Texts on Etzem/Essence for Elul 2020

As the Hebrew month of Elul, אלול, approaches, we are invited to return to our essence. This month especially we are reminded that Divinity is always here and accessible in our bodies and our lives.

Etzem, עצם, the Hebrew word for 'bone', also means 'essence' or 'essential'. Connection to our bones can be grounding, centering, and provide weight and solidity in times of tumult. Etzem, עצם, also connotes alignment with our highest self. We can access Etzem by bringing conscious awareness to the core of our beings -- our bones.

The premise of this practice is that there is a hiyyut [life force or prana] present in the skeletal body that supports alignment. It is always available to us for freedom of movement (for example, in the spine and in the hip joint, as Dr Kaminoff shows and describes in the video).

The texts below speak of our essential nature as ALREADY aligned, with the natural desire for elevation and renewal. The natural state of the skeletal body is to be in alignment and to move freely without obstacles, just as the natural state of the soul (nefesh) is to be in free in her movement.

This is what we are doing at the time of High Holidays and with our Yoga practice. We are releasing habits or obstacles that get in the way of alignment with our truest self, our innate goodness that is always there.

How do these teachings show up in the Yoga Practice?

In standing poses, we focus on the skeletal system and rely upon alignment, rather than muscular effort.

In balancing poses, we focus upon the inner body, the line of energy on the standing leg from the inner arch of foot to the inner knee to the lesser trochanter.

In resting poses, like Savasana, when we receive the rhythms of our natural breath.

When we focus on that which is closes to our core, our etzem, our bones, and bring our awareness to center of our beings, we return to a place of alignment.

בא"י, אמ"ה, מתיר אסורים. התשוקה החיונית של הנפש שהיא להיות חפשית בתנועתה, בתנועה החמרית ובתנועה הרוחנית, תשוקת ההתעלות והחדוש, הטבועה בקרב כל יצור, מידי יוצר וצר צורה, שאומר הוא תמיד לכל בריותיו עלו והצליחו, הוסיפו אומץ והרבו אור, היא הדוחפת אותם לתנועה. בהתמעטות האור של החיוניות, בחולשת הרוח הנפשי, המאסרים מתגברים ותשוקת החיים וההתעלות אסורה היא בכבלי החומרהמגושם, המעכב בעד חופשהעליה וההתרוממות. אמנם באים עכובים ומאסרים כאלה לפעמים, בחיים ובמציאות, כדי להנעים אח"כ יותר את חיי התנועה, להכיר את יתרון האור מתוך החושך, ואת סגולת החפש וברכת התנועה, מתוך המאסרים. וברעיון משמח, מלא תהלות מחיה כל בחסדו, הננו מברכים את הברכה הזאת: מתיר אסורים.

Rav Avraham Isaac Kook (1865 -1935)

Olat Re'iyah, commentary on ‘Matir Asurim’, Freeing the Bound

The vital desire of the soul (nefesh) is to be free in her movement, in her physical

movement and spiritual movement, with a desire for elevating and renewal.

Spine and Essence - Structural Prana

"When we're trying to find our support, what we're really looking for are all the things we are doing to get in the way of 'this' [structural prana], what's already present in the system...

Releasing tension allows these deeper forces of support to show up...

There is something already present in our system that will assert itself once the obstacles have been removed.”

- Leslie Kaminoff, Structural Prana, Youtube Video, Jan 17, 2011

Breath and Essence

"[Through] our true authentic breath that lies underneath the restrictions and

holdings we’ve developed over a lifetime...we are able to be in touch with the

wisdom of the soul."

- Miriam Millhauser Castle, The Breath and Body of Inner Torah

Chapter on The Natural Breath, p. 48