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Parents Denounce Yoga, Demand Ban in Protest of Religious Indoctrination

in YD News

The separation of school and meditation. And religious indoctrination?

A storm’s been a-brewing on the west coast for the past few months over yoga taught in school, but it’s maybe not what you think. Parents aren’t wishing their kids would participate in more yoga and reap the potential benefits many other children’s yoga classes have shown to provide like better focus, better self-esteem and better grades, and yes, less stress (not to mention help with preventing bullying and benefitting kids with autism). Nope, a group of parents in the typically liberal Encinitas, CA are raising hell over an opt-out Ashtanga based yoga program taught for free at the district elementary schools over fear of religious and mindfreak brainwashing.

Letters, lawyers and school board meetings later, the small group of opposing parents, propelled by the head of a local conservative advocacy group (the buzz began at local evangelical churches) are still adamant about the yoga classes pushing Hinduism and violating the First Amendment, they claim. An online petition has been launched to remove the program. Meanwhile a counter petition was posted to protect it, currently with 2,715 signatures.

Parent of a first grader, Mary Eady, is convinced the classes will turn the kids into devotional yogabots.

“They’re not just teaching physical poses, they’re teaching children how to think and how to make decisions,” Ms. Eady said. “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.”

Note she is saying this negatively. But could you argue with her statements?

Can yoga poses be separated from spirituality? It’s something gyms and yogapreneurs have been trying to figure out for years. One can’t deny that Ashtanga yoga, Jois Yoga and most traditional yoga has philosophical roots, just read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Yamas and Niyamas certainly say a thing or two about how one might go about making decisions, how to look within to find peace and comfort and how to use tools for many things beyond stretching. Isn’t asana a tool in itself? And thank goodness for that, right 20 million other Americans?

The parents’ legal representative is Dean Broyles, the president and chief counsel of the National Center for Law and Policy, a nonprofit law firm that champions religious freedom and traditional marriage. He is poised to sue the school board if they do not heed the concerned requests. In his argument, he posits that it would be the same “if we substituted for this program a charismatic Christian praise and worship physical education program.” Which is just. No.

The superintendent Tim Baird still stands behind the program.

“That’s why we have an opt-out clause,” Mr. Baird said. “If your faith is such that you believe that simply by doing the gorilla pose, you’re invoking the Hindu gods, then by all means your child can be doing something else.”

But folks like Mrs. Eady are not satisfied.

“Yoga poses are representative of Hindu deities and Hindu stories about the actions and interactions of those deities with humans,” she said. “There’s content even in the movement, just as with baptism there’s content in the movement.”

There’s content in the movement sounds like a great yoga slogan. Or bad potty humor.

Russell Case, a representative of the Jois Foundation providing the grant and training for the yoga program, said the parents need not fear.

“They’re concerned that we’re putting our God before their God,” Mr. Case said. “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.”

For goodness’ sake.

We’ll keep you updated.

[via NYT]

Further reading: School Wellness: The Latest Frontier in the Culture Wars? – HuffPo

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18 comments… add one

  • Elizabeth

    It cracks me up that the uninformed yoga teachers’ oft-repeated mantra about the ancient-ness of physical yoga practice is coming to bite yoga. Seriously, most yoga poses are relatively recent developments and have roots in British gymnastics and European physical culture during the Empire’s reign in India. Even if they didn’t, you could still teach every single yoga pose and breathing and calming technique without ever referencing anything religious. Spinal twist pose, anyway? (Note that I do recognize some people practice religious/doctrinal yoga. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist. Just that it is an OPTION, not a mandate, and not present in most school yoga programs.)

    Sad that children will be deprived of the physical and mental benefits of a physical practice just because their parents are misinformed. But then again, there is a girl in Texas who refuses to wear her school’s ID badge [even if they take out the RFID chip, which is itnended only to prove how many students are on campus so the school gets its full funding to help educate her...] because she insists that the tag is “the mark of the beast from Revelation.”

    Sigh.

    You can’t save them all, and not all of them want saving…

  • JeffreyD

    Yep. I’ve had more than my share of yoga teachers who talk about “feeling the flow of the universe” and various BS mysticism that does qualify as religious indoctrination.

    I think it’s a false veneer and wish yoga didn’t pretend to be anything more than a series of bodyweight exercises. When it’s taught that way, of course this is laughable.

  • Chris

    JeffreyD,

    You say : ” I think it’s a false veneer and wish yoga didn’t pretend to be anything more than a series of bodyweight exercises.”

    Yoga is much, much more than just Getting Bendy on a Mat. If all that you are getting from your Yoga-Classes is ” a series of bodyweight exercises”, I suggest that you demand a full-refund on your Yoga-tuition-fees.

  • abbylou

    Outside of L.A., coastal Southern California is a deceptively conservative place. Just because people surf and skate, are mellow, and wear hip clothes doesn’t mean that they aren’t Evangelical Christians. I would not describe Encinitas as a typically liberal place.

  • Oh my goodness how ridiculous. These parents need to take a class themselves, and chill the hell out.

  • josh pridemore

    what of science and the many things it teaches isnt for a baptist were all in the same being of existence would we not all have the same creator?

  • Paulette

    In my experience, these kinds of reactions are fear based. Hopefully, these parents will be able to let go of their fears and have more confidence in the solidity of their own religious traditions.

  • It’s too bad that there has only been mention of the petition to get rid of the Yoga program. We have created a petition to keep the Yoga class IN the schools.

    We have gathered over 2700 signatures and the number is still growing. The signatures are emailed to the superintendent’s email account.

    Please consider signing up and supporting this important program. We all want to see Yoga spread in our school systems.

    http://theyogablog.com/protect-kids-yoga-program/

  • Sorry I should elaborate, I was referring to the article in The New York Times!

    YogaDork is awesome :)

  • Thank you for covering this story. I think it’s important for yogi’s outside of the school yoga movement to be informed and input into the conversation.
    I’ve taught yoga is schools for 15 years. Only a handful of students have opted out for religious reasons. Before starting to teach in public schools, I literally mourned (may sound crazy, but true) the “loss” of some of the cultural aspects of yoga that were very meaningful to me. It was hard for me, at first, to let go of Sanskrit chanting because it was a big part of my practice.
    Eventually, I realized that yoga practice had plenty else to offer students in asana, pranayam, and meditative, mindful practices.
    I do see why parents could be apprehensive. Google “yoga” and find Hindu gods along side all of the Western yoga teachers. This must be disconcerting to unknowing parents, meaning parents who don’t understand the considered, informed modifications made for school yoga.
    To that point, yoga programs that do not make necessary modifications for schools using on evidence-based, developmentally appropriate practices are contributing to a backslide.

  • Chris

    Yoga is born of Hinduism. Yoga is Hinduism’s gift to Mankind. Anybody who samples any aspect of Yoga is, indeed, dipping his toes in the sublime pool of Hinduism (whether or not he is aware of it). For many of us, that is a good thing, and we’re glad for this exposure to this awesome, ancient Eastern Wisdom.

    Of course, Hinduism is different from the Semitic religions, in that, Hinduism recognizes that there are many different paths to becoming a self-realized, enlightened soul. Thus, Hinduism readily and graciously acknowledges that JC was indeed an enlightened Rishi (sage), while there is no such reciprocal graciousness towards Hinduism, in any of the Semitic Religions. ( There is growing evidence that JC obtained his initiation into enlightenment, whilst a student in the Gurukuls of the learned Gurus of ancient India, during the “Missing Years” of JC’s life).

    Hinduism is broad-minded enough to accept any self-realized Soul as a Hindu.

  • We have been creating a yoga curriculum that teachers can train in (focusing on school teachers taking the training) to bring yoga to their students (it’s a simple training/support/license process) if they so choose.

    Our country is largely secular, but there are a lot of religious people here. Most people don’t see yoga as a problem at all, and the religious here ask good questions about the practices.

    I explain to them that it is really what you want to do with it. As the woman quoted above notes, there is content in the movement, but that only works if you have the intentionality. If I pour a cup of water over my kid’s face, that doesn’t mean I”m baptizing him, nor does it mean I’m baptizing him when we go to the pool and I dunk him in (he enjoys the game and asks for it). So, that movement isn’t *inherently* baptismal.

    The same is true of yoga postures, breathing techniques, and even meditation. Yuo can use it as a religious practice or you can use it as a physical/mental practice that helps you better function.

    And, this is the approach that we take with our kids’ yoga. We are focused on developing the physiological and social aspects for the children through stories and postures (stories are all ‘secular’ like trips to forests and such). We explain this to the parents, and even the most religious have been “right, ok, go ahead then.”

  • Chris

    True.

    You’ll get out of your Yoga-practice what you want to get out of it.

    It’s a lot like the various belts that are present in many of the Martial-Arts disciplines, culminating in the Black-Belt.

    So, Yoga can be progressively used, to achieve various “Yoga-belts” (Think ” 36th Chamber of Shaolin” ! ).

    a) Stretching, limbering and toning-up, general wellness.
    b) Meditation-tool (gentle) for improving mental-balance, depression-abatement, increasing alertness, mood-elevation.
    c) Strength-conditioning, and specific-muscle-toning for active and professional athletes.
    d) Mastering of Breathing, for improving endurance (marathoners, swimmers, etc.)
    e) Curing of many chronic illnesses, chronic pains, hormonal imbalances, etc.
    f) Deep meditation for achieving inner-awakening, leading eventually to enlightenment ( like a Guruji BKS Iyengar )

  • This debate is 100 years old and probably won’t ever stop. Recently, some web developers refused to work on our website ’cause it was about yoga – and therefore on the same moral level as booze and porn… I wrote about it in this article:

    http://www.yogatrail.com/blog/is-yoga-evil/

  • charlie

    Im reminded of in the 1960s in the uk . the board resonsible for education wanted yoga to be taught in adult education classes , and they thought Iyengar method to be the most suitable , but they insisted that no hindu or religous element was brought in so that is how it was taught under guidance of BKS Iyengar , interestingly later these classes were criticised by some for not being spiritual enough , always someone moaning about something . God forbid that any child should have the knowledge to look inside for inner peace when there is so much product to sell them and fear to instill .

  • While I think Ashtanga is fabulous, perhaps a less “spiritually based” style of yoga would be the way to break into the mainstream school culture. You will always have fanatic parents, but perhaps a style that doesn’t stress the philosophy of yoga is the way to get in the door?

  • Anusour

    Encinitas is the town where John Friend was planning to build his YogaLand. I wonder if there is any correlation between the scandal and the current objections related to yoga in Encinitas.

  • Sai Kumar Reddy

    If we only do asanas then it could probably be described as non religious/spiritual. In fact we can just call them Safe Gymnastics or something like that, should do the trick. If people want more then they can always do some more research on the religious/spiritual part.

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