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Parents Step Up and Sue Encinitas School District Over Yoga Program

in Kids Yoga, Lawsuit-asana, YD News
Third graders at Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary School do the Triangle pose during one of their bi-weekly yoga classes, Dec. 18, 2012. (photo: Kyla Calvert)

Third graders at Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary School do the Triangle pose during one of their bi-weekly yoga classes, Dec. 18, 2012. (photo: Kyla Calvert)

The battle over free yoga taught in an Encinitas school district just went from ugly threat to uglier lawsuit. If you’ve been following along you know that a small group of conservative parents with evangelical Christian roots were up in arms over a twice-weekly taught yoga class at the ironically named Encinitas Union School District claiming yoga classes were pushing Hinduism and violating the First Amendment. And so they hired a lawyer and threatened to sue. They protested at school board meetings, passed out scary “literature” and petitioned to have the classes cancelled, to which superintendant Tim Baird responded, “uh, chill out.”

Here’s what he actually said,

“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.”

The classes which are being provided for free by the Jois Foundation (as in Pattabhi Jois, the late Ashtanga Yoga godfather) have supposedly been toned down for kids and involve things like gorilla pose and such and do not promote religious ideals, they say.

Russell Case, a representative of the Jois Foundation also said the parents need to chill.

“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.”

And yet, one pair of panicky parental units have taken the next step and filed a civil rights lawsuit (pdf here) against the district in San Diego Superior Court last week. Defending the plaintiffs Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their children is attorney 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) who’s been on the case from the start. Broyles argued the twice weekly, 30-minute classes are inherently religious in violation of the separation between church and state.

“EUSD’s Ashtanga yoga program represents a serious breach of the public trust,” Broyles said. “Compliance with the clear requirements of law is not optional or discretionary. This is frankly the clearest case of the state trampling on the religious freedom rights of citizens that I have personally witnessed in my 18 years of practice as a constitutional attorney.”

Apparently the Sedlocks are not out for money in “damages” which is to say um, that would be ridiculous otherwise, but instead just want the program suspended. They claim that students who opted out of the program have been bullied and are missing out on state required fitness time. If so, this is certainly something to consider as school administrators. (Putting our general skeptic’s hat on for a second though, man, are some parents just insufferable and the poor kids have to deal with the consequences. sigh. We can say this because we don’t have kids, but we were kids once and also had parents.)

Baird, who says he has not yet seen the lawsuit, still stands by the yoga offering and maintains this will not put a stop to the classes.

“We’re not teaching religion,” he said. “We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it. It’s part of our overall wellness program. The vast majority of students and parents support it.”

To be fair, this isn’t your usual after school type yoga program, it’s a three-year $533,000 grant funded by the Jois Foundation which will employ full-time yoga teachers at each of the nine schools in the district, likely the first program of its kind in the country. So far, since January, Baird says the teachers and parents have reported back calmer students who use the breathing practices to release stress before tests, not unlike other reports about kids doing yoga.

It shall be noted that a petition started in October to stop the classes, by the end of the year, had about 260 signatures, while a petition to protect the classes had about 2,700 signatures.

However the yoga cookie crumbles, we’re hoping it gets sorted out soon. Unfortunately politics and religion have made it all very messy and sadly the kids are stuck in the middle. Maybe they could have started slowly, like with some yoga balls.

Stay tuned.

[ABCNews, KPBS.org]

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48 comments… add one

  • Shiva will get them!

  • Just…. wow. How sad.

  • Ram Bhakt

    I guess these are all necessary steps for legal precedence.

  • melissa

    unfortunately, i think the parents are right. while the classes do not seem to have any religious focus (i.e. chanting), yoga was derived from hinduism, which is a religion.

    “Yoga (Sanskrit, Pāli: योग, /ˈjəʊɡə/, yoga) is a commonly known generic term for physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines which originated in ancient India.[1][2] Specifically, yoga is one of the six āstika (“orthodox”) schools of Hindu philosophy. One of the most detailed and thorough expositions on the subject are the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. Various traditions of yoga are found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.” (Wikipedia)

    put yourself in their shoes and try to understand how they feel. they may be ignorant (especially since yoga is proven to be healthy for your mind and body). however, based on our laws to protect religious freedom, they are correct. i’m a yoga teacher, btw. while i think it is WONDERFUL for these children to be doing yoga (especially the christian kids, they probably need it most if their parents are so angry), the reality is, they have a case. personally, i think if everyone did 30 minutes of yoga per day the world would be a much more peaceful place. but not everyone agrees, and they are entitled to their freedom of opinion and choice.

  • Honomann

    I agree with you Melissa! Yoga should not be pushed upon anyone who does not want any part of it. There seems to be a urgency in the West to convert everyone to yoga like the Christians did during the middle ages. You see where that went!

    Maybe these kids will find yoga on their own later in life despite their fundamentalist parents.

  • David

    “There seems to be a urgency in the West to convert everyone to yoga like the Christians did during the middle ages. ” -Honomann

    That doesnt make sense to me. There are two separate entities here: Hinduism and yoga.
    Just because people who follow this religion commonly partake in this form of EXERCISE does not mean that, just by doing it, you are willingly taking part in a religious act.
    At no point during this activity do they address anything to do with the beliefs of Hinduism, nor do they teach philosophy at all.

    They are simply engaging in an activity that can be used for the rest of the lives (even into older age!). I dont do yoga, at all, I am just having trouble seeing what the big deal is about.

    It’s like saying: If you drink wine and eat bread, you are taking part in the Holy Communion and are, therefore, a Christian… because these are mentioned in the Bible and have a connection with this religion. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

  • I really doubt that yoga teachers will covert non-yogis by force/torture like the Christians used during the Inquisition: after all, our primary “law” is non-harming (ahimsa). If you really think yoga is harmful then don’t study it.

  • Karen

    “I agree with you Melissa! Yoga should not be pushed upon anyone who does not want any part of it.”

    There is specific mention of an opt-out clause, which I interpret as a clear case of not pushing but offering.

    “There seems to be a urgency in the West to convert everyone to yoga like the Christians did during the middle ages. You see where that went!”

    Yes, launching massive wars against others over theological issues, slaughtering all in your path, looting and burning indiscriminately, and even salting the earth so that survivors will starve is pretty drastic stuff. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it.

    This is an optional class.

    Maybe it’s because I’m British, but even having lived in the US for some time, I never could quite get to grips with how a minority of American Christians approach interacting with those of other faiths or none.

  • It’s a bit of a stretch to argue that because yoga has antecedents in Hinduism, it should therefore be banned.

    By that logic, we should not teach children to say “Goodbye”, for it is a contraction of “God be with you.”

  • Yoga is not a religion, it is one of the many different philosophical traditions of India; there is no deity, no set of rituals to perform (other than asana, the physical exercises, and pranayama, the breathing exercises – and even there one will find many traditions of practice from the sun salutations in south India which DO have roots in ancient Vedic practices, to the kriyas of the Sikhs).

    The literature of Yoga sets forth the principles of practice and gives guidelines for behavior that do sound remarkably similar to the Judeo/Christian ten commandments: the first two limbs (or angas) of classical Ashanga (meaning 8 limbs) practice consist of non-harming, Truth-telling, non-stealing, self-control (often translated as celibacy, faithfulness in relationship, or sexual moderation), non-greed, cleanliness/purity (of food, thought, deed), contentment, dedication, self-study, and surrender to one’s deity (no specific deity is named: the term “Ishwara” refers to one’s personal deity; some Hindus worship God as Shiva, some as Vishnu/Krishna, some as Divine Mother).

    The fact that there is an opt-out means no one is forced to take part. If there is bullying going on that is a separate issue. But remember, these extremist “Christians” often bully others for not being the “right” variety of Christian – if you don’t believe the way they do then you are going to hell. And I’m not just talking about evangelicals – the Catholic Pope said that too.

    Parents need to stop being reflexively angry about things they don’t care for and just practice what they believe. What others believe doesn’t harm them, they are harming themselves by obsessing over trivialities. No wonder so many children are confused…

  • Regardless, there’s an option to opt out. No one’s forcing them to do it. I wonder how they’d feel if kids opted out of the pledge of allegiance since it has the word “god” in it

  • melissa

    that is, of course, if this is a “public” school. if this is a private school, well then, they have no case.

  • Maressa

    Unfortunately, the minority will end up winning this.

  • Marissa

    I thought this was pertinent and powerful. From David Swenson, A well-respected Ashtanga Yogi. “There are many different ideas about the origins of yoga. For the most part, it was a verbal tradition handed down from teacher to student. There is no indication that it was ever part of an organized religion. The beauty of yoga is that one can maintain any religious belief and still use yoga to enhance his or her personal path. Regardless of what we may read about the history of yoga, the true proof resides within the applications and practice of yoga for each individual.”

    I think the children should be given a choice whether or not they want to practice yoga. I feel that if you are devoted to your faith, completely immersed in your beliefs, and devoted to following your truth (your religion or spiritual path) then you should not feel the need to cause such an uproar about an experience that your child has. Acceptance of practices that may help your child grow and explore this world with vigor should be the key here. We need to teach children how to think, feel, and experience… not what to think, what to feel, and what they should experience.

  • Eli

    Very well put and I agree with David. This is ignorance, and perhaps fear, at it’s best and those parents should be educated as to what the yoga experience is. Movement and Breath could it be more simple but there is always those who see it so differently. it’s a shame. I too am a certified yoga teacher…and Catholic. What? GASP!!!! We just need to help those who dont understand it all…understand it all!

  • katie

    Thankyou! Yes it is indeed a spiritual journey but it has also been proven in the medical field to actually heal.

  • Meg

    @Melissa,

    As a fellow yoga teacher, I appreciate your respect for the parents having difficulty with the practice, but I disagree with your reasoning. Saying that a physical yoga-like practice is a religious practice is on par with saying having kids kneel for any reason whatsoever in gym class is a religious practice, as might be sharing a drink or food with classmates during lunch or for special classroom events. Because this exercise is not a religious practice, it is not in violation of constitutional protections to allow the classes to continue in a public school. The discomfort these parents are feeling should not be reason enough to deprive other students of the experience. Instead, the school should seek to educate them.

  • Scott

    The Vatican has an observatory and many of the important early observations of the movements of stars and planets were done by religious people. That doesn’t make astronomy a religious or catholic process as it is practiced today. If they do not promote religious thinking in the class – basing beliefs and authority on theoretically unprovable sources, or allegiance to a religious organization, I don’t see how it could reasonably be considered a religious practice.

  • Cheryl

    Closed minded religious types can’t even get what this program is about. Has absolutely nothing to do with choosing Hindu God over Jesus. None whatsoever!

  • melissa

    @meg – excellent point re: education. i wholeheartedly agree that it could certainly help. i’m just trying to see things from their perspective. i can understand why they fear a connection to religion different from their own (because yoga was derived from a religious practice, and for many that connection is still there). therefore, i still think – factually – they have grounds. nonetheless, i hope they lose the case. i’m trying to separate logic from feeling here…i think if more people tried to meet each other where they were (rather than berating them), situations like these could turn out for the best for those who matter most (the children). i do agree that means education, but that education needs to happen both ways. meaning, the parents should have begun this process with an open-minded discussion with the principal about their fears rather than a lawsuit. but, oh well. that didn’t happen.

  • Meg

    @melissa,

    again, i appreciate your sentiment of trying to empathize with these parents, and also wish the yoga community would approach the situation from a place of compassion. and yet, i am saying people are free to practice yoga as a non-religious or non-moral/philosophical endeavor.

    feeling is necessarily a part of this issue, because it is feeling that these parents are reacting to rather than reason. while it would be nice for everyone to be happy and comfortable with everything that schools do, it is not possible. striving to ensure the majority are is more realistic.

    also, there are many things in the secular world are derived from religion, including many of our laws, that are not constitutionally protected as freedom of (or from) religion. in this case, unless the yoga exercises are being taught with moral or religious underpinnings, rather than physical or psychological, the parents have no logical or legal basis for their arguments against it. and yet, the school is giving them the option to allow their children not to participate.

    allaying the parents’ fears can only come through education, but their fears may prevent them from hearing the truth. as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water…

  • Shawn

    Yoga originated from the 4 Vedas. Actually Hinduism post dates Yoga. Yoga is not a religion, but a healing modality and the ultimate goal is to bring about a calm mind. We have the “tools” of Yoga, such as, Asana/postures, pranayama/breath and meditation. All which help to keep us in the present moment where our only true peace and calmness resides. A few years back, I taught Yoga at an alternative school where these children had problems with ADHD and other behavior problems and could not be in a regular classroom setting. These little souls loved it and their teachers reported that whenever there was a “meltdown”, they would ask for their yoga mat and were able to calm themselves down through breathing practices they had learned. Blessings to all!

  • Karen

    I entirely agree that education is key. That often comes from exposure to difference, though it’s unfortunate that some people will confuse exposure to difference with being attacked. Those people can be very hard to reach. All you can do is keep on keeping on, and in this case point out that it’s simply an optional class.

  • Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a generation of mindful, peaceful warriors coming up in the world? A whole generation of youth who are good critical thinkers, well-equipped with adequate coping mechanisms, great life managers who can heal themselves and others? Hmmmm….happy thought.

  • It seems like the focus of the suit is on the perceived “evangelical” nature of the Jois Foundation. We’ve tried to pull apart the expert witness (a professor at Indiana U) here, for those interested in this:

    http://theconfluencecountdown.com/2013/02/21/claim-encinitas-yoga-program-promotes-and-advances-religion/

  • Tomas

    Aren’t evangelical christians talking the talk but not walking the walk? It seems that they only promote religious freedom for themselves, but never for anyone else… Their brand of religion to me is the right for them to shove their beliefs deep into everyone else’s throats.

  • V. Herron

    As a yoga instructor, I would never pass off yoga as a purely physical activity. Without repeating what everyone above has already mentioned, there is a lot of esoteric knowledge, ethereal and metaphoric substance within the realm of yoga. Including the basic premise of marrying the mind, body and breath to peel back the layers and expose the true self that is one with everything. We not only align the physical body and breath but we also align the energetic body through the chakras (energetic wheels) so as to clear the nadi’s (river like channels in the subtle body) to reach Sahasrara (consciousness/enlightenment). Even if it is not stated in class, as a trained yoga instructor, I understand that even if I only focus on a physical path, the subtle body will respond accordingly. At the heart of this issue is the question – “Does connecting to the subtle body diminish one religious beliefs?” The subtle body is a feeling mechanism and will only generate peace and calm. In today’s world, this connection becomes imperative for our children. Unfortunately the parents have a limited idea about what yoga truly is and are asking a fear-based question – will becoming more conscious, enlightened and illuminated cause one to question one’s religious beliefs? And the answer to that question is quite obvious but in order for our children to thrive in the world they have inherited, it will take a great deal of illumination. Illumination requires a parent to trust and to let go of the fear and control. Our children are being prepared to face challenges we won’t be around to see or experience. So, even as parents we cannot know what is right for our children. My advice is to open your minds and learn about the subtle yoga body and how your child can benefit from yoga. For all we know, Christ knew of the subtle body and how pure illumination can open the heart and change the world. Parents might be surprised to find that yoga as a physical tool can reinforce the ideal’s of their religious beliefs and create beautiful, compassionate, thoughtful children.

  • Karen

    “At the heart of this issue is the question – “Does connecting to the subtle body diminish one religious beliefs?””

    Beautifully put. My experience is that people who practice yoga find themselves becoming more relaxed, more able to empathise, and so more compassionate overall. If your religion fosters empathy, compassion, and personal responsibility, yoga will surely deepen and enrich your religious/spiritual life. I’m a Quaker, and yoga works very well with my religious life.

  • katie

    Metaphysics is a spiritual, that means Anyone can do yoga regardless of what religion you are, just adjust your prayer poses to your diety or tuning into natural rythyms. Medical research has shone people who do yoga& tai chi are better in school and in the work force, lead more positive lives even curing depression and insomnia.

  • katie

    YES because science & medicine have shone……….

    1) Yoga & tai chi have been proven around the world as a legitimate holistic medicine.
    It helps with depression, insomnia, sugar cravings, detoxes, PMS, stress, ect increasing mortality rates. Doctors have recommended it to my friend with Cardiac problems, that’s how awesome it is!

    2) Children and employees alike tend to score higher on tests, Better focus in bussiness/school decisions and even at home- a more peaceful environment.
    Kids will more likely want to eat right & play rather than insomnia, depressed and bored.

    3) Metaphysics is spiritual. It means anyone can do it regardless of your religion, just adjust your asana’s to your diety or just for natural rythyms of the body.

  • ESB

    THERE’S AN OPT OUT CLAUSE, FOLKS!!! KNOCK IT OFF WITH ALL THE RELIGIOUS CRAP. YOGA IS ONE OF THE MOST HEALING FORMS OF EXERCISE OUT THERE.

  • Renee

    The opt out clause should still allow said children to receive alternative Physical Education and not miss out on that important part of the curriculum.

    I believe that is also part of the objection these parents have.

    Otherwise, keep all things religious, spiritual, etc out of the Yoga classes and the kids will simply be benefiting from wonderful stretching, physical exercise, and calming breathing techniques.

    End of story.

  • MFT

    Yoga will no sooner compel you to be Hindu than eating Matzah balls in your chicken soup will force you to be Jewish.

  • From a legal stand point, the opt-out clause is probably more than enough to protect the school’s program.

    From the POV of the parents in question, I cannot say specifically what the issue is, but I could see where they would have concerns.

    Astanga yoga is one of the schools that is particularly prescriptive in it’s spirituality — all things considered — you have the 8-limbs and the ultimate limb may not jive with people’s religious perspectives. The concept is that the divine is both imminent and transcendent. So, if one’s religion doesn’t jive with that, then they might have a problem with this being taught, even if it is “just a philosophy.”

    So, if the Jois Foundation is moving away from some of these limbs, then perhaps we are okie-kay-be. But I would say that the Jois Foundation probably *isn’t* moving away from the Samadhi step/limb, and as such. . . you know . . . might be instructing on it at some level.

    At which point, they are instructing a spiritual/religious idea — which many of us might not find as a big deal, but others might find as a very big deal indeed if it is antithesis of their religious ideas. And, it would violate church/state.

    Thus, the question is really what is the JF teaching and how? Is their curriculum codified? Are their clear guidelines that demonstrate that the focus is entirely non-religious (I believe that this is entirely possible because I teach from this perspective)? Can they demonstrate to parents and the schools (as well as the court now) how the curriculum is uniquely non-religious when their tradition (astanga) has a particular spiritual perspective (imminent and transcendent self construct of samadhi)?

    I think that if they can demonstrate these things, then they’ll be double-safe. But if they can’t, then the criticism of these parents could be valid.

  • Yoga arose within a broad array of self-transformation technologies that the West would call “religious,” because some of these technologies are devotional–i.e., they utilize powerful relationships with “gods.”

    Other technologies within yoga are non-devotional. They are not “religious” in the sense that the West uses this term.

    Nonetheless, powerfully devotional forms of Christianity make no distinctions about these things. They do not understand that even their own faith is a self-transformation strategy, and that yoga is after the same prize that they are.

    Hence, as yoga’s benefits are embraced by a broader swath of American institutions, we will see more of the kind of strife described in this article.

  • Juanita

    What kind of society are we becoming? So sad when something as peaceful as yoga can cause such fear in adults. I find with yoga that people come from all walks of life, yes some gravitate to it for the sake of religious, to believe in something. However here in North America I find the general public approach yoga to find peace in themselves and to help them de-stress or strengthen an ailment. I was just today telling my daughter to sign on for the yoga class at her school for $5 a pop, and these kids are lucky enough to get health and well being for free? Are these parents insane? At a time when teen suicide is on the increase and teens feel so down on themselves their parents want to make the decision for them to eliminate the one thing that could make them grow strong physically and mentally because the parents are fearful. Really? Who is selfish now?? Who is putting their views out there and silencing the child? Have any of these parents asked their children what they wanted? I sincerely doubt it. I’m not about to allow my child to change her religion (Roman Catholic) but I’m also not going to rob her of an opportunity to feel good about who she is and to feel stronger in her own body and I will not live in fear that she could be ‘converted’ by going to an innocent yoga class. Get real people, what are you really teaching your children?

  • “We’re not teaching religion,” he said. “We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it. It’s part of our overall wellness program. The vast majority of students and parents support it.”

    I am a postural educator, bodyworker and yoga teacher of YogAlign for over two decades as well as an author of a book on Pain-free yoga. Part of my longterm research is how to shift stretching or yoga poses to natural functional biomechanics reducing the prevalence of yoga injuries especially in practice of what are termed “traditional yoga poses”. Over the last decade, I have treated hundreds of people in my practice with repetitive strain injuries from doing right angle shaped yoga positions that do not simulate functional movement in the human body. My work and others such as posture educator Kathleen Porter is showing that putting our children in right angle chairs, and making them do sit ups, and yoga toe touching exercises is causing more harm than good. There is a lot of evidence now showing that many yoga poses strain the ligaments that hold our joints together and many long time practitioners need hip and knee replacements. All the yoga poses used in any school program should be bio mechanically tested by a sports medicine doctor before letting children stretch in yoga poses that may be causing the tension, compression. or spiraling forces of their bones. Childrens bones do not fully form till the late teens and how yoga affects their bones needs to be addressed before children are asked to do positions many of which have roots in contortionists and western military drills, The religion part is based on beliefs which we cannot measure. However the physical value of the yoga classes being taught is what needs to be addressed. Humans do not gain flexibility by stretching isolated parts of the body to perform a pose. Just the photos at the top of the page made me cringe. Children reaching to touch their toes with their lumbar spine compressed and flexed. There will be back injuries and sprains coming from this. go to http://www.yogainjuries.com to read more.

  • Honomann

    You make a good point! The kid in the front of the picture has horrible alignment in his Utthita Trikonasana/Parsvakonasana. The pose is so bad that it cannot be identified properly. The kid’s front foot is turned forward causing undo strain on the knee. Also all of their heads are drooped causing a “rainbow” shape in the cervical spine. That will create many problems if repeated. Especially since they are not fully developed as you wisely pointed out.

    Don’t teach crappy asanas from the get go. Bad habits are hard to break.

  • I agree, but might also point out that you probably aren’t used to working with children.

    Pretty much before the age of 8, I have had little success with teaching postures in a detailed way as you described (which I also do for my adults — and anyone over age 8 is allowed in my classes because they have the attention span at this point).

    But, there are ways to make yoga for children safer — just as for adults. First, it’s simply knowing the biomechanics/functional anatomy and how it applies in context (both the context of the yoga posture and the context of the child’s development). Second, removing postures that are more likely to cause problems and heavily modifying postures for great success from first go (ie, making them “easy” to get right) prevents these sorts of problems. And to add to this second one, making the postures “easy” to get right makes the yoga more fun, allows the child to feel more successful, which in turn reinforces their desire to practice it.

    Our program (not the jois foundation — we are not affiliated in any way) is based on these concepts. We want children to practice so that they can develop some skills for themselves — identifying and working with their emotions (self regulating) as well as getting the many physical benefits.

    Some other benefits have cropped up. For children in highly stressful situations, it has really brought them a sense of empowerment. I’ll tell one story of one little girl. Her parents are divorcing, and she’s the youngest of three. Recently, her mother’s mother passed away, too — and this grandmother was one of the primary caregivers of the family. Then, a dear neighbor’s home burned down, which was very tragic to the whole community (challenging). This little girl had gone into a shell, and she was often overwhelmed at the kindy — so many children and games. . . she just sort of “hid.”

    One of the teachers noted that she did best on days when they lead yoga in the mornings, and as such started to lead yoga in the first half-hour of the girl’s arrival (there’s no set time, it’s based on child interest/child-leading). The girl would immediately come to the practice, and it helped her feel “settled” — she would transition from yoga to playing with the other children and being integrated.

    She then would go home with her siblings, and she now has the power. Each night, she takes her mother and siblings through a yoga practice. She chooses postures, and they finish their time talking about their day — “what was your favorite thing today?” and “what did you struggle with today?” These are questions that the teachers ask the children after their practice, so they can learn and discuss.

    Mother and father both acknowledged big changes in her daughter through this yoga practice. Having observed her in class (and sometimes leading her peers outside of class in the open space where they keep their yoga cards/etc), I have seen her develop from a “wall-flower” to a leader in her little child-community.

    To me, the alignment of her postures (at age 3.5) is far less important than her ability to face the challenges of her home life and peer life through the process of yoga.

    My job was to simply make these processes — including the postures — safe and accessible for her and for others (those whom she teaches). In time, we can focus more on those details — when she is ready and able to take in that information.

    Speaking of, my 4.5 yr old just finished his self practice, and has now fallen asleep in “savasanap” as we call it. I’m not terribly concerned with whether or not his alignment is spot on — I want to encourage him to continue to practice autonomously. And when he’s in class, I’ll make adjustments on him if need be — or if he asks. Otherwise, I’d rather he just own it, you know?

    Sometimes, the best thing a teacher can do is leave a student be — let the student guide the process of learning.

  • Michael Yankaus

    The concern about Yoga being “Religious” is very antiquated. Modern psychological terms can easily replace those that refer to inner mental experiences that used to be considered exclusive to the terminology of Religion.

    Let’s look at this logically:

    Experientially, the basis of all “thought” and “action” is Consciousness, which is universal to all people. In this light, Religion is simply a concept expressed on the level of thinking, while Consciousness underlies thinking. Consciousness in its pure state therefore, is silent, and non-active.

    Yoga is a philosophy dedicated to integrate the experience of silent and formless Consciousness, with thought and action. Yoga philosophy advocate 8 areas of practical development wherein this development is facilitated:

    1. Yama: Integration of silent Consciousness with behavior in society
    2. Niyama: Integration of silent Consciousness with personal habits
    3. Asana: Integration of silent Consciousness with the physical functions
    4. Pranayama: Integration of silent Consciousness with breathing
    5. Pratyahara: Integration of silent Consciousness with the senses
    6. Dharana: Integration of silent Consciousness with the mind
    7. Dhyana: Integration of silent Consciousness with the ego
    8. Samadhi: Direct experience of silent Consciousness in its pure state

    In the entire text of the Yoga Sutras, religion is only referred to once, in the category of Niyama, specifically “Isvarapranidhana” which simply advocates devotion to God (of any tradition), as one of five personal habits as being worth developing…

    And as far as the practice of Yoga Asanas goes, they are stretching postures and therefore they are not Religious, any more than physical fitness exercise is. The difference is that Yoga exercise settles the mind, whereas fitness exercises stimulate the the mind and body.

    So where is the cause for concern?

    The only relationship between Yoga and Religion is that firstly, and most fundamentally both are based on Consciousness—but then, so is any other thought or experience.
    And secondly, whereas Religious people may call pure Consciousness “spiritual”, because it is always peaceful, a psychologist can simply call Consciousness “self-actualizing” for the same reason.

    Most importantly, given the tragic levels of violence we have in today’s world, why would any reasonable adult resist having their children learn a skill that will help make them more mentally and physically settled, peaceful, and integrated?

    There is no conflict with Yoga and non-secular public education.

    None.

  • Michael Yankaus

    The concern about Yoga being “Religious” is very antiquated. Modern psychological terms can easily replace those that refer to inner mental experiences that used to be considered exclusive to the terminology of Religion.

    Let’s look at this logically:

    Experientially, the basis of all “thought” and “action” is Consciousness, which is universal to all people. In this light, Religion is simply a concept expressed on the level of thinking, while Consciousness underlies thinking. Consciousness in its pure state therefore, is silent, and non-active.

    Yoga is a philosophy dedicated to integrate the experience of silent and formless Consciousness, with thought and action. Yoga philosophy advocate 8 areas of practical development wherein this development is facilitated:

    1. Yama: Integration of silent Consciousness with behavior in society
    2. Niyama: Integration of silent Consciousness with personal habits
    3. Asana: Integration of silent Consciousness with the physical functions
    4. Pranayama: Integration of silent Consciousness with breathing
    5. Pratyahara: Integration of silent Consciousness with the senses
    6. Dharana: Integration of silent Consciousness with the mind
    7. Dhyana: Integration of silent Consciousness with the ego
    8. Samadhi: Direct experience of silent Consciousness in its pure state

    In the entire text of the Yoga Sutras, religion is only referred to once, in the category of Niyama, specifically “Isvara Pranidhana” which simply advocates devotion to God (of any tradition), as one of five personal habits worth developing…

    And as far as the practice of Yoga Asanas goes, they are stretching postures and therefore they are not Religious, any more than physical fitness exercise is. The difference is that Yoga exercise settles the mind and relaxes the body, whereas fitness exercises stimulate both mind and body.

    So where is the cause for concern?

    The only relationship between Yoga and Religion is that firstly and fundamentally both are based on Consciousness—but then, so is any other thought or experience.

    And secondly, whereas Religious people may call pure Consciousness “spiritual”, because it is always peaceful, a psychologist can simply call Consciousness “self-actualizing” for the same reason.

    Most importantly, given the tragic levels of violence we have in today’s world, why would any reasonable adult resist having their children learn a skill that will help make them more mentally and physically settled, peaceful, and integrated?

    There is no conflict with Yoga and secular public education.

    None.

  • In order to have a great body everybody must pay attention with what we eat, with what we do and there were so many people that is recommending yoga session, I haven’t tried one though.

  • Jen

    As a yoga teacher and an attorney I find this case appalling. There is an opt out…so just opt the kids out. Why disadvantage the kids and parents whom are benefiting from practicing yoga? This is no different that opting out from pledging allegiance to the flag….freedom is maintained in the choice to opt out. Furthermore, this is a privately funded program, not government funded, so they will lose the case on that point alone. The right to religious freedom only comes into play if there is “state action” and although its a close call I don’t think a privately funded program at a public school meets the standard of state action.

  • Renee

    Jen,
    While I do agree that the opt out cause is a good thing, the school does not (from what has been stated above) provide any alternative Physical Education option for the children who do opt out. Having to miss out on PE is not the same choosing not saing the Pledge of Allegiance. Additionally, even if this is a Privately Funded Program at a Public School, it is a Public School SANCTIONED part of the school’s curriculum… Not a Musical Program, Boy Scout/Girl Scout event, etc. Regardless of the funding source, there is “state action” when a school sanctions an activity or includes it in their curriculum.

  • Renee

    Jen,
    While I do agree that the opt out cause is a good thing, the school does not (from what has been stated above) provide any alternative Physical Education option for the children who do opt out. Having to miss out on PE is not the same choosing not saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Additionally, even if this is a Privately Funded Program at a Public School, it is a Public School SANCTIONED part of the school’s curriculum… Not a Musical Program, Boy Scout/Girl Scout event, etc. Regardless of the funding source, there is “state action” when a school sanctions an activity or includes it in their curriculum.

  • deborah anderson

    My daughter teaches yoga in a DC preschool. Some of her Muslem parents have opted out, so it is not just chirstians who do this.
    While I agree it is not reallly religous based, perhaps this can open up debate our constitutional rights that we all should be able to express our spirituality in schools. That it is not a violation if we all respect each others and give each respect. Why can’t there be prayers for all religions? isn’t that freedom of expression? Why can’t we have events that explain all religions represented in this wonderful diverse country? I wnat my child to learn about them all. What are the traditions for Ramadon Or Passover/ What are the differenences and the similartiites? To teach tolerance, we have to be tolerant.
    And yes, if they don’t want to do it, there should be clear alternative options for them.

  • This really is exactly what I was looking for, thanks

  • How sad that people have more fear than they have interest in understanding another way of life.

    Yes, yoga is an aspect of life that is shared by many Hindus, but the act of practicing yoga asanas is hardly a religious act. If so, it would probably not be so prevalent in public gyms and YMCAs!

    As a kindergarten teacher in an independent school in VT, and a certified yoga instructor, I am so blessed to be able to share yoga asanas with children as well as other yoga limbs…meditation, yamas, niyamas…and all of these teachings are those that build character and help us to become our best selves!

    Perhaps there should be comparative religion classes in all elementary schools, so that rather than fear, we can live in understanding our similarities. I do not have all the answers. I do know that my parents believe enough in my ability to teach an unbiased curriculum that they support my use of yoga and meditation as stress relief and mindfulness practice for our children in K.

    We study many different cultures throughout the year, especially those celebrations of light that are shared by many in the darker, shorter days of winter…we also study all holidays throughout the year including Easter, Passover, Christmas, Diwali, Loi Krathong, Eid…and read as much as we can about children’s lives in other parts of the world.

    What could be more educational than learning to live in a different way for even a thirty minute period two days a week?

    It is wonderful to hear such a supportive administrator working with this new project. The universe will ultimately provide the truth and the light that is needed to mend this issue with kindness and love.

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