With each yoga pose, Rachelle Tratt says she finds a new spiritual outlook. Tratt is the founder of the Neshma Project, the first yoga retreat that brings Americans to Israel to embark upon the same spiritual adventure that she has experienced. “Adding an element of yoga while traveling around Israel really allows for people to ground, be present, and then open up to areas of their life and what may be on the trip,” Tratt says.
The Neshama Project, which means soul in Hebrew, was a ten-day trip that saw five Americans tour Israel to meditate in places such as the Bahai Gardens, the Negev and the Dead Sea. Based out of Los Angeles, Tratt partnered with Israeli travel company Puzzle Israel, which provided transportation and personal chefs.
“I feel more myself practicing yoga,” Jessica Bilson, one of the participants, says. “I feel stronger than I’ve ever had in a long time physically and more myself than I have actually felt in quite a while. Practicing yoga over the Old City of Jerusalem might have been my highlight.”
Tratt’s own spiritual journey started long before she landed in Israel. Tratt’s parents met working on a kibbutz in 1973, where they fell in love. Because of this, Tratt says she’s always felt a connection to the Holy Land. When Tratt was nine and living in New York, her mother unexpectedly passed away. “When she passed away, everything changed,” Tratt says. “I've been on a healing journey ever since, finding ways to honor her. And that's where the Neshama Project started - the N is for Nicole and she guides me everyday.”
After what she calls “a few rebellious hiccups” as a teenager, she says she found yoga and has used it ever since to guide her life. Tratt began visiting Israel five years ago when she staffed Taglit-Birthright trips.
She says she was given a blue hamsa necklace as a present, which inspired her to start making jewelry. Importing the hamsas from Israel, she makes necklaces, bracelets, earrings and even dog tags at her home in Venice Beach, California. She uses a typewriter to print personal messages on recycled grocery store bags, which accompany each piece of jewelry. Ten percent of the proceeds are donated to charity.
The retreat with the Neshama Project is the manifestation of her dream of combining her two loves: yoga and Israel.
Perhaps the most unexpected part of the group’s journey were the reactions from Israelis they encountered while practicing yoga. Tratt says they received some strange looks, but also invited people to do yoga with them. Children would even copy their moves while passing by. Their goal was not only to connect spiritually while on the trip, but also to pass this connection along to people they met along the way. The Neshama Project has its second retreat to Israel planned for November.