Earlier this week, JoJo wrote this very cool post which connected the Bikram Yoga practice to the spirituality of Lent and Palm Sunday. She wrote beautifully about yoga in connection with prayer, penitence, almsgiving, and self-denial.
Shortly after I read that post, I was a participant in a ritual from a different religion tradition, when I attended a Passover dinner at the home of some family friends. Passover is a Jewish holiday that takes place in the spring, right around the same time as Easter. The Passover dinner is called a Seder, and it follows a specific structure and order where we read certain passages, sing certain songs, eat certain foods, and retell the story of the Jews' exodus from slavery Egypt - the story that includes Moses, a burning bush, the cruel Pharaoh, the ten plagues, the hasty flight from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and forty years of wandering in the desert. As the Italian proverb says, "Even if it's not true, it's a good story." I grew up in a sort of agnostic Jewish/Christian hybrid household, so I've never taken these stories to be precisely true, but the Seders were a regular part of my childhood.
Of all the Jewish holidays, Passover is one of my favorites, because it revolves around a simple and powerful theme: liberation.
At the beginning of the night, we read, "It is said that every person, in every generation, must regard him or herself as having been personally freed from bondage in Mitzraim, the biblical land of Egypt." We are reminded to be grateful for our freedom, and we honor all people who have struggled or are struggling for freedom.
This theme doesn't just apply to the people of Israel, but to all people. Bondage and liberation come in all different forms. Bondage can mean literal slavery, but it can also mean slavery to society, to habit, to other people, and to your own mind. Liberation can involve a flight from Mitzraim, with the miraculous parting of the seas, or it can involve killing your self (your ego) for 90 minutes in a hot room, until the mental chatter miraculously fades away. The seas part, the veil lifts, and you glimpse your true Self.
One of my favorite Passover songs is Dayenu. Dayenu is sung after the telling of the Exodus story, and the word means, "It would have been enough." Here's a passage from my own (very secular, Unitarian Universalist) Haggadah (book):
"What does this mean, 'It would have been enough'? Surely no one of these [steps] would have been enough for us. It means to celebrate each step towards freedom as if it were enough, then to start on the next step. It means that if we reject each step because it is not the whole liberation, we will never be able to achieve the whole liberation. It means to sing each verse as if it were the whole song - and then sing the next verse!"
That's "dayenu." So...
When you stand on the line, toes and heels together, and meet your own eyes in the mirror... dayenu.
When you are able to attempt every one of the 26 postures in the series... dayenu.
When you stand a little straighter and walk a little taller... dayenu.
When you breathe through a stressful situation instead of losing your cool... dayenu.
When the old familiar knots and tensions start to melt away from your body... dayenu.