Yoga in schools: helpful or harmful?

The parents of two California grade school students have sued to block the teaching of yoga classes in their children’s physical education class, complaining it promotes eastern religions.  The action was filed by The National Center for Law & Policy, an Escondido, California-based nonprofit “legal defense organization” focusing on “protection and promotion of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, parental rights and other civil liberties.”

NCLP attorney Dean R. Broyles filed the lawsuit against the Encinitas Union School District in San Diego County on behalf of plaintiffs Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, claiming “The program is extremely divisive and has unfortunately led to the harassment, discrimination, bullying and segregation of children who, for good reasons, opt out of the program.”

The integration of yoga into the physical education program has been highly effective in reducing hyperactivity and stress.  In schools around the nation who are implementing yoga into their health and wellness programs, they are seeing a marked decrease in the number of students who harm others and/or themselves and a reduction in aggressive behaviors which are commonly associated with violence and drug use.  The yoga classes, which incorporate breathing techniques to alleviate stress, promote relaxation, and increase body circulation, have been proven to increase students’ confidence and overall well-being.

So with all these demonstrated obvious benefits, why would anyone resist such an advantageous program, one that has a proven track record in schools and communities around the world of noticeably enhancing lives in both a physical and emotional way?

The complaint in this case is citing that the introduction of yoga in the school unlawfully promotes religious beliefs.  The lawsuit objects to eight-limbed tree posters they say are derived from Hindu beliefs, the “Namaste” greeting, and several of the yoga poses that they say represent the worship of Hindu deities.  The plaintiffs are not seeking monetary damages; they are asking for the removal of the program in its entirety from the school’s physical education program.

In this particular situation, once again, deeply rooted fear-based religious beliefs (ironically, the very thing being protested against) are attempting to crowd out change, an example of inflexible belief systems clinging desperately and fearfully to an Old Cultural Story which embraces an idea that “THEIR way is THE way.”   Or it could be entirely possible that they have NO idea what “their” way even is and just simply believe that “another” way is arbitrarily wrong.

But why do stories like this continue to exist where the fear that holds this Old Story together is so enmeshed in its antiquated concepts that it prevents those who hold it as true from being able to welcome change, even when such a change has been demonstrated to be beneficial and life-enhancing for so many people?

Could it be possible that Old Cultural Stories continue to exist because the concepts held within them actually are best?

If that is so, perhaps there is no place in schools for yoga, and our children should only move their bodies in largely approved and unmistakably pragmatic ways, such as doing jumping jacks or kicking a ball on the playground or, better yet, throwing balls at each other.  Perhaps unruly children who have not learned how to quiet their minds enough to sit in class and pay attention for any length of time should continue to be medicated with mind-numbing drugs and/or sent to the principal’s office repeatedly to be punished for “acting out” in class.  Perhaps children would be better off not knowing how to control their breathing and utilize it as a holistic tool with which to calm themselves in moments of anxiety or pressure.  Maybe, if we wait long enough, the dysfunctional system that we have in place will one day eventually demonstrate itself to be beneficial.  And in the meantime, we should just shelf all these crazy new alternatives that are currently available — and working — for our children.

The way I see it, if we still did things in alignment with what they thought was “best” when I went to school years ago, our administrators today would be liberally spanking our children with a wooden paddle.  Fortunately, that belief system has changed.  And fortunately, for the students who attend the Encinitas Union School District, they have someone like Superintendent Timothy Baird who is standing behind the yoga program and will continue to offer it to their students because of its health benefits.

What do you think?

I say:  Bring on the yoga.

(Lisa McCormack is the Managing Editor & Administrator of The Global Conversation.  She is also a member of the Spiritual Helper team at www.ChangingChange.net, a website offering emotional and spiritual support. To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)

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  • Kari

    Excellent. of course yoga they will love it.

  • Terri

    This saddens me that parents fight to protect their children out of their own fear. Why not let the program be optional for those who are open to it. My personal thought is that children should be taught how to meditate at a young age along with Yoga. This would benefit the whole planet in generations to come. I began meditating in 2008 and my life has dramatically changed for the better. If the children of this planet learned meditation and Yoga now we may be living in peace in the very near future. Imagine that.

  • Sheweia

    I’m sorry, the arguments against seem ridiculous to me. Breathing and stretching are a part of life, not a religion, and it calms and centers, which can have great benefits for children at school.

  • mewabe

    I would bet anything (I don’t have the facts) that this lawsuit was not started by the same people who tried to keep prayers out of school, or to keep the creation myth presented as fact out of the curriculum, but by dogmatic and politically conservative Christians.

    Knowing how these people think or, more accurately, react, their action is probably not exclusively based on fear or being pathologically closed-minded, but on being vindictive: they view those who promote yoga as being liberal, and see them as the political “enemies” who fought them on prayer and the creation story, and they strike back…tit for tat….nah nah nah nah naaaah…

    If only people spent their energies solving the world problems, rather in petty, futile, ideology and dogma-based dispute, we would get somewhere.

    “…perhaps unruly children who have not learned how to quiet their minds enough to sit in class and pay attention for any length of time…”

    My opinion? Children SHOULD be unruly…they NEED to be…they should be FREE, rather than being made to sit down for hours on end using only their minds and not their bodies, and made not just to control but TO SUPPRESS their natural impulses, which are to physically explore, to move, to PLAY, to wander and wonder, to be adventurous.

    For a child to be forced to sit down all day every day and pay attention to something that has no interest for him or her in the present is not just TOTALLY unnatural it is very unhealthy, and a source of neurosis.

    But then anyone who has taken a real look at how society works knows that the entire system is neurotic (suppressive and repressive) and depends a great deal on neurosis (suppression) and the subsequent postponement of many our human needs to function…

    …these natural human needs being replaced by artificial, economically and ideologically profitable wants and cravings…such as close communication between humans being replaced by alienation and consumerism…this is why John Trudell says that the system mines our Spirit.

    Learning meditation and yoga at a young age is great, but the goal should not, for anyone, to make the unnatural and unbearable bearable.

    Let children be children, and prepare them to be free and creative adults, not complying, suppressed zombies who no longer know who they are because they were trained to love what they hate and hate what they love by the system.

  • Charlotte Waldron

    Yoga itself is not a religion. It is an exercise that many religions use as part of the mind, spirit, body experience. At least that is the way I see it. If you have ever watched children after sitting for hours in front of a TV, computer or game console, you can see the stress and agitation they exhibit in their bodies and interactions with others. Yoga or any activity that lets children slow down, breathe and release that stress should be part of every school system. I applaud any school system that would add this as a part of their curriculum.

  • Jan

    It is unfortunate that the close-mindedness often comes from those proclaim to be of the highest spiritual growth are usually the biggest hypocrites. This attorney, and his organization, is Christian-based (biased). That is an important piece of the story not mentioned.

  • Erin/IAm

    Lisa, Ya just can’t please every one or every One…Fact o’ humanity…God blessed Us, indeed, with the freedom to be unhappy…no matter what is bestowed or gifted upon Us. And ya gotta admit, We are quite a silly bunch, & seem to love providing vast and various proofs of such. Heck, look at the disturbance Sex Ed aroused! (heehee, not exactly a pun, but totally intended) 🙂

    Yoga, I Am finding only recently myself, is an Amazing method for balancing Our Trinity of being. Our present infra-structure is based on ‘outside in’ as the human ‘way to go’…Yoga ‘goes’ with ‘inside out’ movement. OMG! An extreme makeover of process! Let the fear of un-knowing erupt, as silliness is Seen once again!

    Nowhere does it say one cannot pray in a school…one may not pray aloud, but any one can pray, any time, anywhere, they feel need to…So, I do not See why argument of this need continue. Classes or policies of public schools are fully loop-holed for ‘excuses’ based on religious or personal concepts…i.e. Vaccinations are deniable by signing a paper (I do this every year), medical & religious excuses are always accepted for gym/health classes by producing a guardian or physician note (I treat the children bestowed to me ‘naturally’ & send in notes for phys. ed. as needed. I have done this for 3 kids, in both commonwealths & states with no problems or questions.)

    These folks did not have to go to a lawyer, nor subject their so beloved child to the ‘harassment or bullying’ that their desire for such attention will surely bring on (I doubt that opting out would have provided this so much)…Going to a PTA meeting or the Principal & requesting allowance for un-involvement by students wishing to not participate would have been easily accommodated…It would not even have needed a debate to ask & have been given.

    This same ‘behavior’ is exampled by so many of Us…Pop a pill, even if a breathing technique will provide the same result…one makes money &/or supports powerheads (parents can often be power-headed, too…esp. if coerced by their religious leaders), yet the ‘alternative’ is free, or at least less costly, & supports power of Self (bad juju in present society of human).

    Let’s mention, too, that ‘alternatives’ such as Yoga or herbal healing, are wisdoms that have proved functional, adjustable, & sustainable through centuries of Well Life here…’Keepers’, so to speak. The proving grounds to this fact are where We are standing today because of attempts to undermine them…They have been deemed as non-progressive & un-real, therefore these wisdoms were not part of recent educative need, & now seem ‘new’ to Us. We no longer ‘know’ them, and first human react to un-knowing is Fear, the second is destroy…Silliness, indeed, but truth nonetheless.

    Keep Us up on this particular issue, Lisa…Actually, this may be one to pass on to Lauren for the Teen Point of View’s view. I find it interesting that guardians find such a playing field for their own agendas, involving themselves for only such convenience, within their children’s realm of school. Do they not re-member when…?

    Thanks for another great ‘bring of being’! 😀

  • Lisa McCormack

    Thank you, everyone, for your insights and sharing. It continues to be my deeply held belief that one day we will experience a world where the ideas and concepts we talk about here on The Global Conversation will be commonplace, and examples of those clinging to the Old Cultural Story will fade away and truly become a thing of the past. I am honored to be a part of this gentle revolution, sharing this soul journey with all of you.

  • Marko

    I think you are correct Lisa & surely this will emerge more quickly with people like you on the planet.

    I see 3 worlds emerging & eventually merging.
    1)People who are asleep & will stay in their negative drama
    2)Those who are asleep but waking up, questioning & transitioning
    3)Those who are awake & living lucidly. Living their joy & enthusiasm with chronic well beingness.

    Magically,
    -Marko