I Am the Tree of Life: My Jewish Yoga Book

I Am the Tree of Life: My Jewish Yoga Book by Rabbi Mychal Copeland

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Sarah Aronson

“How might it feel to stand at Mount Sinai? To dance at the Red Sea?

The narrative, written by Michal Copeland (a rabbi and certified yoga instructor) invites the reader to imagine the stories of the Torah in a most unique way: by pairing the stories with poses from the ancient Hindu tradition.

For each pose, Rabbi Copeland guides readers through simple instructions that invite us to reach, pause and reflect as we read. In these uncertain times, what a pleasure this is. Yoga teaches us to pay attention. To breathe deeply. To stretch, meditate, and look within. To slow down. To pause and contemplate the stories referenced and the values they stand for.

Readers will learn how to execute tree pose, crescent moon pose, boat pose, downward dog, camel and others. For this review, I performed all the poses. I found Rabbi Copeland’s instructions easy to follow. I enjoyed thinking about the stories, imagining the characters, and considering the values and settings in the Torah that added context to the pose.

The illustrations, by Andre Ceolin, depict two children, a boy with brown skin and a girl with white skin, demonstrating the poses. Every spread also depicts a simple illustration of the story the pose references. For example, downward dog or tent pose is paired with a brief snapshot of Abraham and Sarah sharing food with travelers, their tent in the background. Star pose accompanies a snapshot of Joseph dreaming. Warrior One is paired with Deborah’s vision that a woman (Yael) would one day use her wit and strength to defeat her enemy.

Is it a little bit of a stretch? ☺ Yes, but it works as a conversation starter to both the practice of yoga and the way we imagine and study the stories of the Torah.

At the end, the narrative concludes: “The Torah is a Tree of Life, and all its paths are peace, shalom. The word shalom means whole, complete and at peace. Your yoga practice can help lead you to a path of shalom.”

I can imagine classrooms and families using this book to begin to practice yoga together. I can also see them using this book to initiate conversations about the meaning of each story. They will enjoy the poses in this book and that quest for shalom. It’s also an example of how different traditions overlap and strengthen each other without appropriation. I Am The Tree of Life is not one story. It offers a gateway to practicing yoga with a Jewish purpose for young readers, families, and groups.

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Sarah Aronson began writing for kids and teens when someone in an exercise class dared her to try. Since then, she has earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and published three stand alone novels: Head Case, Beyond Lucky, and Believe, a young MG series, The Wish List (Scholastic, 2017-2019) as well as the picture book biography, Just Like Rube Goldberg, illustrated by Robert Neubecker, and the forthcoming Brand New Bubbe (Charlesbridge).

When Sarah is not writing or reading (or practicing yoga or riding her bike), she is talking to readers about creativity, writing, social action, and of course, sparkle power! She loves working with other writers in one of her classes at the amazing Highlights Foundation or Writers on the Net (www.writers.com). She currently serves as PAL coordinator for SCBWI-Illinois–and the SCBWI-IL initiative, Read Local. Warning: She overuses exclamation points. When she gets really excited, she makes funny faces and talks with her hands. She lives in Evanston, Illinois. Sign up for her weekly newsletter about the craft of writing on her website: http://www.saraharonson.com.