These matters are very deep, and I'm not saying that one infographic is going to resolve the whole issue - but it's hopefully a good start!
If you take a look at the infographic above, you'll see that the Jewish soul is split into 5 distinct parts, and that each part is related to a distinct part of a human being. Levels 4 +5 above are very lofty spiritual levels, and most people never get anywhere near them, in their lifetimes.
So you could say that the real work for us plebs to do is on levels 1-3, nefesh - ruach - neshama.
You can only get to really 'access' the next level up once you've worked on perfecting the level below it, and just to complicate matters, each of these five levels of soul is also split up into five levels - and we have to perfect each one before progressing up the spiritual ladder.
When a Jew does yoga, they're working on their BODY, and fooling themselves that they're perfecting themselves spiritually, too, except the only spiritual 'perfection' that's even attainable via the body is the NEFESH, or most basic soul level that's associated with the body's 'reptilian' or primitive brain. The primitive brain deals with things like eating, sleeping, procreation, temperature and arousal states.
Here's the rub: because practices like yoga come from a spiritually impure, or tamei, place, they trap you in the body or NEFESH level of soul, and don't let you rise up spiritually, to really do things like work on your bad middot and negative character traits (RUACH), or develop your intellect and mind (NESHAMA) to really internalise and understand your Torah (although you could still be learning Torah 18 hours a day...)
Worse, they cut you off from the higher parts of your soul potential, the CHAYA and the YECHIDA, that are the bits that really connect us straight to Hashem, and enable us to pray from the heart. (More on this in another post, BH).
This is only a very partial explanation of what's going on, but Jewish spirituality understands about these five different levels, and all other spiritual traditions do not. That's also why Jews have traditionally put very little emphasis on the body, except as a vehicle for serving the soul and getting closer to God, because they know it's only the beginning of the process.
By contrast, yoga and Eastern spirituality puts all the strength of the soul at the disposal of the body, which is the exact opposite of how things should be, spiritually-speaking.
Let's end with this quote from another article that one of my readers kindly sent me (thanks again, EC!), which provides more food for thought about which 'spiritual' aspects of the human being yoga is really working on:
Science of Yoga author William J. Broad reports that yoga poses have their roots in sexual acts. “The pervasiveness of the sex [surprised me while doing research],” he notes. “Postural yoga turned out to have originated as part of a spiritual tradition rooted in sexual rites.
“After a fair amount of digging, I uncovered a body of poorly known science that shows how aspects of modern yoga –particular styles, poses, and types of breathing–produce surges of sex hormones.
To be continued...