Woodbridge teacher brings Judaism to life — through yoga
By Cindy Mindell
WOODBRIDGE – Acting out a Torah portion or celebrating a Jewish holiday, Sherri Sosensky brings yoga to the Jewish classroom as a way to make Judaism come alive for children.
“I am so passionate about my yoga practice, its physical and emotional benefits and how it has positively affected my life in so many ways,” says Sosensky, who discovered yoga more than 10 years ago. “I can’t say enough about what yoga does for the individual, physically and emotionally, the benefits you receive in learning how to breathe properly, learning how to meditate, focus, balance, how to be in the moment and just enjoy your journey and be present in everything that you do.”
A native of Broomhall, Penn., Sosensky moved at age 12 to Waterford when her father was hired by General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton. She earned a BA at the University of Connecticut, where she met her husband, a North Haven native. After marrying, she and Steven settled in Hamden, joining Temple Beth Sholom (TBS). They recently relocated to Woodbridge with their two teenage daughters.
Sosensky served on the TBS board for several years, where she held several positions, including vice president of membership, helping to recruit more than 20 new member families, and president and recording secretary of Sisterhood. She is a lifetime member of Hadassah, currently affiliated with the Cheshire Chapter, serving as co-chair of educational programming. Over the summer, Sosensky was on the organizing committee of the JCC of Greater New Haven Israel Fest and represented TBS at the event. She is involved with the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven Women’s Philanthropy division.
At TBS, Sosensky has been a teacher in the K’tanim program for toddlers and preschoolers for the past four years. Until last June, she taught the synagogue’s third grade Hebrew school class for five years — which is where she first began to combine yoga and Judaism. She then decided to become a certified yoga instructor.
Sosensky began her teacher-training with Lani Rosen-Gallagher at Full of Joy Yoga in New Haven.
“When I started asking Lani, ‘Do you incorporate Torah parshas and the Jewish holidays into your yoga programs?’ she referred me to Kidding Around Yoga,” Sosensky says. The children’s yoga program was created by Haris Lender, daughter of Lender’s Bagels co-founder, Murray Lender z”l. Haris also developed Yoga Yeladim, which touts the only Jewish-themed kids’ yoga program in the U.S.
Over six months, Sosensky trained with Haris in person and via live video, and became a certified and licensed instructor for Kidding Around Yoga (KAY) and Yoga Yeladim, for children ages 2 to 12. As a KAY licensee, she teaches yoga classes to “as many children as I can” of all abilities, she says – to kids and adults in the TBS pre-school, as well as at the Congregation Mishkan Israel Nursery School in Hamden, Ezra Academy in Woodbridge, and in several New Haven area public school systems and childcare centers, yoga studios, arts and community centers, and local Girl Scout troops.
“I don’t only teach the asanas [poses],” she says, “but I also teach my students to breathe, meditate, be kind to themselves and others, and focus to be mindful in and out of school.”
Using the Yoga Yeladim program, Sosensky blends Judaism and mindfulness with Hebrew songs and Jewish holiday-related activities, built around kids’ yoga, dramatic play and poses, and Sosensky’s original short stories.
For example, a Chanukah-themed class might include singing and dancing to the song, “This Little Light of Mine,” where “we’re bringing the light into our hearts and then we’re shining it out to the world and sending that positive energy right back out to the world,” Sosensky says. Kids will listen to a short story about Judah Maccabee, acting it out through yoga poses like Warrior 1 to symbolize Judah Maccabee, then lying on their backs in Candle Pose and holding their legs straight up in the air, flickering them back and forth like the shamash on the Chanukah menorah, she says.
Rosh Hashana is the perfect time to incorporate a new healthy habit like breathing or meditation, Sosensky says. She suggests a simple 10-minute meditation practice, done every day at the same time and in the same place, sitting on the floor cross-legged or in a chair with feet planted on the ground.
“Breathe in and out normally, and think of a mantra for the new year, a word or phrase to repeat silently,” she says. “It can be something like, ‘This is going to be a good year,’ or ‘Sweetness for the new year,’ or ‘Peace, love, and joy for the new year.’”
Sosensky will be teaching several children’s yoga classes at the JCC of Greater New Haven, including a monthly family yoga program together with PJ Library.
For more information: kiddingaroundyoga.com/sherri/.
CAP: Sherri Sosensky uses yoga to impart Jewish teachings