Monday, February 20, 2012

Prayer Without the Body

I spend a lot of time thinking about tefilla - and not just when I am trying to daven.  In the past few months, I have written about what I feel is need to teach students how to meditate and practice what it means to focus mindfulness in prayer.  Some of you have written to me about incorporating yoga into tefillot or the tefilla curriculum and I have heard your advice.

Recently I went to a session by Andrew Hahn, who is apparently known as the Kirtan Rabbi (this is his bio from the LimmudLA website where I met him: one of a new breed of artist-rabbis whose joyful music and teachings address the deepest longings of the 21st century. He holds a PhD from JTS and ordination from HUC-JIR. A long time martial arts instructor, he also teaches a Jewish form of Tai Chi. Hahn tours the country offering concerts, workshops, and Shabbatonim.).  I had a wonderful experience working and speaking with Andrew and hope to interview him for this blog.

What really stood out from our conversation - and his session on "Fear and the Amygdala" - was how disembodied our tefilla is today.  Think about how you use your bodies when you pray.   You might bow a few times, or kiss your tzizit, and some of you may shuckle (sway), but think about it in a more broad perspective, most of us are not so aware of our bodies when we daven.  One result of this approach is that the emphasis on the prayer experience is about the intellect and the mind, and not the body.  Such an approach would explain perhaps why so many people are bored (for they my seek a more emotionally charged outlet) and why others (who do connect intellectually) bring books to read while in synagogue.

Hebrew and Day Schools are producing disembodied daveners (Read more about embodied cognition here, as it pertains to literary theory). I hope to develop over the coming weeks my thesis how the current approaches and traditions for teaching davening are failing in schools and how and educators and reapproach this difficult and sacred topic by embracing a mind/body pedagogy.

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