QUESTION: I'd like to pray, but I don't understand Hebrew that well.
ANSWER: The Chabad siddur (prayer book) and the Artscroll siddur are excellent and helpful translations. Or you may wish to use the Metzudah siddur, which translates phrase by phrase, rather than facing pages. I would suggest maybe setting aside ten minutes a day before prayer, studying a piece at a time, perhaps blessing by blessing in the Standing Prayer (Shemona Esrei), staying with the same piece until you understand it when you read it in Hebrew and then going on to the next. Another potential resource is to ask your local rabbi's wife (this in response to a woman's question) to help you with the siddur. Either she'll say she is too busy or else she'll be thrilled; I've never heard of anything in between.
QUESTION: "How does an expecting mom meditate and pray for the health and spirituality of her developing baby?"
ANSWER: Maximum exposure to the positive and minimum exposure to the negative. The sound of Torah is important. Recite aloud lots of Psalms. In the second chapter of Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zachai describes the essential superiority of the great Rabbi Yosi as, "happy is she who bore him"; the Talmud tells us that his mother, while pregnant, used to stand outside the yeshiva so that the fetus could hear the sounds of Torah learning!
QUESTION: "If there is something that you want, and you pray for it every day, what else can you do to help your prayers come true? I have already given to charity, and I pray for it every day and night. Also, if I get this prayer, it will make me more religious. How much do you have to pray for something before it comes true?"
ANSWER: If you think about it, you are asking, "How do I bribe G-d?" You can try, but there are no guarantees. You don't deny G-d His free choice, do you? The best method is to increase in good deeds so as to make yourself even more into someone that G-d will be pleased to please. Charity is excellent, as are any other deeds of helping others, and so is increasing the time you devote to studying Torah. Increased focus and determination in the commandments you fulfill every day will also help. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that we owe G-d, not that G-d owes us. He owns us, not owes us, and so He can do with us as He sees fit. Hopefully He will see fit to grant you your sincere wishes.
QUESTION: "I'm interested in learning more about deeper kavanot (mystical intentions) for our day by day mitzvot. What book in English would you recommend? I would also like to know if there's any book about different segulot and special prayers (like for parnassa and others)."
ANSWER: There are no books in English specifically for either of these needs that I know about. Parts of "Tanya" (Kehot) and "Derech HaShem" (Feldheim) might be appropriate for kavanot, and some English editions of Psalms list which psalms are segulot for which occasions. Hope this helps.
QUESTION: "What are some kabbalistic segulot or advice concerning healing from illness? What should a person do if G-d forbid, they are facing a very poor medical prognosis, in terms of faith in G-d and accepting G-d's decree? How should one pray for a favorable outcome?"
ANSWER: The best thing to do is to increase in merit in G-d's eyes, by increasing in mitzvah observance and Torah study, in quantity or quality or both. This can and should be combined with sincere prayer.
Doctors are commanded by G-d to heal, as such they can expect some divine aid in their healing (if they are sufficiently humble - a rare state in today's doctors). They are not permitted to not heal, and anything they do or say in that regard is beyond their mandate and not necessarily authoritative.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that instead of praying for what we think we need, we should pray that G-d send us what He knows that we need. You will do the best you can to "help your case", but at the same time we have to remember and trust that G-d knows exactly what He is doing.
QUESTION: "How can I tell if I have truly met my soul mate, and can I pray for a particular person?"
ANSWER: You can and should pray that you will meet your soul mate and that you will recognize him (otherwise known as: "the right person at the right time").
To pray that a particular person should turn out to be your soul mate is a classic case of a prayer in vain. Who your soul mate is has, by definition, already been determined. So you would be praying for something that already is and can't be changed - like praying over a fetus in the eighth month that it be a particular gender.
QUESTION: "What does the Torah say about living a fulfilled life besides doing the mitzvot or studying or meditating?"
ANSWER: King Solomon, presumed to be the wisest person that ever lived, concluded his most profound work with the words, "Fear G-d and observe His commandments because this is the whole purpose of man."
From a Jewish point of view, there is nothing other than "doing the mitzvot or studying or meditating" unless you wish to count deeds of kindness as separate or in addition to the mitzvot. States of "enlightenment" or "bliss", so central to other religions are considered secondary or non-essential in Judaism, and sometimes even a trap. Actions are what count, not feelings. Most important is to not be wrapped up in oneself.
QUESTION: "I would like to know about some of the prayer rituals of Kabbalists. I have just recently been introduced to the religion and was informed that you face the east in order to pray and also when you cast spells. My question is, if so, why do you face the east?"
ANSWER: Casting spells is forbidden in our religion. We do not face in a specific direction of the compass when we pray. Nor are our prayers to be considered rituals; they are conversations with G-d, the Creator. We understand what the words mean, and we mean them when we say them. In our communal prayers, we face towards Jerusalem. In Europe and USA that means facing east, while in South Africa, for example, the Jews face north when they pray. In Iraq they face west. etc.
QUESTION: "Why do men and women sit on different sides of the room?"
ANSWER: Usually the room is divided only for special and holy occasions such as prayer in synagogue, the main instance where you might have run into this. That is so the men and women don't get distracted by each other, and can focus more clearly on the One for whom the prayers are intended.
QUESTION: "I have been investigating the issue of Yoga and Halacha (Jewish Law) for many years. My sense is that although there are disagreements, the majority opinion seems to be that Yoga is fine for the physical exercises (including breathing), but that we are to avoid the 'philosophy', the mantras, and so forth."
ANSWER: Any Jew aware of the "philosophy" on which Yoga is based should be wary of getting involved in the exercises, even when they appear to be isolated.