Our Stories

Jewish Embodiment as a Path to Well-being

Yoga for Freedom • 4th Street Yoga • Berkeley, CA

Reconnecting with Body, Soul & Spirit

“The vital desire of the soul (nefesh) is to be free in her movement, in her physical movement and spiritual movement, with a desire for elevating and renewal.”
-Rav Avraham Isaac Kook, Olat Re’iyah, commentary on ‘Matir Asurim’

By Julie Emden, Founder of Embodied Jewish Learning and Former Jewish LearningWorks Staff Member

My Jewish soul has always been in motion.  From my earliest memories of swaying and singing Hinai MaTov at religious school and camp; to years of dancing at the Cincinnati JCC in my youth; modern dance classes in college and beyond; to graduate studies in movement-based expressive arts at Tamalpa Institute, my joy in the experience of dance, movement, song and study via my whole being has been a throughline. The warm stones of the cliffs on the Northern California coast became my Western Wall. In my performance rituals, Hebrew songs and prayers spontaneously arose from deep within. My soul’s desire to be ‘free in my movement’ has emanated from my blood and my bones from the beginning. These experiences set me forth on a 25-year journey of guiding Jewish embodiment practices, supporting individuals to access their vitality on all levels of being.

Upon graduating from Tamalpa, I offered movement and expressive arts at a peace camp for teens from the Middle East for four summers in the late 1990s/early 2000s. My journey as a Jewish Educator was bolstered early on by Teen Educator Fellowships (Tikea) with Jewish LearningWorks’ (formerly the Bureau of Jewish Education), and with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality (IJS).  Mentors from Tikea, who had become my colleagues, approached me to pilot Jewish Wellness programming at Bay Area JCCs and the Embodied Jewish Learning (EJL) Initiative was born as a program of Jewish LearningWorks in 2012. With the support of UpStart and philanthropic leaders in the field of health and wellness, EJL became an independent non-profit organization in 2017. The San Francisco Bay Area community of peers, mentors, students and supporters provided the soil, sun and water for EJL to flourish.

EJL’s mission is to elevate the wisdom of the body as a resource for balance and well-being in Jewish life. From the beginning, with “Yoga, Art and Sacred Text”, offered through Berkeley Midrasha and Tikea, we have provided students with new skills, knowledge, inspiration and resources for managing stress in their day-to-day lives. Countless program partners in Jewish education, JCCs, independent organizations and camps have approached us over the years to offer our expertise, to write curriculum, and to promote well-being as an integral part of Judaism.

Shabbat ShalOM Moishe House Retreat • Portland, Oregon • Photo credit Rob Corpuz

The Lens of the Body

We live and exist as somatic creatures. EJL is uniquely focused upon the body as the primary entry point for experiences of integrated wholeness — mind, body, heart and soul — in Jewish education. In ancient times, the mind and heart were often referenced as interchangeable. In the same way, we see tending to the body as synonymous with tending to our hearts and our souls. We invite the teachings to live and breathe inside of us, on all levels of being. “Because in truth every person has a unique knowing in the Torah” (Sefat Emet, 1890).

What does it look like? EJL programs welcome and engage all aspects of our being so that we can experience ourselves as whole and holy. Classes interweave movement, song, drawing, creative writing, witnessing and reflection in community. When we study through the lens of the body, we offer an exciting way to engage with Jewish life.

Resilience in Our Journeys

“During COVID-19… EJL’s embodied practices offered me a path to reach for deeper connections to Judaism and God, and to meet each day with an energized practice of strength, compassion and joy.”
-SK, Participant in EJL Zoom Classes, 2020
Gather & Grow Teachers’ Convening • Sonoma, CA • Photo Credit Eli Zaturanski

Whole-being awareness is essential now, more than ever, as we face the intensity of new challenges, distress and trauma in our world. In 2020, when the world retreated indoors, we held space via zoom for thousands of individuals to access their spirituality, well-being and embodied resilience through weekly classes, online retreats, and through our newly created Embodied Jewish Wisdom Network, a global collective for leaders and guides of embodiment in the Jewish world. Immediately after October 7, when new requests for movement and healing sessions came to EJL, and to so many of our embodiment leaders, our Network provided a unique forum for us to share resources and refuel on a body/soul level.

The first step to health and wellness is conscious awareness of our bodies, our thoughts, our feelings, and our habits. When we slow down and place attention on our breath and body, we become present to the moment. With EJL’s approach, we increase our capacity to respond to the difficulties of our times with grounded presence, resourcefulness and compassion. We invite you to check out these resources below and we welcome your questions, inquiries and support! Contact Julie Emden at julie@embodiedjewishlearning.org for more information.

Resources for You

More About Julie Emden

Julie Emden, E-RYT-500, Halprin Practitioner, is the Founding Director of Embodied Jewish Learning (EJL) and the Embodied Jewish Wisdom Network, a global collective of leaders and seekers of movement practices infused with Jewish wisdom. A graduate of multiple fellowship and teaching certification programs related to her work as a Jewish educator and movement/expressive artist (including certifications in Dance Midrash, Yoga and Jewish Spirituality, Movement-based Expressive Arts, and Iyengar-based Yoga), Julie has over 25 years of experience guiding others in somatic explorations of Jewish wisdom teachings as a resource for living in balance and wholeness.

Julie has served on faculty and presented for various organizations. EJL hosts an Advanced Teacher Training; a Global Directory and Class Calendar for leaders of embodiment in the Jewish world; resources on Sefaria; podcasts, classes, workshops, coaching, mentorship and more. More info at www.embodiedjewishlearning.org.