Moral Low Ground


Yoga Controversy in Schools, Churches

by Brett Wilkins

Good for them.

Public schoolchildren all across America are discovering the benefits of practicing yoga. School districts from coast to coast have been implementing yoga programs in their physical fitness and wellness curricula with stellar results. In Minneapolis, a regimen called Yoga Calm has been helping elementary school students for years now, teaching them mindfulness, centering and breathing techniques that calm them in the classroom. Behavioral problems have decreased significantly and students are noticeably calmer and more able to listen and handle stress. The program was so successful that hundreds of schools are now using it. Teachers and students alike give glowing reviews. “Sometimes when you’re a little too energized, yoga just helps me calm down,” says Khadija Mohamed, an elementary school student in Minneapolis.

Tara Guber’s Yoga Ed is another successful yoga program for kids, used in over 100 schools in 26 states. Over 300 physical education instructors have been trained to teach the regimen, which develops self-awareness as well as self-management and self-care. These are invaluable lessons in this age of rampant childhood obesity and lethargic, couch-bound youth. In addition to decreasing discipline problems in schools that have implemented the program, there is also a correlation between yoga and higher grades and better physical fitness levels. Outside the classroom, yoga studios are reaching out to children, a fast-growing segment of an exploding yoga market. Green Monkey Yoga, an up-and-coming Miami-area chain, has introduced a popular “Chimps” program for its “little monkeys.”

Yet all is not well in yogaland.

Sure looks like a yoga pose to me. (photo: Elephant Journal)

The teaching of yoga in public schools has caused considerable controversy, especially among conservative Christians who view the ancient practice as stealth proselytizing of Hinduism. Just weeks ago, Southern Baptist leader Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. stirred controversy when he proclaimed that yoga was “un-Christian.” “When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga. The contradictions are not few, nor are they peripheral,” he said. While it is true that yoga is deeply rooted in Hindu spiritualism, the yoga taught to our nation’s schoolchildren is almost always a kid-friendly version stripped of religious meaning. Still, many parents, even some self-professed secularists, are crying “separation of church and state.” On the other hand, many Christians have embraced yoga and have no difficulty reconciling it with their religious principles. Angela Raines, a Christian yogi, believes the two complement each other.

Moral Low Ground believes people need to lighten up. Literally. And yoga can most definitely help them do just that. Conservatives who have no problem with displaying the Ten Commandments in classrooms or praying in schools yet cry foul over the separation of church and state when de-spiritualized yoga is taught to public schoolchildren– with fantastic results, one might add– need to take a long hard look at their own hypocrisy. In this day and age of out-of-shape kids-, both physically and emotionally, yoga makes perfect sense. Now place your hands together and take a deep breath…

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