By Ida Unger

It is the season of Teshuvah. Traditionally translated as repentance, the word literally means returning, as in returning to awareness of God, or returning to the essential self. In his important work on teshuvah, Rav Kook, a rabbi of the early 20th century and a vegetarian taught that the process of returning had three levels or aspects.

According to Rav Kook, the first level of teshuvah is based in natural law, or in yogic terms, the law of karma. Here we experience how what we give out is equal to what we get back. He further teaches that reality manifests for each person according to his or her own perspective. Once we realize this hidden aspect, there is a level of spiritual growth. We have ‘returned” to a degree.

The next level is the teshuvah of religion. People must be taught to broaden their consciousness and to aim high, to admit to sin and start anew. Every religion has a way to repent, to let go of past issues and to begin again. Our Jewish tradition offers this time of year as an ideal occasion for self- examination, release and goal setting. At this level, faith rooted in tradition creates a path of forgiveness of self, as well as others.

It is only after these first two levels of teshuvah are discovered and practiced that the highest level becomes accessible – the teshuvah of reason. Here we find a deep understanding of the holy. This level incorporates the previous two phases and in Rav Kook’s words “abounds in endless delight. It transforms all past sins into spiritual assets. From every error it derives noble lessons, and from every lowly fall it derives the inspiration for the climb to splendid heights. The is the type of teshuvah toward which all aspire, which must come and which is bound to come.” At this level, one sees the Divine light is all.

The yogic journey has parallel levels. We often come to yoga to heal pains, or to reduce stress. Here we experience cause and effect. We see that through our actions we can gain a new perspective, and this new perspective can shape our reality. We can go to class or do a practice and feel better. This is what Rav Kook called natural teshuvah.

Next we aspire to learn more – if yoga can heal my back, what else can it do? The initial empowerment leads to a greater vision of what is possible. This is the level of religion. What is known about this path? Who has walked it before? What did they learn? What truths can I learn from those who have gone before me? There is submission here. We acknowledge the limits of our own perceptions. It does mean that we must acknowledge our blind spots in order to act humbly but intelligently in the face of advice or direction.

The highest level happens when the seeker sees that all things are connected. Herein is the third level of teshuvah – seeing the holy in every moment, seeing the Divine Source as a partner. The level of serendipity, or divinely inspired coincidence raises to a peak and life is forever altered. For the yoga practitioner, this is manifested in the physical no longer being experienced as a barrier, but rather as something that can be realigned to allow the experience of the inner flow of energy. When this happens, the connection to All That Is becomes palpable.

Yoga is a physical guide to the same truths that Rav Kook sought to share. He redefined sin as not so much wrong doing as missing the mark, resorting to fear when love would better serve. We are given this part of our annual cycle to awaken us to our deepest selves. Teshuvah is a returning to self for a fine-tuning of our souls.

May your High Holy Days be filled with light, love and listening.
Taking It to the Mat

Practice the sun salutes, Sri Namaskar. Take notice of the cycle and how each round is similar, yet has its own dimension. As you “return” to each pose, what has released? What has awakened? Our lives cycle through the seasons, just as our consciousness cycles through the body, as we practice. As you bring awareness to your body, all aspects of self are awakened anew.

Stretch into yourself for the year 5766.

Namaste’ B’shalom,

Ida Unger, M. Ed. and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher can be reached at
. See Judaism section for a listing of classes.
She grew up with a Yeshiva education and a love of Torah and spirituality. In the early 90’s her Jewish roots began to connect to her yogic wings, resulting in a deepening of both.