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Parents Threaten to Sue Over Free Yoga in School

in YD News, Yoga in the Classroom

Saying there’s yoga news out of California is like saying there’s a ripe stench wafting from a sweaty Bikram studio, they just belong together. But this less than favorable story of parents looking to sue over free Ashtanga yoga classes at Encinitas elementary schools is a bit shocking.

Did you catch that? Encinitas. Encinitas of all places! The land of Paramahansa Yogananda where the seedling of yoga in the West was planted, where studios of varying styles flourish today and the site John Friend had chosen for his lost Anusaraland. Do you mean to say, there are people in Encinitas that do not like the idea of yoga? Tell us no!

And the parents are miffed for what you might have guessed:

“There’s a deep concern that the Encinitas Union School District is using taxpayer resources to promote Ashtanga yoga and Hinduism, a religion system of beliefs and practices,” the parents’ attorney, Dean Broyles, told the North County Times.

Goodness gracious (again). The classes provided to the kids are funded by a $533,000, three-year grant from the Jois Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Pattabhi Jois’s Asthanga yoga, which, judging by the half million dollars, seems to be doing ok with its new direction. The twice weekly classes taught by school teachers that the foundation trained (how cool is that?) only started last month for some schools while others will start offering them in January.

Despite the fact that the district swore on their bibles that any and all religiousness (spirituality) has been removed and the focus is on breathing techniques and poses, the parents have declared the yoga program “unconstitutional” as stated in an Oct. 12 email from Broyles to district superintendent Tim Baird, who has probably retreated to his own version of kurmanasana in hopes it will all blow over.

But Baird says only a few parents have been moved by the spirits of paranoia to pull their kids so far and the classes will likely continue.

“Our goal is that kids get a really healthy workout, that they get a chance to relax and reduce stress and yoga’s perfect for that,” Baird said.

“Yoga is a worldwide exercise regime utilized by people of many different faiths,” he said. “Yoga is part of our mainstream culture.”

You needn’t have to convince us of that. You also don’t have to convince us yoga is helpful to kids for things like reducing stress, increasing focus and building self-esteem. Did you think that only worked for adults? Yoga on little ones.

[via SFGate; Jezebel]

photo creativekidsyoga



22 comments… add one
  • Dave Heide

    I have been practicing ashtanga yoga for about 4 months after having practiced various kinds of asana related yoga for most of my life. While I love the vigorous exercise of the series of movements, I have noticed a doctrine that is also contained in each class. From the chanting to the eight limbs themselves, yoga (and especially ashtanga yoga) is no mere exercise class. It would trouble me no end were my child to attend a public institution that subsidized this doctrine. Of course, it’s all a matter of how it is presented. Yoga stretching and breathing exercises are wonderful tools for children who are forced to sit in uncomfortable chairs hours on end. However, instilling in children a belief system such as the eight limbs is best left out of schools and in the hands of the parents.

  • LaLaLa

    This is not surprising at all. North County San Diego is a very Christian places. It kind of catches you off guard. When living and working there as a lawyer, I encountered many well educated people who appeared to be down to earth and open minded who thought yoga was at odds with their faith. One man, a skateboarder cum paralegal, told me, “I’m a Christian. Yoga is dangerous. It’s witchcraft.”

    You would think it would be different, but it’s not. I really struggled in the workplace. I was viewed with a hearty dose of disdain and skepticism. I should have thought twice before sharing with anybody that I was studying at a Zen center and taking yoga classes.

  • I’m heartened by Dave’s and LaLaLa’s responses. I agree completely and I’m a practicing Ashtangi too. I’d love it if the Jois Foundation had started after school programs, that would have been great. They could have made them free so everyone had access. Or started the classes in high schools as an elective. The key here is parental CHOICE. If the classes have been denuded of all religious overtones, then that in my opinion is even worse, since it smacks of hypocrisy. The Jois Foundation can’t have it both ways. It strikes me as particularly tone-deaf to the reality that is Southern California. As much as it pains me to side with the Christian Right Wing about anything (and believe, it hurts), I have to say this is a mistake.

  • Therese

    I am sorry but as a Christian I find the message of Ashtanga yoga to be more in line with Christ’s teaching than most of the religion being taught to our kids today. These same parents probably think nothing of cheating , gossiping and all the other things that seem so acceptable in today’s society. I think these parents are afraid that their children will learn what it is really like to be respectful and kind to others. They will succeed in spoiling a beautiful thing. So sorry to see this.

    • Chris


      JC is thought to have been the World’s first Semitic Hindu, spending his youth, in the Ashrams of the learned Hindu Rishis (sages) of ancient India – the Missing Years of JC’s life that the Bible won’t talk about.

      JC’s teachings are very much in consonance and harmony with Hinduism – something the Vatican does not want you to find out.

      After surviving the Crucifixion, JC is thought to have sought safe-haven in the Kashmir region of ancient India, where he is said to have lived to a ripe old age, and where his tomb may be found today.

  • California Yoga Teacher

    When I first saw this story yesterday, I thought it was silly that parents would object to their children learning yoga. I mean the benefits are enormous (too many to list here even!) I wish I had learned yoga as a child! But then I saw that it was happening in Encinitas. I’m sure the parents have heard of the John Friend scandal and how many teachers and students were manipulated and brought into the cult. Young girls and married woman were manipulated into sleeping with John and even brought into a “Wiccan” coven. They had “prayer” circles and cut their pubes, put them in a jar and blessed them. My point is, if adults were so easily manipulated, what chance does a young child have? If a parent knows nothing about yoga, how can they feel safe and certain that their child’s yoga teacher is not going to be teaching cult-like philosophies, especially since it is coming from a “system” or “branded” yoga style, like Ashtanga? Also, if the yogis that they see around them in public are behaving badly, doing drugs, sleeping around casually and displaying unethical behavior, why would they be eager to have their child learn yoga even if there are a myriad of great benefits? Calling these parents stupid without asking some questions and listening, is not helpful and will not make children learning yoga sound like a good idea. As yogis, we might be better off taking a good look at how we are all behaving and what type of impression we give off. If we act like the stereotypical yogis that are perceived as flakey, spacey, irresponsible ethically, socially and financially, we should not expect parents to want their children to learn whatever it is we have learned. I have been practicing yoga for over 20 years and it has truly changed my life for the better, but that has not been without it’s challenges. Yoga brings about much contemplation and creates an opportunity for huge shifts. Sometimes a student is not emotionally ready for this and care needs to be taken. With a child, even more care needs to be taken so as not to open up a part of a young person only not to be able to give them the tools they need to work through it. I believe yoga should be taught to children, not Ashtanga or any other branded/trademarked type of yoga, but basic breathing, meditation and asana practices because I believe in the amazing benefits of the practice. But I also understand how the parents could have concerns and I’m not even a parent!!

    • i just wanted to add that professional athletes in baseball, basketball, football, etc. are involved in many undesirable activities. despite their influence on culture, that doesn’t stop PE classes from teaching kids how to dribble or throw or catch. i don’t understand why yoga is different. is it not mainstream enough to get past the bad headlines created by john friend?

      • California Yoga Teacher

        Just to be clear, I think basic yoga practices should be taught to children but I also understand how a parent could be concerned. As far as other sports like baseball, basketball, football, etc., I’m sure they have their own sets of issues to be concerned about. But the subject of this matter is yoga, and it is the only one I actually have been deeply involved in for 20 years. I have no direct inside knowledge of the others so I offer no comment on those. One thing that may be different though is that in yoga and spiritual communities, there are “sometimes” (oftentimes??) cults, cult-like behavior and cult-like philosophies and guru worshipping taught. If I were a parent, I would want to be sure my child was not spending valuable classroom time learning that stuff.

        • i’m a parent, and as a yogi, i think it sucks that yoga has this stigma that could prevent something so beneficial for kids. would anyone have batted an eye if they offered sponsored kids’ yoga classes at say a local gym or ymca? (i understand that’s not the same as public school.)

          i brought up the other sports because of how society idolizes sports stars, materialism, fame and fortune. kids wear jerseys with their heroes’ names on them and buy into the product endorsements. these guys fall from grace all the time. and somehow we’re able to separate the two. football does not equal michael vick. parents don’t get up in arms about a football program at school. i don’t know what the answer is. do we as members of the yoga community need to better educate the public? i like toni’s suggestion below of offering an informational meeting for concerned parents.

          anyway, i thought i’d put it out there for discussion.

  • how do i go back to elementary school so i can have free ashtanga classes instead of PE? i imagine that the classes were stripped of chanting and any/all mentions of spirituality to meet district requirements. when the practice is left to the sequence of postures and breath, i really can’t see any downsides.

  • Toni

    As a mother, yoga practitioner/teacher, I would think that maybe the school would offer an informational meeting for parents. That way parents could have their questions/concerns addressed and maybe even have a sample class so they know what their children are being taught.

    • Alyssa (azusmom)

      Bingo! A common sense approach. Sadly, we seem to be lacking that quality these days.

  • Chris

    Yoga is, indeed, inextricably intertwined with Hinduism. Anybody who samples any aspect of Yoga is, indeed, dipping his/her toes in the sublime, fragrant pool of Hinduism. To many people, that’s all good.

  • When I first saw this headline, I scoffed. I thought, “really?!?” Then the lawyer in me kicked in, and I remembered something very profound my constitutional law professor taught us – although they are usually on opposite sides of daily issues, the religious rights and atheist rights advocates have brought us more similar constitutional laws than any other groups. Why? They want to have the freedom to be who they are in public, but they do not want anyone else telling them what to be. I agree with people above. Ashtanga cannot have it both ways. Ashtanga leaders cannot say that yoga is more than just asana and then go into schools teaching nothing but asana. And frankly, I hope they don’t. There was yoga in my high school, but that was 15 years ago. And it was really just a stretching class. I did not take it, but that is what people told me. I would love to see kids learning yoga, would absolutely love it! But that does not mean it should be taught in public schools. While it is not religion to some, it is to others, and just like prayer, it should not be expected of kids in public schools. As I said, my initial reaction to this headline was disdain for the lawyers who would bring the lawsuit, but as I reflected further, I realized they are probably right. Maybe that is because of my own personal connection to yoga as a spiritual practice, but I think that is their point. Thanks for posting this and for allowing this discussion to happen. I think it’s a fun one to have!

  • Alyssa (azusmom)

    My daughter goes to a school for kids with Autism, and they hold a yoga class every Monday for PE. It is a strictly physical practice, to help the kids strengthen their limbs and core (which can be very weak areas for a lot of these kids), and they love it. Yoga can be incorporated into PE without Hinduism. As my yoga teacher trainer told us, yoga is not not, in and of itself, a religion. As a yoga practitioner, it saddens me to see so many religious leaders preaching against a system that could greatly benefit their congregations.

  • I don’t have children, but this is an issue I’ve been watching closely simply because there is such a blurry line between yoga the physical practice, and yoga the spiritual practice. When I started doing yoga several years ago, I came for the physical, but stayed for the spiritual. However, my studio isn’t so much about promoting the Hindu religion as it is about presenting new ways of thinking about life and the mind-body connection — which, of course, stems from Hinduism. I’m of the opinion that, if it helps students find concentration and peace, it should be allowed.

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