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.)