by Audi Gozlan

Friday evenings in our home are the climax of the week.  For 25 hours, from Friday night at sunset until Saturday at nightfall, I do not write, drive a car, flick on the lights, use my computer, my cell, or engage in everyday activities that involve controlling fire and/or electricity.  I also abstain from any form of work or labor that could involve my body or mind.  Instead, I spend the day resting and detaching from my daily chores in order to focus on nourishing myself spiritually.
This weekly ritual that I honor is a custom that dates back to Creation.  According to the Bible, thousands of years ago, when the Creator began making the world on a Sunday, He finished shaping everything in Heaven and on Earth on Friday.  On Saturday, the Creator paused to meditate in stillness on all that He had done.

This practice of observing Shabat (alternately pronounced Shabas, or referred to in English as the Sabbath) is actually embraced by countless people worldwide.  As too is the custom of welcoming the Shabat by lighting candles on Friday night at sunset. Lighting candles for Shabat is a reminder that the soul is like a flame, constantly rising high and connecting to its source.  Everything that exists in the soul (the inner flame) also exists within the body (the carrier of the flame).  The body and soul together hold the qualities that make us alive.

To be alive means we are constantly pulsing our breath in and out, and expanding and contracting from within. The Shabat rest tells us that our abstinence from performing our normal activities is essential for our movement forward.  It is a time in our busy schedules to unplug, disconnect from a hectic life, and take a moment to nurture that inner flame. At sunset each Friday, I prepare thirteen candles for my wife Karen and children to light as we embrace Shabat.  Why thirteen?  It is the numerical value of “echad,” the Hebrew word for oneness.  Thirteen is also the value of “ahavah”, the Hebrew word for love.  Shabat is all about experiencing this oneness and opening up to unconditional love. A flame is produced by combining oil with a wick.  Both the oil and the wick are combustible, even though separately they could never produce light.  For the soul’s light to be revealed, a combination of elements is needed: a mind to meditate on its wisdom, a heart to feel its warmth, a mouth to speak about its truth, and hands and feet to experience and share its beauty.

There is a particular kabalistic body vinyasa  performed when lighting the candles of Shabat.  As the candles are lit, we gaze at the flames for a moment and meditate on their brilliance.  Then we move our arms around the flames five times as if to be drawing their light into our bodies.  We flow five times to awaken the five levels of our soul, known in Hebrew as “kochos,” meaning powers of the soul, similar to the koshas in yoga. Shabat is the flame that brings illumination to every other moment of our lives.

When Shabat arrives, all things around us pause so we may examine their inner workings.  Is the inside of the flame burning?  Is it warm?  Bright?  A flame moves with thirst to reach upward, as if to detach itself from the wick and connect to something much greater, purer, and more spiritual.  Still, it pulls back to its body, to the earth, assuming it’s function to be a source of illumination within the physical realm. Shabat is also about time.  We often sacrifice time to gain material possessions.  Sacredness does not come from the accumulation of material things, but from the creation of inspirational moments that will eternally uplift us, beyond space or time.  How do we make time sacred?

There is a reality in time where the purpose is not to have but to be, not to control, but to share, not to conquer, but to be harmonious.  The Torah says, “Six days a week, create in space.  On the seventh day, step back, look inward, meditate, and create sacredness within time.”  This is Shabat, when we refrain from any form of work and from mundane activities and simply let go of space in order to be divinely present. To appreciate the sacredness of time requires the desire to be in a flow of oneness.  Oneness should not be confused with singleness, since singleness involves constantly moving our attention from the demands of the body to those of the soul.  Some days we spend our time nourishing the soul by acts of kindness and compassion.  On other days we are  more materially inclined, more physical about ourselves, and more selfish in ways where we are only interested in “me”.  Ideally we should be both constantly and simultaneously focusing on the soul and body, bringing the two together as one.  This is yoga! The power produced between the two is released not by choosing one over the other, but by using the two to fulfill the very same purpose, spiritualizing the material and materializing the spiritual.  This is Shabat!  Without the body, the soul could never fulfill it’s mission and without the soul, the body could never have the focus and awareness it needs in it’s journey through life.

Shabat reminds us of the primal force that gave life to every thing at the start of Creation.  Before anything else came into existence, there was only divine breath.  The Torah explains in the book of Genesis that, prior to man’s creation, divine breath” (“ruach”) hovered above the waters of the Earth.  This breath, also known in Sanskrit as Prana, is the life force that causes everything to exist and is found in our food, sunlight, and water. From birth until death, breathing is automatic and natural and we often forget that our life is dependant on it.  We come into the world with an inhalation and go with an exhalation.  During our life time, we search for a harmonious balance between our inhales and exhales.  Breath is so essential to life that without it neither we nor any living creature could ever survive for more than a few moments.  Deep breathing empowers us to focus deeply inwardly and discover the flow of life within us and in our world.

The Torah recounts that when the Creator wished that Adam, the first man, search within his heart, He stopped him for a moment and said, “Ayeka”, meaning “where are you” in Hebrew?  Did the Creator not know where Adam was?  Surely He did.  But He wanted to know if Adam knew where he was in his breath and in his being.  Adam spent twenty-five hours during that very first Shabat meditating about where he was! How do we embrace Shabat in our life?  What about in our daily practice of yoga?

In sound, spelling, and meaning, Shabasana has in it Shabas or Shabat–as mentioned earlier, these are alternate ways of pronouncing the Hebrew word for the Sabbath, the day of rest.  Shabasana, usually pronounced as Shavasana with a “v” instead of a “b”, means in Hebrew “I am at rest” and is spelled in Hebrew with the letters shin, beit, and tav, the same letters used to spell Shabat.  Each of these Hebrew letters have a softer sound variation.  The shin is also sien for S, the beit is veit for V, and the tav is sav, similar to the S sound.  The soft variations of these letters  together spell Shavas and speak of the unique state of tranquility within Shabat.  Thus the word Shavas, in Shavasana, like Shabas in Shabat, means rest, and Ana in Aramaic is I am.

Consequently, Shavasana can be interpreted as the two words “Shavas” rest and “ana” I am. What is rest?  On Shabat the Creator rested from creating the world in order to gaze at His Creation.  He paused for twenty-five hours to meditate on His masterpiece and was happy with what He had created. Shabat is a higher level of energy that we can reach when we are fully in the moment.  It happens when we are at peace and in harmony with ourselves.  When you are experiencing peace inside of you, you will embrace a change that will affect the way you live your life, the way you see the world, the way you feel. Yoga is a way of moving into Shabat and becoming familiar with the Creator and the energy alive within you.  The world will appear clearer and less distracting.  Shabat is a way of drawing into yoga, and will be found at every level of our yoga practice.  When you begin your yoga practice, start to relax and meditate, center yourself by taking a deep breath, and pause before exhaling.

The calmness you will achieve is by being yourself and knowing who you really are.  The stillness is allowing your essence take over you, and you will experience a moment of full awareness of the here and now.  When you let go of your thoughts and limitations, a space is created inside to look inward.  Each time you inhale, think that you are drawing into your body the Creator’s breath and as you exhale, you are sharing your breath with the Creator.  This movement is a very intimate one since its flow of life will allow you to taste the creative energy within.

As you begin to flow in your practice, envision yourself going deeper into your body and drawing into this inner life.  When you come into the standing poses, continue to meditate on your movements . Become aware of the pulsation of your breath, in and out, and as you draw downward, lift up, contract, and expand.

Each time you exhale and press down with your feet, as in for example Tadasana or Warrior I or I, think that you are resting yourself down into the earth in order to better inhale and lengthen up to Heaven.  In between each pose we also practice the Shabat by pausing in Tadasana, Downward Dog, or Child Pose. Shabat will ultimately be experienced in the Shavasana pose.  You might think that lying on your back on a yoga mat or blanket is just a way of relaxing and nothing more.  But an understanding of Shabat clarifies the meaning of rest.  According to Kabalah, the Shabat is the internal joy of finding peace by deeply reconnecting with your soul through your body as it melts into the earth.  You reach for harmony between your body and soul as you bond to the earth and face Heaven above you.  You become the heartbeat of the ground as your soul opens itself to the sky.

This lying down posture should therefore not be an inactive position where you drift off into sleep.  Rather, it is the most important posture you can assume to gather all the energies aroused throughout your practice.  In Shavasana, you can focus on internalizing all the energies you released while in the postures by planting your body into the Earth, like a seed planted in order for a tree to grow.  In Shavasana, your body is drawn downward and is open to growth so that everything in you becomes energy and light.  Concentrate on feeling all the goodness created through this blissful state. Shabat is a way of life.  It is not something we must think about or stare at from a distance as if it was something outside of us.  Rather Shabat exists internally and is something we discover each time we detach from the outer layers of life, like peeling off the skin of a fruit to taste the fruit within.  Shabat reveals in us a certain glow that is very different from any other.

When you embrace the Shabat, you shine in a way that brings out the divine light inside.  The mystics called this light, in Hebrew, “neshama yetera”, your sublime soul.  The sublime soul doesn’t only bring more awareness, clarity, and calmness.  More powerfully, it makes you into a temple that houses the great essence.  To see not just from our two eyes, but from the soul. According to an ancient teaching, the light that was created at the start of Creation was different  then the light which came from the sun, stars, and moon.  The light was so incredible that man was able to see from one end of the world to the other.  Because man began to loose touch with his light, the Creator hid it here and there for us to discover.  The mystics say that Shabat carries this light.  To see with eyes of Shabat is to reach the ultimate level.  It is there that the body and soul can find their harmony, not only in our practice of life but also in our practice of yoga.

Shabat ShalOM.  Peace!