yoga class draws a religious protest

yoga

By 9:30 a.m. at Paul Ecke Central Elementary School, tiny feet were shifting from downward dog pose to chair pose to warrior pose in surprisingly swift, accurate movements. A circle of 6- and 7-year-olds contorted their frames, making monkey noises and repeating confidence-boosting mantras.

Jackie Bergeron’s first-grade yoga class was in full swing.

“Inhale. Exhale. Peekaboo!” Ms. Bergeron said from the front of the class. “Now, warrior pose. I am strong! I am brave!”

Though the yoga class had a notably calming effect on the children, things were far from placid outside the gymnasium.

A small but vocal group of parents, spurred on by the head of a local conservative advocacy group, has likened these 30-minute yoga classes to religious indoctrination. They say the classes — part of a comprehensive program offered to all public school students in this affluent suburb north of San Diego — represent a violation of the First Amendment.

After the classes prompted discussion in local evangelical churches, parents said they were concerned that the exercises might nudge their children closer to ancient Hindu beliefs.

Mary Eady, the parent of a first grader, said the classes were rooted in the deeply religious practice of Ashtanga yoga, in which physical actions are inextricable from the spiritual beliefs underlying them.

“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.”

Ms. Eady and a few dozen other parents say a public school system should not be leading students down any particular religious path. Teaching children how to engage in spiritual exercises like meditation familiarizes young minds with certain religious viewpoints and practices, they say, and a public classroom is no place for that.

Underlying the controversy is the source of the program’s financing. The pilot project is supported by the Jois Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in memory of Krishna Pattabhi Jois, who is considered the father of Ashtanga yoga.

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, according to its Web site, has dug up quotes from Jois Foundation leaders, who talk about the inseparability of the physical act of yoga from a broader spiritual quest. Mr. Broyles argued that such quotes betrayed the group’s broader evangelistic purpose.

“There is a transparent promotion of Hindu religious beliefs and practices in the public schools through this Ashtanga yoga program,” he said.

“The analog would be if we substituted for this program a charismatic Christian praise and worship physical education program,” he said.

The battle over yoga in schools has been raging for years across the country but has typically focused on charter schools, which receive public financing but set their own curriculums.

The move by the Encinitas Union School District to mandate yoga classes for all students who do not opt out has elevated the discussion. And it has split an already divided community.

The district serves the liberal beach neighborhoods of Encinitas, including Leucadia, where Paul Ecke Central Elementary is, as well as more conservative inland communities. On the coast, bumper stickers reading “Keep Leucadia Funky” are borne proudly. Farther inland, cars are more likely to feature the Christian fish symbol, and large evangelical congregations play an important role in shaping local philosophy.

Opponents of the yoga classes have started an online petition to remove the course from the district’s curriculum. They have shown up at school board meetings to denounce the program, and Mr. Broyles has threatened to sue if the board does not address their concerns.

The district has stood firm. Tim Baird, the schools superintendent, has defended the yoga classes as merely another element of a broader program designed to promote children’s physical and mental well-being. The notion that yoga teachers have designs on converting tender young minds to Hinduism is incorrect, he 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.”

Ms. Eady is not convinced.

“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.”

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,” 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.”

2 thoughts on “yoga class draws a religious protest

  1. what are the parents really asking for? We have taken God
    out of the school, have taken God out of our lives, we have
    television, cell phones. texting. heck we don’t even talk to each
    other directly anymore. TV’s and video games babysit our children,
    they don’t read books, we don’t talk to them nor do our children
    talk to us.. so what are the parents asking ??? We give our
    children the ideology that they can have aboslutely everything and
    if the someone has what you want then they can just take it away.so
    what are the parents asking???I see the yogo through this article
    as a mean to teach discipline, to look at self and the environment,
    to make decisions, to listen to be objective. Something that I dont
    hear the parents saying that they are teaching their children. so
    what are the parents asking??? . Maybe the parents should take the
    class with their children…they just might learn
    something……

  2. Reblogged this on The Land Of Make~Believe and commented:
    Yoga comes from a Sanskrit word literally meaning “to unite”. It
    brings the soul, mind, and body together in perfect unison and
    balance. There are eight limbs to this ancient practice. The two
    most popular limbs are ASANA (physical postures) and DHYANA
    (meditation). There is a universality with postures and meditation
    that transcends any type of religious practice. These students are
    not chanting Hindu mantras in front of an alter, nor or they
    worshiping any Hindu Gods. They are simply learning a technique
    that anyone, regardless of religious or spiritual affiliation, can
    benefit from. I understand the opposition. We live in a country
    that (claims to) supports the separation of church and state.
    Anything that has religious undertones is not welcomed in our
    schools. My problem with these Christian protesters is their
    rejection to this practice without understanding how it renders
    positive results. I bet Krishna and Jesus are shaking their heads
    right about now.

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous :)

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