his painting is worthless. The teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that every letter has a soul, body, and breath was something I was finally experiencing in the Warrior II Pose. The Alef was my entrance into a whole new understanding of Kabalah and yoga that has transformed my life.

Once I started looking for the sacred shapes in yoga postures, I began to see more and more of the Hebrew characters that I had been meditating upon for so many years. Each Hebrew letter became my template for matching various postures into one similar shape. This five-thousand-year-old biblical dialect used in learning, praying, reading, and writing now became a powerful language for the body to embrace. Yoga was the vessel for moving my body into the Hebrew letters and connecting to their soul, body, and breath.

My studies in Kabalah became deeper. I was learning in order to share the sacred wisdom so it could be applied to the practice of yoga. At the same time, I was intensively practicing yoga daily and went on to study in depth in hatha, Anusara, and Prana Vinyasa. I have learned so much from all my yoga teachers and colleagues, including Hart Lazer in hatha, Karen Claffey in Anusara, and my wife Karen in alignment and my first taste of flow yoga.

In 2008, I met Shiva Rea, founder of Prana Vinyasa, in Venice Beach, California, and was captivated by her passion and grace. She was teaching yoga as a sacred movement. I am grateful to have learned so much from Shiva and her teachings on Prana Vinyasa. She is the seasoning that brought out the taste of my practice of yoga. Shiva inspired me to deepen through bhava, “inner feelings,” and to see that postures could be grouped together according to their shapes.

Some asanas, she explained, “are closely related like siblings, while others are connected like cousins.” Some postures are necessary for entering a peak posture, while others are there to support the body before or after a posture. On this basis, I have grouped poses into families for each Hebrew letter corresponding to their shape and energy. Kabalah Yoga as a method of movement is a work in Kabalah Yoga progress because there exists an infinite reservoir of wisdom to be explored and more possible postures for each letter, which I hope to share with you at a later time.

The Hebrew Letters as Sacred Shapes Kabalah has a great secret about the Hebrew letters unknown to most people.

The mystics say the sacred shapes, otiot in Hebrew, are codes within each form of life, creating and emanating them out of nothingness. Without these shapes, life would cease to exist. Kabalah tells us that during the seven days of creation, these sacred shapes were used as the Creator’s tools to make the world.

By combining the letters into meaningful words, mantras infused with intention and deep breath, the words uttered powerfully bore fruits as they penetrated the very fabric of creation. The secret of the Hebrew letters is that they are the templates for all the physical realities they represent and constantly create and renew all forms of life.

Kabalah explains that Adam, the first man in the Garden of Eden, received the secret wisdom of Leshon Hakodesh, or “sacred tongue,” directly from the Creator. He observed the unique breath and movement of each animal, bird, and species and named it by combining specific letters according to its essence and nature. We hear Adam in the Bible, conversing in this divine language with the Creator and Eve, his female partner. Even the infamous snake in the Garden of Eden spoke in this mystical way to Eve.

During the first thousand years of creation, all beings spoke the sacred tongue as the family of Adam and Eve began to grow. However, because humans brought darkness upon the Earth, the world ceased being the paradise it was intended to be, and the sacred tongue was being forgotten.

The sages explain that the story of the failed coup of the Tower of Babel 1,656 years after Adam is the turning point in history that gave birth to the many languages of the world. The Kabalah of the sacred shapes, however, had been kept a secret and carefully taught only to a select few—the most pious and purest of souls from each generation.

According to tradition, Adam taught the secrets of the Hebrew letters to Hanoch, his great grandson, and to Metuselah, the grandfather of Noah. These two masters then revealed the wisdom to Noah, who taught it to his son Shem, the first Kabalah master. Shem then transmitted the teaching of the shapes to Abraham, who sometime in 1700 BC (eighteenth century BCE) compiled the first Kabalah text, Sefer Yetsirah, The Book of Shapes, also known as The Otiot of Introduction Abraham.

This is the same period in which the Vedas were being composed by the children of Brahma in India.

The Connection between Abraham, Yoga, and the Hebrew Letters

Abraham continued the transmission by teaching the secrets to his son Isaac, who then taught it to Jacob, who shared the knowledge with his children. Eventually the wisdom reached Moses, who used the sacred language to teach the Torah to the Hebrew people God had liberated from slavery in Egypt and brought to the promised land.

In my research, I discovered that there is yet another side to Abraham’s transmission of the secret wisdom of the Hebrew letters. In chapter 25 of Genesis, the Torah says that following the death of Sarah, Abraham married a woman named Ketura. She was also known as Hagar, the servant of Sarah and the mother of Ishmael, Abraham’s first born. She was the daughter of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who chose to be a maidservant to the great Abraham rather than be a princess.

Ketura bore six other sons to Abraham. They were named Zimran, Yokshan, Madan, Midan, Yishbak, and Shuach. The Midrash tells us that their names reflected their deeds. For example, Zimran is singer to deities, and Yokshan is drummer to deities. They were the younger brothers of Ishmael and Isaac. While Isaac remained in Canaan, Ishmael was sent by Abraham to the Desert of Paran, which spreads from Assyria to Egypt.

Zimran, Yokshan, Madan, Midan, Yishbak, and Shuach were sent to the “land of the East,” the biblical reference for India. The Torah tells us that Abraham sent them to the East with precious gifts, matanot, described by the sages as mystical secrets related to the cosmos of creation. According to Rashi, the most important Torah commentator of the twelfth century, among the gifts that Abraham gave them were the healing powers to overcome tumas or tamas, the Hindu word for “darkness.”

Behind the letters that spell tumas in Hebrew are allusions to these healing gifts, notably:

  • Tet (“karma”)
  • Vav (“balance”)
  • Mem (“space”)
  • Heih (“breath”)

The Talmud tells us that aside from The Book of Shapes, Abraham also authored a second book consisting of four hundred chapters covering worshipping practices, which was also among the gifts he gave to his children. With these gifts, the sons of Abraham began their spiritual quest in India.

According to fifteenth-century Kabalist Menashe Ben Israel in his book Nishmat Chayim, “Living Soul,” the sons were initially known in India as the Abrahmans, the children of the famous Abraham. As they integrated into this new land, they became known as the Brahmans, important priests, as they spread the teachings of their father in India, where Abraham became known as Brahma and his wife Sarah as Sarahsvati.

Inspired by Abraham’s teachings on creation, the Brahmans composed the sacred Vedas (meaning the “knowledge” in both Sanskrit and Hebrew), where yoga, “to bond,” is mentioned for the first time in the Rig Veda (one of the four Vedas). It is not clear whether the word “yoga” was meant to be a form of movement or even of meditation.

It appears that “yoga” is meant to refer to harmony, stillness, and unity of the inner and outer self. The more we look inward beyond the layers of life, the closer we will come to our essence.

I believe that Abraham shared with all his children the teachings of the soul, body, and breath through the secrets of the shapes of the letters. While Isaac received this through the mystical teachings of Kabalah, the Brahmans were given the gifts of translating the letters as asanas, shapes in yoga; meditation, dhyana; and breath, prana.

Move your body using Sacred Wisdom

Early Jewish mystical works deal extensively with the symbolism and secret meaning of the Hebrew letters. Following Abraham’s Sefer Yetsirah, further teachings on Kabalah were compiled in the writings of the sage Akivah (c. 700) in his Otiot d’Rabbi Akivah (c. 700), and the Alphabet of Ben Sira (Alphabetum Siracidis, c. 700).

The most well-known works are Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, Book of Razi’el, Book of Bahir, the Heikhalot writings, Sefer Temunah, Shi’ur Komah, Harba d’Moshe, and Sefer Ha-Yashar. The sacred shapes as spiritual states of creation are discussed in the Zohar, in the writings of Moses Cordovero, and in Shi’ur Komah.

Also important are the sections of The Talmud and the Midrashim that discuss the esoteric.

The Midrash Talpiot states that while some letters have a feminine shape, others are masculine. The meaning of this gendering in the text is that some shapes:

  • Alef (as in Warrior II Pose) represents strength and power, which is characterized as a male energy.
  • Beit (Crescent Moon Pose) and Cheit (Wheel Pose) represent female energy.

Another important source is thirteen-century Spanish Kabalist Abraham Abulafia, author of various meditative works on the Hebrew letters as channels of energy. It is related that Abulafia had a close student artist named Nathan Shem Tov from Lyon, France, who drew the Hebrew letters as energetic body postures according to his master Abulafia’s mystical teachings.

Learn more!