Yoga and Religion: What’s up California?

Recently, in San Diego, parents are upset claiming that kids should not be taught yoga in the classroom because it is religious…more specifically, preaching Hinduism.  You can read about that here:
  We only wish this was exclusive to this one school in California; however, this is a grave misunderstanding that we have encountered in NYC as well.  In 2005, our founder went to over 10 parent meetings at one public charter school in an effort to share what was being taught in yoga class during the school week.  A few, but very vocal parents, threatened to toss the program out claiming it was a class promoting the work of the devil and that yoga could place students in Hindu-style trances (after 20 years of teaching, I still haven’t seen one of my youthful yoga students go into a trance such as the parents above had claimed).
 I cannot speak to how religious or not the style of kids yoga being taught in the San Diego school is since it is not a part of Asana Alphabet…there are always more than one side to each story, but having been a yoga teacher and director who has had to defend yoga for kids, I cannot help but respond in defense of the teachers providing the yoga for kids program.
Religion and state in the United States are supposed to be separate in the public schools.  Yoga for kids in the school, especially public schools, should not include chanting to Hindu dieties or other Gods, just as we also wouldn’t quote the bible, encourage a Jewish prayer or bow to Allah during a kids yoga class in a public or nonreligious school. Schools that are privately run and include religion as part of their schooling have more free choice on the religious content of their classes. Several religious-based schools (none of them Hindu by the way) namely Catholic, Christian, and Jewish schools in NYC include yoga in their regular school day because they see the benefits the students receive from the practice.
We know many yoga teachers and students who are Christian, many who are Jewish, some who are Muslim, a few who are Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and several who claim to be of no religious background. Though people are religious about their practice, Yoga is not a religion!  Yoga is a means for strength, flexibility and coordination of the body which builds a strong body. With the right teacher and mindful student, it can boost self confidence and promote clarity of thought. In the classroom setting, it can promote cooperation and understanding of the diverse people we all are. It will help you to realize that all humanity is connected. We all share strife and we share our joys. These things are taught in yoga class as well as in many common team sports and other school friendly activities. So if yoga is too religious for school, then these parents should start rethinking many other things students are doing in schools these days.
The nice thing is, yoga can be done as a way to positively influence your health. You can make it religious if you want by thinking of the God you are devoted to while practicing, for instance, but this is not something that is the usual practice of children yoga teachers both with my company Asana Alphabet nor with many other teachers I have observed who have not been trained in my program.  In this age of promoting diversity and mutual understanding in the classroom, I’d like to argue that yoga is the perfect way to facilitate cooperation and respect of others who are different than oneself.  Open your heart and open your mind.  Now is the time to give students the tools to be at peace in this world…peace no matter what religion or no religion you adhere to.

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