Yoga in Israel

Yoga arrived to the shores of Palestine through European immigrants who had experienced yoga in their home countries. The first yogini who taught in Tel Aviv was Regina Kolitz, from a Lithuanian Hassidic family, who had studied yoga in Berlin and came to the country in 1935. In later years, she was the author of the first original yoga book in Hebrew. I became acquainted with this impressive woman in the late 70`s.

Years before that, as children in Tel Aviv, we would peep through the studio windows of Moshe Feldenkriez, the founder of the method bearing his name and the yoga teacher of the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion.

In the same period that yoga was gaining in popularity in the west, the interest in yoga in Israel was growing. In the 60`s, a few private studios were opened and a Sivananda yoga center was opened in Tel Aviv. Among the internationally known teachers that came to Israel to lecture and teach in those years were Swami Vishnudevananda and Swami Venkatesananda. In those days, a retreat with Swami Venkatesananda would start with a 6:00 A.M. asana session; each participant would go on to work and the day`s activities; at 5:00 P.M., there would be a pranayama workshop and evening lecture.

The Israeli Yoga Teachers` Association was established in 1979 by veteran teacher Rachel Solberg and a group of volunteers as a non-profit organization whose main goal is the promotion of yoga in our country. In those years and since, this association initiated and organized many different yoga activities, as well as establishing a connection with the European Yoga Union. In 1995, an international Yoga Conference for Peace took place outside of Jerusalem. Among the many teachers who volunteered their teaching were Indra Devi, Desikachar, Amrit Desai, and Bernard Bouanchaud, who was a frequent guest teacher in Israel in those years. Those years also saw the blossoming of yoga in Israel, as different styles and schools of yoga were introduced all the time. Iyengar yoga and Ashtanga yoga made their mark.

As we see, the interest in yoga and the desire to explore Indian philosophy did not start with today`s youth, those many young people who make their post-army trek to India and return home with a different perspective on life and a desire to continue exploring yoga. This growing popularity has led to the establishment of a wide variety of teachers training courses.

The varied reactions to the shorter courses is interesting. Some of the graduates jump right in and start to teach; others look for other frameworks in which to deepen their practice; and there are those that sense the great responsibility that comes with the teaching of yoga and hesitate to start teaching. The lucky ones meet a teacher with whom they may continue their yoga journey.

I met Paul in the summer of 1995 in Zinal, Switzerland. I immediately knew that I had found the answer to my personal need for deeper understanding of the potential of yoga. I remembered the words of Bernard from the year before: `you must find a way of raising the level of yoga in Israel.` There was a spark and Paul started coming regularly to Israel in 1996. A year later, we initiated the Viniyoga Foundation course. This course was the basis for and an umbrella for yoga teachers and practitioners of every style and school.

Through the experience of our meetings in a series of seminars and retreats led by Paul here in Israel, we have come to change and expand our perception and understanding of yoga through viniyoga. If before we could compare our understanding of yoga to the view from a window, after being taken on a journey of discovery that included different aspects of yoga (asana, pranayama, textual study, chanting and meditation ) it could be said that we now had a view from the roof. This view is more ample and detailed; we have gained both in spectrum and depth.

Paul’s last visit, his eighth, could be labled as extraordinary :

  1. Because the aim of the retreat this time was to deepen our understandig and relationship with the benefit of change through the 3rd chapter of the Yoga Sutra :vibhuti (extra- ordinary) pada.
  2. Because of the extraordinary amount of people who attended the preliminary seminar (there were 150 participants – as you see in the photos) most of them heard of the event by word of mouth.
  3. Last, but not least, during the retreat, we were blessed by a phenomenon that does not happen often: pouring rain and thunderstorms. In this dry country, where water is an issue, this was certainly extraordinary.

The consequences of our studies with Paul are personal and professional. It affects our lives, our practice and deepens our relationship with the yoga tradition and it’s textual resources.

Both teachers and pupils benefit.

The Yoga Sutra is more accessible, the urge to share the knowledge with others became practical; more teachers include the Y.S in their teaching and wish to bring the quality of Viniyoga spirit to their lessons.The interest in study-groups increased.It is interesting and pleasurable to realize the common ways of study between the Yoga tradition and the jewish heritage.

Paul plans to continue regular teaching in Israel, two of us have been coming to Summer retreats for the past 3 years and i plan to continue coming to the U.K for special events and courses.

We hope that Paul will be coming more often to support the Viniyoga studies in Israel.

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