February 23, 2013

5 Reasons Why Yoga Might Be Too Religious for Schools.

We can’t strip yoga of its transformational properties with any integrity and respect for the practice; I think that’s okay but it does make the public school relationship a potential challenge.

I teach yoga in schools.

I love it, the kids love it and the teachers love it. When I leave the classroom, kids are calm, focused and ready to learn. I believe my classes support them on multiple levels: physical, emotional, social, mental and spiritual.

Whoa, wait a minute. Did I just say the “s” word?

Yup. And that’s why I can almost understand the concerns of the parents who have filed a lawsuit to try and prevent yoga from being taught in the public schools in Encinitas.

Yoga promoters argue that yoga’s not a religion because it doesn’t require belief in a particular god or doctrine. Still, I can understand why people might think yoga smells kind of religious.

Because it does.

1. Yoga is infused with sacredness.

I don’t talk about Hindu gods and goddesses in my kids’ classes; I don’t talk about the divine at all. Still, there’s an underlying current in any good yoga class, a sense of the ancient and the sacred.

And it’s hard to avoid the core concept of “shining your light.” This is not some kind of secular spark, like the kind you make in Tech Ed—this is something else.

Deep breathing evokes the spirit within; hands folded at the heart invites prayer and quiet time with eyes closed, seeking peace, is meditation.

I suspect some atheists find these practices acceptable. Others may not.

2. Yoga teachers tend to be spiritual people.

Most of us who have chosen to entwine our lives with yoga find deep meaning and resonance in rituals including chanting, breath work, meditation and spiritual disciplines.

That’s how I feel—it’s not what I say, especially in public schools. But it’s who I am.

So, sure, I can see some atheist parents saying, “Hold on a sec. What’s this all about?”

When the folks in Encinitas looked into the roots of Ashtanga yoga, they found some things that concerned them. Fair enough.

3. Yoga runs parallel to some streams of Eastern religion.

Look no further than these pages to see what I mean. Yoga practice and the religious idea that the divine is within are close bedfellows.

If you don’t believe in the divine, this relationship might be troubling. Actually, I could see conservative Christian parents getting concerned about this one but, so far, it’s the atheists who seem ready to raise the ante.

Tilt the lingo as you will (no Sanskrit spoken here) but that’s not being transparent. Yoga has deep connections to Eastern religions, although its development in the West has been influenced by other things such as British gymnastics.

Yoga has proven useful in and adaptable to nearly any population and setting—I don’t believe this is because we’re secular beings—I believe it’s because we’re spiritual beings.

4. Yoga is much more than stretching.

This is why it’s been co-opted from the gym to the classroom. Yoga changes the way kids feel and behave; it may well be good for the body but that’s only a surface benefit.

Yoga doesn’t replace the need for aerobic exercise and recess and P.E. don’t replace the need for yoga.

We can’t strip yoga of its transformational properties with any integrity and respect for the practice; I think that’s okay, but it does make the public school relationship a potential challenge.

We have to decide: Are we okay with kids doing spiritual work in schools?

I know I am; others might not agree.

5. Asana is only the beginning.

By teaching asana (physical postures) to children, we are building the foundation for a practice that has the goal of enlightenment or samadhi, meaning a change in consciousness or a merger with the divine.

I’m not suggesting anyone would go there in schools; heck, many of us who teach and practice yoga never get anywhere near there. Still, the physical practice is believed to be a gateway.

For many of us, that gateway holds great promise and allure. But is it right to lead children through that gateway without parental guidance and consent?

It feels deeply right to me in some ways—but I have some lingering doubts.

I feel the same way about teaching Christian concepts in Sunday School: kids are susceptible and trusting—we have to approach that with great honor and respect.


Look, I want to keep teaching in the schools—I’ll keep it simple and straightforward when I’m in the classroom. But let’s not pretend there isn’t an issue here that deserves our thoughtful consideration and respect for divergent viewpoints.

If we believe kids today could use spiritual bolstering and yoga provides that, let’s name it and claim it.

We might just find space in the law and doctrine to stand in our truth.



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Ed: Bryonie Wise


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