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?
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.
Mikela Rae‘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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