A Schmear of Yiddish in Your Yoga

Perhaps the greatest thing my late grandmother Binga left me was one simple word: Bashert.

In Yiddish, this means destiny. But in my circle of family and friends it has always loosely implied meant to be. Traditionally, bashert refers to soul mates, but the meaning of the word has expanded. Whether applied to a situation that seems positive or negative from the outside, if something is bashert, it is the way things are supposed to go. And for good reason.

I have come to realize that in my yoga practice, certain asanas on certain days are simply bashert. Varying from day to day, they are either meant to be or they are not. The Sanskrit word for destiny is daivam. I suppose the most yogic way to consider the daily luck of (or lack thereof) physically opening into each attempted asana would be to allow daivam into my practice. Instead, I choose to call upon my own culture and rely on that which is bashert.

Yoga was not passed down to me through my heritage or family. While I grew up with a dog, a cat, a hamster, various birds, and multiple rabbits, I didn’t grow up with a downward dog, an upward dog, a peacock, a stork, or a lion’s breath. In my childhood, gymnastics and swimming provided physical outlets, music and art provided creative outlets, and temple (once in awhile) provide a spiritual outlet. These activities all seemed to fit together separately, but the worlds did not meet.

I found yoga because I was curious. By my early twenties, I was living in Manhattan, and yoga mats slung over the shoulders of passersby made me wonder what the hype was all about. I was intimidated to dive into a class without knowing a single thing about yoga. A friend and I signed up for a one-day, introductory immersion class and that was it. Bashert. In 2004, I’d found my soul mate.

Since then, yoga and I have gone through ups and downs. We’ve had strained wrists, busy travel schedules, and general interruptions. But we are bashert, daivam—undeniably fused—yoga and I.

Born into an observant, Jewish household in the Bronx in 1918, I doubt my Binga ever encountered yoga—or the word daivam—in her own life. If she were still alive, Binga might question me about yoga. She might invite me to demonstrate a few asanas and later warn me to be careful. I might easily lift into a handstand for her one day, and then find myself unable to do so another day.

I can hear Binga now in my mind saying, “It’s okay. I know you can do it.” She was so good at this, reminding me that everything in life will unfold when and how it is supposed to.

About the Author


Karen Shelley lives in Brooklyn, NY and is a fundraising professional for a nonprofit organization that promotes equity and access in education. She received a Master of Arts in English, with an emphasis on nonfiction writing, from the University of Central Florida. Karen practices yoga at YogaWorks NYC with a preference toward Vinyasa. She is inspired by thoughtful sequencing, motivated by arm balances, and energized by inversions. An avid traveler, Karen enjoys learning through experience, particularly when she’s halfway around the world. You can find her on twitter here.

Tagged under: Yoga Practice, Humor