A Response to Those Protesting Yoga in Schools. ~ Miki Bowers

Via on Dec 23, 2012

 yoga for kids

To Those Against Teaching Yoga in Schools,

I’m attempting to come from a space of love, since that’s what I’m about to ‘preach’ to you. This letter is to your fear, not the place of love that I know is buried somewhere deep inside of you (let’s call that God).

The New York Times published an article regarding a battle against yoga in Encinitas, California: “parents said they were concerned that the exercises might nudge their children closer to ancient Hindu beliefs.”

Outlined within is the intolerance of a practice the persecutors know absolutely nothing about. More specifically, they’ve attacked Ashtanga Yoga and meditation, accusing the practice of having ulterior motives to turn children into Hindus. Thanks to Ashtanga, there are fewer and fewer things that enrage me, but this ignorant witch-hunt has pulled me close.

This type of behavior is exactly what influenced my decision leave the church. Judgment permeates every religious circle I’ve ever encountered. How is that judgment working out for us? As a church, a society, a culture, a country, a planet? Not so well. Every bit of conflict arises from intolerance. Beneath it all is a need to make someone wrong.

I practice Ashtanga Yoga. I’m unaware of the belief systems of those whom I practice with, but many of us are deeply spiritual people. And nowhere in the practice do I find myself worshipping anything or anyone. It’s the practice that gets me to a place where I can show devotion in whichever way I choose. It’s up to the practitioner to determine what that devotion is pointed toward.

Children fortunate enough to have exposure to yoga are more calm and peaceful. They respond rather than react. They learn tolerance of others and acceptance of themselves. They learn that peace and happiness is found within themselves, not in external desires. Yes, they do learn to turn inward and to know their true selves. As the New York Times article points out, “They’re teaching children how to meditate and how to look within for peace and for comfort. They’re using this as a tool for many things beyond just stretching.”

How is this a threat to Christianity?

Christians believe in the Holy Spirit who, once invited, dwells within. Are we supposed to ignore that part of the deal? God is found in silence. Silence is found in a still mind. And a still mind is absolutely only found in meditation and turning inward. This is where God is and where He intends to meet us.

Jesus is love. That is the entire message. He did not spend His time pointing fingers and calling out all the ‘sinners’ around Him. Ironically, it was the Pharisees whom He chastised. Which are you emulating: Jesus or his persecutors? When are we going to get that intolerance is the root of our suffering?

I challenge you to review the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras. The Gita and the Bible are so similar. The message is the same: love and selflessness. And the Sutras speak nothing of worshiping anyone. There are no rules, simply wisdom and explanation of what keeps us bound in suffering. It’s a guide to peace, not a mandate.

Ultimately, consider how this battle impacts the children caught in the middle. The intolerance and fear that has this religious group in an outrage is being passed on. Children are learning to fight rather than love. They are learning exclusion and supremacy. They are learning that the peace they find on those moments of asana (yoga postures) and meditation are wrong. How can peace ever be wrong? What has you so afraid that you must make it so?

love lessons

It’s a basic human need to cling to belief systems and symbolic rites that tie us to a particular group. We fear annihilation, so we cling to standing systems to preserve our identities. This is where your fear comes from. Your belief system is not wrong, and neither is yoga. You can be a devout Christian and practice the Asthanga Primary Series (the first series of six, consisting of 76 postures) everyday of your life. There is no conflict. And no Hindu or Christian god is going to smite you.

“Russell Case, a representative of the Jois Foundation, said the parents’ fears were misguided: ‘They’re concerned that we’re putting our God before their God. … They’re worried about competition. But we’re much closer to them than they think. We’re good Christians that just like to do yoga because it helps us to be better people.’”

Learn about what you’re afraid of and see that ignorance is the fuel that has you crying ‘blasphemy.’ You will find love in yoga. It’s a shame that that has not been my experience in the church.

 

 

Close-UpMiki’s vision is to live in a way that promotes spiritual and consciousness expansion.  Her passion lies in helping others develop mental and physical habits that allow them to find their true Self.  In this way, one more soul is reconnected to the whole.  She is an Ashtanga yogi, writer, consciousness coach, mother, ex-wife, trail runner, speaker, ranch hand, aircraft mechanic, cook, mystic, listener, healer and a bad ass.  Find her on tumblr, twitter and facebook.

~

Ed: Brianna B.

 

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23 Responses to “A Response to Those Protesting Yoga in Schools. ~ Miki Bowers”

  1. Padma Kadag says:

    You know…I don't know what the folks in Encinitas are actually saying in their protest and any misinformation on their part could be addressed. But I find this issue to be very very interesting because it may force those who practice yoga for a better butt to realize that the actual roots and purpose of yoga is Hindu, Tantric, Shaivic….and so on.In doing so then you must address the seperation of chuch and state. Which is a good thing. Just as my children should not be praying to Jesus in schoo for the "obvious" benefits that doing so wil make a place for them in heaven and not hell. In a public school yoga shoud not be practiced as a curriculum but rather as an individual choice. If your child will not do yoga on their own free will then they are too young.

  2. Miki Bowers says:

    Hey Padma!
    The article points out that there is an 'opt out' for the parents and students. I agree that all should have a choice, and in this case, they do. While yoga does have its roots, there isn't a subconscious brainwashing that occurs with the practice. My take on the article is that the church is afraid that simply moving through the postures will cause such brainwashing. If someone wants to practice for a better butt, then go for it. There is so much more to yoga than the asanas, but it truly can be left at just that if one so desires. I recently went on a Catholic ACTS retreat (that's a whole other story), with little Catholic experience. It's so interesting that the word 'meditate' is a part of their regular vocabulary. But here, it's blasphemous. Regardless of the roots, yoga's ultimate purpose it to end suffering caused by the mind. Once the mind is still, meditate on whom, or whatever, you like. Thank you for your comment :)

  3. Padma Kadag says:

    Miki…I think for those that know the purpose of yoga in it's "purest" form the benefits are understood. But those benefits require faith. The problem I see is the natural inclination of those that practice a faith want to share it with the world and in doing so when the step is taken to make it part of a curriculum in a public school then we must rely on the Constitution. I understand your point regarding the end of suffering and that is what, I assume, is behind the Fundamentalist Christian lobby for school prayer to Jesus. People can pray at school and do yoga at school…it should not be funded by the State by paying a teacher to to teach yoga, in my opinion, and I think that is what the Constitution protects. I do not think that we can take the "religion" out of yoga. I would be interested in other view points.

    • Miki Bowers says:

      I agree that those of certain faiths want to share their peace. That's what we are all hungry for. It's my life's work to help others find it. Any type of maintained practice requires faith, but no one has to mandate what you place your faith in. You compared this to prayer in schools…have that be an option too! The key here is 'option'. There is a significant difference in praying to Jesus in school versus performing a yoga sequence, however (but please understand that I'm for both options). Gyms all over the US affirm this in their butt-firming, hot vinyasa classes. It is what you make it. Practitioners leave with a sense of calm that they crave.
      I cringe at the word 'religion' in reference to yoga. Religion consists of man-made rules derived from a human interpretation of scripture. The intolerance you find in religion and doctrine is exactly the source of this conflict. That doesn't exist in yoga. I couldn't walk into most churches and sit in lotus position with my fingers in the form of a mudra. Even if I was praying to Jesus, they would not understand and their fear would drive me out. However, you may walk into almost any yoga studio and remind everyone of Jesus' love for them and you would be welcomed with no intent to 'straighten' you out. Separation of church and state or yoga and faith isn't the answer. Separation is the problem. We are all the same. We all come from the same source. Our fear and intolerance is what screams for separation. If your way is the absolute truth, then what would you have to fear?

      • Timmy_Robins says:

        I think you are being rather naive yoguis can be just as hostile and dogmatic as any other religious fanatic.

        "Separation of church and state or yoga and faith isn't the answer. Separation is the problem. We are all the same."

        So, in the case of yoga in schools do you think that yoga classes should include the faith part? Because if that is the case then it would clearly be a violation of the first amendment.

        You say there is nothing religious about yoga but in most cases it is very clear that it is based on a belief system that promotes certain values as ideal . This kind of yoga has no place in a school.

      • Padma Kadag says:

        If a child wants to pray in school or do yoga at recess they legaly can do so. Frankly, I would not want my child instructed by a teacher in "spiritual" matters in a public school. This should be a family practice. I support the seperation of church and state completely. I think that yoga falls under this. The problem is that western yoga is so secularized that it is nothing more than "namaste" and asanas with little or no faith and pure motivation. So if you can convince the State that yoga is nothing more than a style of exercise and nothing more then maybe it could be accepted.

  4. Miki Bowers says:

    I honestly have not encountered much on the spiritual side of yoga beyond what I personally seek out. There is not mention of Hinduism or any type of deity in any class I've attended. Perhaps this is where the disconnect is. As I mentioned before, you truly can have asana without any type of religion or belief system. I would bet a good portion of the yoga teachers in the school system could be found next to the music and art teacher at church on Sunday. Yoga is not religious. A yogi is not a Hindu, nor are all Hindus yogis.

    I will not claim that I am not lacking naivete in many things. And I understand that not all will agree with me. If all I've managed to do is to cause a little wonderment, then that I have gratitude for.

    • Kathleen says:

      Miki,

      I would agree with you, and go so far to say that yoga could even be practiced with a Christian slant (obviously not in a public school) if the students were so-minded.

  5. Krista says:

    I am relatively new to Ashtanga yoga, but have made it a dedicated part of my daily life. One thing I have noticed is in the west there is no truly understood definition of what Yoga is overall. This is a very difficult subject, because Yoga itself IS spiritual by the definition of the word and comes from Hinduism and Buddhism. The only reason we in the west think spirituality and asanas can be separated is because it has kind of been bastardized into whatever form whatever teacher decides to take, but is still called "Yoga". Whether it be Power, Gentle, Bikram…etc. Guruji didn't even like the word power ever to be used to describe Yoga, yet it is one of the most popular type classes people attend. I think the greatest gift we can give to children is Yoga, but to promote it in schools and stay true to the definition is simply too far for most hardcore Christians or conservative religious people in general. Most studios have a Buddha statue in their studio or have some kind of depictions of Hindu gods and Sanskrit…which the Christian community sees as infringing on their religion. I think Yoga needs to be taught as simply "moving meditation" or something else for people of all religions to accept it more. Sad thing is, I've read that even meditation has been seen to be bad by religious leaders because it can "let the devil inside your head". I don't even know what to say to that….

    • Krista says:

      Also just to add, I think many of us who are searching for "true" spiritual peace assume other people are too. This concept is actually something that is very difficult for some people to understand because they see things only in basic colors and not shades of color, if that makes sense. I work in a very conservative environment in the military and am surrounded by very religious people a lot… when I talk to many of them about their religion there is more of a desire to live their life according to what they believe they are supposed to do to avoid sinning or angering God rather than a quest for real spiritual peace. In order for someone to appreciate yoga and meditation, they have to have a very different view on their goals in life for themselves and their children than that.

      • Miki Bowers says:

        I love what you have to say Krista. Your second post is extremely insightful. I guess my assumption in all this is that one can maintain themselves and what they believe regardless of their surroundings. If something is truth for you, it cannot be threatened. My intention in life is to help others find peace. I respect the origins of yoga, and I believe one can have a yogic lifestyle with no religious attachment whatsoever. I live such a life. I love looking at Buddha statues because they make me smile. I love the Sanksrit language because it's beautiful. I practice asana to align my body and bring prana (breath/life source) deeply into my being. I study the sutras for their boundless wisdom. I do the same with A Course in Miracles (Christian-based wisdom). And I am in no way aligned with a religion. But, I'm not claiming that this is for everyone or that other paths are wrong. My point is that there doesn't have to be a religion or separation. We put these things in place out of fear. Love is ultimately the message of it all. That being said, the mental calmness and clarity that comes from practicing yoga, as a physical practice only, can benefit anyone. And God can be left completely out of it. This is what is presented in schools. I absolutely agree that school isn't the place for teachings on God. And, if a yoga practice is accompanied by religious references, it needs to be stopped. But I've not heard of that being the case. I can't imagine these students even know who Krishna is!

        It's also interesting to note that meditation is a common Catholic term. While I understand that not everyone agrees with Catholicism either, it is a huge religious influence.

        I could see how meditation could be scary for some, though. The distinction is that it doesn't let the devil inside your head as much as it is you sitting down and getting real with what seems like the devil already living in there! People don't want to see themselves. It's scary. But only in facing and knowing yourself can you get to the stillness beneath.

        What you've said about seekers versus the religious lands with me. Thank you for that.

  6. Padma Kadag says:

    Encinitas has the Self-Realization center there on the cliffs of ParamahansaYogananda. been there for years and years. The people of Encinitas seem to be quite proud of it and accepting of it. I use to surf at the break down the cliff from the center back in the 70's. Appropriately named "Swami's".

    • Miki Bowers says:

      I want to surf. And I want to surf while visiting a self-realization center. I'm putting that on my Christmas list :).

  7. Kathleen says:

    A part of me genuinely wonders if the backlash from Christianity to ideas like this doesn't come from personal action. Most of the Christians that I have met who are in opposition to ideas like teaching yoga in schools are the kind of Christians who feel compelled to convert everyone they meet. Naturally, I assume they feel that everyone feels the same compulsion that they do about their respective brands of religion/spirituality. They cry out against teaching ideas that could be remotely connected with another religions because they see it as a "gateway crime" to conversion—it is what they would do themselves if the roles were reversed.

    Personally, I enjoy the notion of adapting Christianity and yoga to be practiced together (if Christianity and yoga are your cup of tea).

    • Miki Bowers says:

      What I think holds us back is the assumption that it's all-or-nothing in what you believe. I've certainly been there as a Christian. Christians are taught that their job is to spread the Good Word. But the Good Word isn't meant to be shoved down an others throat. It can only be delivered through love. Which is what Jesus did. The way followers have gone about religion throughout history is with aggression and assuming supremacy, which has love no where in it. You bring up a great point, Kathleen. As passionately as I believe in love, religious fanatics feel with the same intensity what they believe. Oooohhh..love fanatic! Gotta add that to my bio ;).

  8. Omiya says:

    I think it is important to point out that these parents are not advocating Christianity, they simply want to emphasize the secular nature of schools and the separation of church and state. I am Indian and I practice Ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga is inseparable from Hinduism. I can see their point of view that they don't necessarily want their children reciting Sanskrit prayers to God before and after they practice yoga. Yoga in schools is fine, but keep the mantras out. If these children decide to pursue Ashtanga yoga of their own accord then they can learn it then. But I don't think it should be in the schools in this form as the kids don't . This is akin to putting the Lords Prayer back into schools (which I did not like reciting). Spirituality is all well and good but these are children in a public school. It is important to have perspective.

    • Miki Bowers says:

      The style of yoga is Ashtanga-based. It isn't 90 minutes of the full Primary Series. I promise that if they were saying the Sanskrit prayers, the yoga teacher would have been thrown out immediately. I practice Ashtanga and am in no way Hindu.

    • Miki Bowers says:

      Absolute comments such as "Ashtanga yoga is inseparable from Hinduism" is what breeds intolerance. Such statements reduce us to mindless followers incapable of choice. I recently sat in a Catholic church surrounded by women reciting the Rosary for 45 minutes several mornings in a row. I meditated. I allowed the beauty of what was happening around to simply be. It didn't turn me into a Catholic. If my Ashtanga practice has turned me into a Hindu, that's news to me.

    • Krista says:

      The lineage of Yoga is based in Hinduism and Buddhism and that is fact. I think we as westerners sometimes try to stray away from that since many of us are looking for a code of spirituality that doesn't have a religious title. When I say the opening mantra in Sanskrit, I understand that I am doing something that has Hindu lineage but I think that is beautiful and I respect it. This is not to say one has to be a Hindu to practice Yoga, just as one does not have to be a Christian to sit in a church and pray. In either case, you must have an open mind.

  9. Gus says:

    Jesus was a Yogi. Look it up. Yoga is the practical means by which one may celebrate one's spirituality and religion. Yoga is older than Hinduism. Why don't more people understand this??

  10. Miki Bowers says:

    LOVE that Gus!

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