Dear Rachel,

I feel like I’m very unsettled between two worlds—that of the Torah world and that of the non-religious world. Yes, I know what I should be doing. I’m learning all this stuff that I didn’t know before, and yet I feel like I’ll break if I try to do everything at once. My rabbis and rebbetzins are kind and wonderful and tell me to go slow, but it feels so weird to be straddling two worlds.

I’m still wearing pants (and not skirts) because I’m not ready to give those up yet. I’m still going to non-kosher restaurants with my secular family, though not eating the food. I haven’t told them yet that I’m not going to go to those restaurants anymore. Help! It feels crazy and scary.

Dear Awesome Woman,

I’m right there with you! You’re making some really hefty changes in your life, your paradigm is shifting, and if you move too fast, it won’t be healthy for you. I’m so glad that your rabbis and rebbetzins are telling you to go slow. Your keli, or “vessel” (which is your body and being), is stretching to receive all these changes that you are making. We don’t want that vessel to break. Please continue to ask your mentors (or if you haven’t, then begin now) what is the best mitzvah to take on and when. This way, you know that you are moving forward on your Torah journey but not overwhelming yourself. Slow and steady is better than fast and breaking.

I also have three other suggestions for you to help ease your journey:

1. Remove the “shoulds.”

Say this: “I should be wearing skirts.” Notice what that feels like in your body. Do you feel a constriction in your head or chest? Do you feel like your body wants to turn and run? This is the fight/flight or freeze reaction being triggered in your body. This is not great for your health unless you’re in physical danger.

Now say this: “I could be wearing skirts.” Notice what this sentence feels like in your body. Less tightening? A more neutral feeling? Do other thoughts flow, like: “I could be wearing skirts, but the rebbetzin said it’s best if I wait and take it slow.” Or, “I could be telling my family that I don’t eat at those restaurants anymore, but the rabbi said it’s not time to stop yet because my family is already feeling my distancing from them in so many ways, and adding this extra distance between us won’t help. They don’t seem ready to switch to going to only kosher restaurants for me but this may come in time.”

The journey that you are on is very courageous. When you lessen the internal judgement and pressure by using the word “could” instead of “should,” you will feel safer moving forward.

Toggle between the two words in your thoughts and even jot them down in sentences. You’ll experience a sense of kindness to your body and being. This kindness is not only a healthier choice but opens up your mind to hearing your intuition, your “soul speak,” as I call it. It can help lead you forward on your journey, making wise decisions in interactions with others as you are guided by your mentors.

When you have this kindness within you, it also radiates outwards to others. It is a felt energy, and will make your loved ones feel less threatened by the changes that you are making.

2. Feel the vulnerability and fear in your body.

Feel your feet solidly resting on the floor and wiggle your toes. Put your attention on your feet and toes wiggling. Exhale all the way out and count to four before breathing in. Do this a few times.

Now take a look inward—where do you feel the vulnerability and fear of change in your body? Is it in your chest, a tight feeling? Or maybe it feels like a bunch of rocks or a single boulder sitting in your stomach. Wherever that sensation sits, put a hand or two on that area and just breathe gently while noticing. The energy will flow. Maybe an image will come to mind or you’ll get an intuitive thought.

You can also bring a tzaddik into your imagination or a compassionate mentor to sit by your side. Imagination is very helpful in calming down your nervous system.

Recognize that you are very vulnerable now in the midst of all the changes that you are making. You are like a caterpillar that is losing its identity and forming a new one, that of a butterfly. This is exciting, as well as new and scary. Witnessing the somatic sensations of your body and allowing that emotional energy to flow helps you step forward with more ease and health on your journey.

3. Know (and do) what brings you joy.

Stay creative, fun and playful on your journey to becoming observant. Don’t let your devotion to religion knock that out of you; be you and even a better version of you with Torah. You may have already let go of the playful, creative side of you once you became an adult, but we all need to embrace some parts of being a child in order to stay healthy and joyful in our lives.

Fun and play means different things for everyone. Some people are introverted and some extroverted; some love art and some gardening; some love cooking, and others love nature. What do you love?

Know your “body compass.” This exercise is based off the tool from author and coach mentor Martha Beck. Draw a straight line on a piece of paper. On the left side of the line, draw a sad face and write -10. On the right side of the line, draw a smiley face and write +10. In the center of the line, put the word neutral and write the number zero.

Conjure up activities in your mind and place them hypothetically on this chart according to what you feel in your body. If you feel an uplift in your body, a lightness in your chest, a smile on your face, then rate them close to the +10.

Other activities that may feel like a drain or tightness in your chest—tension in your body—place those closer to the -10. You can even rate them; I have found that my clients intuitively know whether certain activities are a +7, +5, -4, -2, etc. It’s unexplainable, but very cool to see how instinctively we know ourselves.

The point is to notice what things you love to do and to do more of them. Of course, they need to be in line with Judaism because that is where the Jewish soul wants to be. If you love to sing, gather friends and make a farbrengen. If you love to exercise, find a proper way to do that. There are plenty of other ideas out there, too. Make time to do what brings you joy.

You may notice that there are things that may bring a negative, constricting feeling in your body, but you still choose to do them, such as laundry or chores when that doesn’t feel uplifting. Not everything we choose to do will bring us joy—doctor’s appointments don’t bring me joy, for example, but I believe that they are necessary for maintaining good health. Using the body compass is just a great way to remember to bring joy into our lives—to do fun things that activate a feeling of vitality in our souls.

Living a Torah life doesn’t mean losing yourself or your individuality. It means channeling those unique things that make you who you are into living a life aligned with G‑d’s will, to live your best life.