Gentle exercise class blends yoga, tai chi, Judaism

Sue Gurland leads a class of Jewish movement in Silver Spring. Photo by Suzanne Pollak

All of the participants in a Jewish movement class slowly lowered their bodies toward the floor, sending “energy as far down as you can imagine, like roots of a tree,” explained Sue Gurland as she led a group of 23 men and women.

For the next hour, Gurland mixed bits of yoga, tai chi and Judaism to practice what she described as “tai chi meets Kabbalah.”

“Experience the tree that you are, rooted beneath heaven and earth. Know that we are always connected,” Gurland said as she conducted the gentle exercises in a class held at Crossings in downtown Silver Spring.

During her Aug. 3 class, the room was quiet. No music played. Most people closed their eyes as they sought to “get grounded in their bodies,” as Gurland instructed. They used their fingers to tap on their bodies, starting with their heads and working their way to their feet.

“Sense your bodies,” she said.

“I’ve created a new form of Jewish movement to help people connect to their spirituality through their bodies,” said Gurland, who resides in Florida but had lived 30 years in Washington.

The 70-year-old petite woman is an acupuncturist who taught French at Langley High School in McLean, ran a tutoring program for 14 years and was active at Adas Israel Congregation, where she had her bat mitzvah in 2001 when she was in her mid-50s.

Gurland currently is traveling, offering the class at Jewish and health organizations. She was most recently in the Berkshires before arriving in Silver Spring. Her next class is in Richmond.

Miriam Grogan of Silver Spring enjoyed the Monday night experience because it combined “yoga, meditation and qigong in a Jewish way.” Qigong is a Chinese health system that involves posture, breathing and focused intention.

In the class, Gurland referred to trees and then pointed to several examples of trees in Judaism, including the tree of life, the Torah and its rollers and the tree in the Garden of Eden. She also held up a poster of a body with a Jewish star drawn on top, each of its points connected to an element, including fire and water.

Gurland talked of the divine spark she hoped they would experience, perhaps in the form of a tingling sensation, she said. She also discussed shefa, the divine flow, and repairing one’s body.

Gurland has been active in various forms of exercise for many years. Three years ago, while practicing tai chi, she thought of the image of a pine tree. “It was like an ‘aha’ moment, with wood as the center, the pillar,” she said.

She then thought of the four-letter name of God, vertically, and saw that “it forms the shape of a person.”
Gurland said she believes that her movement class will reach those who “don’t feel the connections” to Judaism simply through prayer or synagogue attendance.

If they enjoy the class and go home and practice what they learned, Gurland said, participants will “experience their sense of connection through their bodies in a Jewish way.”

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