The dance of Hebrew letters

It is not yoga, neither are its origins perfectly clear.

ILLUSTRATION by Maya Wallach (photo credit: MAYA WALLACH)
ILLUSTRATION by Maya Wallach
(photo credit: MAYA WALLACH)
There is an intriguing and possibly ancient connection between the Hebrew letters and physical movement.
One of the earliest known writers on the subject was Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia, who was born in 1240 in Saragossa, Spain. Abulafia wrote numerous books on Jewish mysticism, much of which was devoted to the deeper meaning of the Hebrew letters. As a result of his studies, Abulafia developed a system of exercises that involved breathing, head and hand movements and various forms of deep concentration.
It is not yoga, neither are its origins perfectly clear. Nonetheless, the similarities between these meditative, physical activities can hardly be ignored. Yoga, Tai Chi and various martial arts practices often assign names to particular postures. Two such postures in yoga and Tai Chi – “peaceful warrior” and “catch bull at four,” for example – involve partially extending both arms and both legs. Anyone who has looked at an Aleph and seen these postures might see similar patterns in all three.
One person who saw such connections is Yehudit Goldfarb. She started teaching Tai Chi in Berkeley, California, in 1987, and was introduced to “the dance of the letters” in Modi’in in 1979. She now teaches what she calls Otiyot Chayot (“Living Letters”) in Safed, where she has lived with her husband, Reuven, since making aliyah in 1993. The scope of this brief article does not allow for an explanation that would do justice to Otiyot Chayot and its deeper meanings, both physical and spiritual.
To find out more about this fascinating practice of movement, breath regulation and meditation, based on the shapes and meanings of Hebrew letters, go to