Does Yoga Have a Place in School? Critics Say It Promotes Hinduism
Will a more flexible body create a more flexible mind? That's the theory behind new yoga classes at some schools. Certain studies show promising effects of yoga on children and teens: less stress, greater focus (especially in children with autism, and improved behavior. While students are shaping their bodies, they are also shaping their minds...but that's the problem according to some critics.
Although teachers at an elementary school in Encinitas, CA, are praising the yoga program adopted in their school, some parents are finding its presence anything but calming. They say that the yoga postures teach a polytheistic religion to their children, requiring them to "thank the sun" as if the star were a divine being. Yoga, they argue, is deeply intertwined with the Hindu belief system and is not to be separated out into a mere physical exercise.
While the program certain has values interwoven into the curriculum, they seem to be the same sort of universally-accepted values that are part of almost every religion, ethical system, and values-based curriculum. We may all differ over whether or not we can eat beef, pork, or shellfish, but "thou shalt not murder" and "thou shalt not steal" are givens in most cultures, right?
As for the sun worshipping... Whether you believe that the sun has some sort of spirit or that God placed the big ball of incandescent plasma in the universe or that science can explain everything, wouldn't most people agree that the light and warmth from the sun is essential to life on earth?
I don't believe these children were being taught to worship the sun any more than I think teaching my daughter chess will convert her to Islam. I don't think that bringing beneficial practices from other cultures is the same as adopting their belief systems wholesale.
When I taught World History, we brought in a yogi to teach a class to our students. Certainly, yoga has deep connections to Hindu beliefs but it was more an exercise in learning about other cultures than in proselytizing for a religious system. Were my high school students better able to separate themselves as observers and participants? Would elementary school students be more vulnerable to adopting a different belief system? Does it matter if it is a single demonstration as opposed to a regular activity?
I agree that there is a difference between teaching about religion (which I regularly did in my history classes) and teaching religion (which should be reserved for the home or classes at church, temple, or mosque) but does a yoga class cross that line? Is that position a salute to a better mind-body balance or is it a Trojan horse, bringing spiritual values to our secular schools?